Animal Aid

PHEASANT KILLERS - Feeling the heat

Posted 1 March 2003
Dead pheasants

Andrew Tyler reports on our latest strike against the shooting fraternity... and on their attempts to hit back.

For the last three years, Animal Aid has launched a fresh annual assault on the pheasant rearing and shooting industry - always timed to coincide with the start of the four-month shooting season on October 1.

Our newest initiative was a report, called Feathering Their Nests, which revealed that the industry was depriving the public purse of millions of pounds in unpaid business rates, game licence fees and VAT. As part of that initiative, we reported 43 businesses to regional offices of the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) - the body that regulates payment of rates.

The 43 were advertising their wares as mass producers of pheasant chicks, with some of them also running shoot operations. Since the businesses were not on the VOA list and thus not paying rates, we called for an investigation and for action to be taken.

The good news is that the VOA has now listed 19 of these businesses - and they must in future pay rates. Eight of the 43 were already listed but under a different name from that which they used in adverts in shooting magazines. We shall be investigating the reason for this discrepancy. As we went to press, the relevant regional VOA offices had still not begun their investigation of 13 of the businesses - we are informed that this is due to pressure of work and that action will begin soon. Two of the 43 we reported are currently under active investigation. Another has ceased trading.

Advertising complaint

Meanwhile, our new 'Guilty...' pheasant leaflet and poster have stung the leading lobby group, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), into registering a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The ASA has a lamentable record in adjudicating over complaints relating to the protection of animals, but rather than duck the challenge, we decided to put in a detailed rebuttal. We now await the ASA's ruling. The BASC complained, in particular, about four entirely accurate statements we made about the pheasant rearing and shooting industry. We accused it of being:

  1. Guilty of abusing millions of captive pheasants.
  2. Guilty of the large-scale destruction of British wildlife.
  3. Guilty of depriving the public purse of millions of pounds in unpaid taxes.
  4. We also stated that 'half the released birds die before they can be gunned down... Of the roughly 16 million birds who are shot, only about 8 million are eaten.'

In our dossier of evidence to the ASA (which included shooting magazine articles, our own undercover video footage, a selection of bird restraint devices and Animal Aid reports) we pointed out that, 'virtually all pheasants shot in Britain are reared under intensive conditions. While some are later sold by game retailers, the majority are not actually eaten. The principal purpose of rearing millions of birds every year is so that they can be shot down for pleasure, rather than as a source of food'. That pheasants are mass produced and shot principally for pleasure rather than for food was acknowledged in December by shooting representatives when they expressed concern that the future of their 'sport' could be endangered if the tests of 'utility' and 'least suffering' embodied in the government's proposed Hunting Bill were to be applied to shooting. Reporting their concerns, a Daily Telegraph December 7 article noted that shooting is 'done largely or solely for pleasure'.

We went on to explain to the ASA that 'pheasants begin life in hatcheries, are moved on to crowded sheds (where they are subjected to the mutilations and restraints commercially reared poultry endure) and then into release pens.' The latter can hold tens of thousands of birds, who are heavily medicated in an attempt to keep at bay the stress-related diseases that are a feature of such production regimes. The main reason half the birds die before they can be shot is that they are unable to cope once released from their artificially-heated, hand-reared start in life.

The big bags syndrome

While the annual production of pheasants has for some time outstripped demand, the phenomenon of 'Big Bags' is causing increasing alarm to traditionalists within the industry who fear a public relations disaster. The Big Bags syndrome is the gross and deliberate rearing of such large numbers of birds that there is scarcely any effort made at concealing the fact that the exercise is aimed at producing a multitude of easily-hit feathered targets for customers prepared to pay very large sums of money. It is not a peripheral practice, as evidenced by the widespread reporting it has received in shooting journals in recent years.

For more information, and links to all the Animal Aid reports on the pheasant industry, see the pheasant campaign index.

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