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LABOUR'S BETRAYAL - What chance protection for animals?
Posted 1 May 2001
A great many animal advocates had high expectations of a Labour government in the light of the multitude of welfare advances promised prior to the 1997 general election.
A Blair government was to have marked a clean break from the years of Conservative rule; a period characterised by policy initiatives that framed animals as mere commodities or quarry for 'sporting' enthusiasts.
We now know that Labour had no real agenda for welfare reform, notwithstanding the efforts of junior Agriculture Minister Elliot Morley. In fact, the Blair government has not only reneged on several promises and near-promises, it has worked diligently to marginalise and criminalise animal rights activists - the vast majority of whom are committed to peaceful campaigning.
After years of prevarication and double-speak, there is still no ban on hunting, despite the clearly expressed will of the majority of MPs and public. Blair seems happy for a revised Bill to be tied up in the Lords so that he can settle for a 'compromise' - the so-called Middle Way option. This would leave hunting intact, barring some cosmetic changes. Under such a settlement, hunting would even have a government licence - that is to say, an official stamp of approval.
Labour has been stunningly duplicitous on animal experiments, with recent media reports suggesting the government is actually planning a major advertising campaign promoting vivisection.
A pledge to instigate a Royal Commission has already been dumped, with no meaningful alternative inquiry offered in its place.
Jack Straw's Home Office has ignored or rubbished undercover investigations that have produced evidence of shoddy science, law breaking and a level of animal suffering that goes beyond even what a laissez-faire law permits.
In prospect is a 'fast track' approach for the approval of new vivisection projects - courtesy of science minister Lord Sainsbury, who has a (supposedly set-aside) financial stake in biotech and recently made a £2 million gift to the Labour Party.
Meanwhile, weapons research making use of animals is on the increase and tobacco-related tests continue - despite statements promising bans. More worrying still is that the use of genetically modified lab animals is soaring, with government approval and financial support
Animal Aid has a long-running campaign - supported by many senior physicians and scientists - to encourage the use of donated human tissue, instead of animal parts, for test tube studies. The government has been resolutely inactive on this front, even though the use of freely donated human tissue would prevent around half a million animals every year from being bred and killed exclusively for their body parts. Using human tissue also generates research data that is actually relevant to human medicine.
In addition, government money for non-animal methods of research remains at a pitiful level. And New Labour shows no sign of lifting the veil of lab secrecy that prevents timely challenges to so much animal suffering and incompetence.
The government did orchestrate a voluntary ban on the use of animals for the testing of cosmetic products and the ingredients that go into them. This was a genuine advance, despite the number of animals affected being small. But it is so far unwilling to support moves to end the sale of animal tested cosmetic products within the EU.
The government's handling of the foot and mouth (F&M) crisis demonstrates its impotence in the face of the moneyed, landed clique that controls the NFU. Ben Gill and chums wanted a cull, no vaccination and hundreds of millions of additional featherbedding money - and that's precisely what they got. Never mind that F&M is a consequence of oppressive, high-throughput animal production systems, and that more such epidemics will inevitably follow. Are there signs that Blair will talk plainly to the NFU about such things, and act accordingly? None.
The government has, in addition, taken no action to end live exports. Nor did pre-election promises to outlaw the debeaking of hens and the tail docking of pigs materialise. In fact, the government failed even to support a private member's bill designed to close legal loopholes that permit the latter mutilation.
There has been no action either to introduce a 'welfare league table' of livestock markets - long called for by Animal Aid. This is despite all our evidence exposing violence to bartered animals, drover incompetence and the sale of sick and injured animals.
Fur farm ban
The pre-election pledge to ban fur farming is on its way to being met, thanks to Elliot Morley. But, as well as there being an excessive three year wind-down period, fur farmers look set to reap millions of pounds in compensation.
The government continues killing badgers - at a cost of millions of pounds - even though there is good evidence that the carnage has not and will not do anything to halt the epidemic of TB in cattle. Bovine TB results from the squalid, inhumane systems in which cattle are reared.
The government has also pressed ahead with the extermination of thousands of ruddy ducks on the spurious grounds of 'conservation'
In prospect is an even more widespread assault on 'alien or invasive species'. Among those already targeted are Canada geese, muntjac deer, seals, hedgehogs and the aforementioned badgers and ruddy ducks.
The definition of terrorism has been widened to the extent that it would have ensnared the suffragettes and the Greenham Common women. Today's GM food protesters and animals rights activists on peaceful demos are also vulnerable to being redefined as terrorists and subjected to mass arrests, if the police 'suspect' that they are intent on causing property damage or intimidating the public.
There is already a panoply of legislation to quell violent demos and deal with other forms of lawbreaking by activists.
The Blair government's animal welfare record leads animal advocates to be justifiably sceptical about further promises from any and all national parties. This is the case even though the concept of animal protection seems deeply imbedded within the Green Party's policy framework, and despite positive and tireless work on behalf of animals by the Lib Dems' Norman Baker.
How animal advocates will vote
The 'animal constituency' is a significant one. Animal welfare is said to generate more letters from constituents to their MPs than any other issue. This is not soft-headedness but a sign that many people recognise the vulnerability of animals in our culture, and are determined to win for them genuine protection.
So how will the parties fare?
...Labour cashed in on the animal vote in 1997 but the trust has gone and there will be no such windfall this time.
...Conservative policy makers are seen, in general terms, as being animal unfriendly.
...The Lib Dems have advanced - in earlier position papers rather than in their 2001 manifesto - a series of practical but mostly modest welfare initiatives. Whether and how these might translate into action is the big question.
...The Green Party has the soundest animal-friendly policies and a vote for that party would serve as encouragement.
...There is also the option of giving the ballot box a miss, or - more constructively - of 'spoiling' ballot papers with a message such as 'Rights for Animals'.
Animal Aid, even at this late hour, urges all parties and individual politicians to recognise their moral duty to the hundreds of millions of animals who, every year, are slaughtered, hunted, experimented on, exploited by the pet trade, by circuses, zoos and in other ways. By speaking out in their defence, the plight of these animals will find a place on the news agenda during election coverage. And such coverage might then translate into constructive policy initiatives on the part of the new government. We are convinced that this is no more than what the public wants - and no less than what animals deserve.