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Latest One World Column: Fox hunting

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Joined: 16 Jan 2004
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Location: Norwich, England

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Fox hunting – a colourful distraction

09 October 2004


The passion and blood-letting that accompanied the pro-hunt demonstrators left the majority feeling bemused. Especially if, like me, you attended some of the regular peaceful demonstrations against the Iraq war where such incidents just didn't occur even when numbers touched two million as on February 15, 2003. It perhaps did not occur to those whose aims are peace to incite war, just as it may not occur to those who perpetuate violence to act peacefully.

Hunting conventions – tail coats, red waist coats, high leather boots, tally-hoing and horn blowing is a mite too celebratory for the cruelty that lays ahead. A local farmer told me that a group of young people he knew had found it “fun” as if that was justification enough.

Fox hunting is a “tradition”, which people do not want to lose and of course war is another tradition that we are extremely reluctant to let go of. We continue to argue with what seems equal passion for both.

While fox hunting may be an anachronistic and cruel “sport”, the current furore distracts from the real countryside violence of which we are all part. While we cling to our image as a nation of animal lovers, this can have little real substance when we also accept horrific levels of cruelty in the production of much of our food.

Eating out, TV dinners and supermarket shopping has accelerated in recent years, but few inquire about the origin of their food – most likely factory-farmed and the end product of shocking levels of cruelty.

Juliet Gallantly's and Tony Wardle's classic account, The Silent Ark chillingly describes dingy windowless sheds, crammed with tier upon tier of tiny cages housing five very distressed chickens.

Suffering from brittle, often broken bones, or osteoporosis from unnatural levels of laying – they are covered in excrement from the droppings of the birds above, resulting in ulcers, burns and disease.

Most would find this level of cruelty abhorrent, but stand by the egg shelves in any supermarket and watch as customers still go for the cheapest factory eggs. Is this a moment of forgetting, or meanness or just plain ignorance.

Those increasing numbers who wish to shop without cruelty need constant diligence in our modern supermarkets where cheapness is of the essence and poor quality is disguised. A friend of mine, a practising Buddhist with a wish to live ethically, would often turn up with a supermarket quiche and seemed unable to see the cruelty she was endorsing.

And this is before you let a piece of meat pass your lips. Witness the meat marketeer's imagination – chicken tikka masala, satay, nugget, and kievs – an endless list. Follow the smell of cooking meat and you will find chickens roasting on spits, chicken in barbecue sauce – an infinite supply, and they are dirt cheap.

No mention of the appalling conditions in which they were reared – crowded, filthy, diseased, and fooled into eating non-stop because of constant artificial daylight, and soon unable to stand.

If we want to live without violence we must challenge it at all levels of our society. That is challenging not just fox hunting, but also the whole way in which the countryside and our food production are managed.

The people and taxpayers of this country keep highly subsidised farmers in profit. People are prepared to pay for sustainable, caring stewardship, but are fed up with excessive exploitation for purely monetary gain.

Intensive agribusiness costs £1.5bn a year in damage to soil, air and water pollution in the UK alone, and factory farming methods contributed to the BSE and Foot and Mouth epidemics. Landowners would gain greater respect if they made less noise about outmoded “sports” and came up with humane and respectful ways of managing the wild and farmed animals in their care.

While not everybody would choose a meat-free diet, most health advice is for a drastic reduction in meat consumption. When we do eat meat we have a right to expect meat that is humanely produced from healthy animals that are not full of anti-biotics.

Country people have the stewardship of the land, animals and plants of our beautiful and fertile earth. Simon Hart, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance (CA), describing the demonstration with hounds outside the Labour Party Conference in Brighton, said: “The idea was to demonstrate the relationship between man and beast in the country”.

Sadly, the carcasses of a horse staked through the heart with a CA banner and the two young calves are tragic reminders of that relationship today.

Published in the Eastern Daily Press
Mon Oct 11, 2004 12:26 pm
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