Game industry complaint backfires

Posted on the 21st May 2003

Guilty, as charged, of "abusing millions of captive birds"

The ‘game’ shooting lobby has suffered a major public relations setback following a ruling by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). National campaign group, Animal Aid, was entitled, says the ASA, to state in a campaign leaflet that the pheasant rearing and shooting industry is ‘guilty of abusing millions of captive pheasants’.

The ruling, which came in response to a complaint by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), is all the more remarkable given the ASA’s lamentable record (see Notes) in adjudicating on animal protection issues.

In its defence against the BASC complaint, Animal Aid pointed out 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.” Some 35 million birds suffer this fate annually.

Based on the detailed evidence supplied by Animal Aid, the ASA said that the ‘guilty of abuse’ statement was an expression of opinion to which it ‘did not object’.

While the ASA upheld Animal Aid’s right to draw attention to millions of abused birds, it found against the campaign group over other statements in its Guilty! leaflet. This additionally accused the industry of ‘depriving the public purse of millions of pounds in unpaid taxes’; of mass producing vastly more birds than are actually eaten; and of ‘the large-scale destruction of British wildlife’. The last assertion is a reference to the trapping, snaring and poisoning of animals, such as stoats, weasels, foxes and corvines – species attracted to the unnaturally large numbers of shed-reared pheasants.

The statements were rejected despite Animal Aid’s submission to the ASA of a detailed dossier of evidence, which included shooting magazine articles, undercover video footage, a selection of bird restraint devices and Animal Aid reports. The most recent report, called Feathering Their Nests, sets out how rearers and shooters are depriving the Exchequer of rates, VAT and Game Licence fees.

Said Animal Aid director, Andrew Tyler:

“The ASA’s past record on animal-related complaints suggested a hopeless battle on our part. It is indicative of the gross nature of the pheasant killing industry, that even this deeply reactionary body was unable to fault us when we stated that the industry is guilty of abusing millions of captive pheasants. We want nothing short of a ban on the whole despicable, bullying business – and we know that the British public would support us in this ambition.”

Notes to Editors

  • In recent times the ASA has ruled twice against the Vegetarian Society – also against the anti-vivisection group, Uncaged Campaigns; the League Against Cruel Sports; and the anti-fur group, Respect for Animals. In contrast, complaints against the Countryside Alliance (for stating in an advert that ‘only old and diseased foxes are dispatched’) and the National Farmers’ Union (which claimed that farmers are responsible for saving Britain’s hedgerows) have been rejected.
  • That pheasants are mass produced and shot principally for pleasure rather than for food was acknowledged recently 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 new Hunting Bill were to be applied to shooting. Reporting their fears, a Daily Telegraph December 7, 2002 article noted that shooting is ‘done largely or solely for pleasure’.
  • For more information, call Andrew Tyler or Becky Lilly on 01732 364 546.
  • We have an ISDN line for broadcast-quality interviews.
  • For background information and reports see our pheasant shooting section.

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