The pheasant industry - Factory farming meets shooting gallery
The image that Britain's pheasant shooters try to project is one of tweedy Edwardian elegance; of responsible custodianship of the countryside. But rather than 'harvesting' a natural resource, pheasants are mass produced inside hatcheries and rearing sheds.
From the sheds, the birds are moved to fattening pens before being released to serve as feathered targets for shooters who are often charged a day-rate of more than £1,000. Every year in Britain, this is the fate of some 35 million pheasants. The pro-'country sports' newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, itself acknowledged (7 December 2002) that the shooting of these birds is 'done largely or solely for pleasure'.
Because of the enfeeblement that results from being reared in sheds, many of the released pheasants die before they can be gunned down. They perish from exposure, starvation, disease, predation, or under the wheels of motor vehicles. And not all the birds who are shot are actually eaten. According to Country Life magazine (1 February 2001), some of the 'surplus' are buried in specially dug holes.
Even before they become target practice, the birds suffer serious abuse. In an effort to eliminate aggression caused by the over- crowded conditions in the rearing sheds and release pens, the pheasants are subjected to painful restraints and mutilations. These include beaks partially amputated with a red-hot blade and blinker-like 'spectacles' clipped into the nostrils.
The excesses of the pheasant industry go further still. Animal Aid has documented how these self-appointed guardians of the countryside annually kill large numbers of wild birds and mammals with snares, poison and body-crushing traps in predator control programmes. Gamekeepers deliberately target foxes, stoats and weasels, because these animals are attracted to the unnaturally large number of semi-domesticated pheasants. But species ranging from badgers to cats - even protected birds of prey like owls and kestrels - are caught and killed.
As if this catalogue of cruelty wasn't bad enough, Animal Aid has produced evidence that some in the industry are depriving the public purse of business rates, VAT payments and game licence fees. This is done, in part, by taking advantage of widespread confusion within different government departments as to whether pheasant rearing and shooting are agricultural or sporting activities. Local planning laws are also open to exploitation, with large-scale shooting enterprises being developed without planning permission.
And because of this official confusion about whether shooting is sport or agriculture, not even the meagre animal protection measures that are supposed to govern the production of poultry apply to the rearing of pheasants. The birds' main form of 'protection' is no more than a voluntary industry welfare code.
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