It has been an interesting Christmas and New Year, with the hunters in full retreat. Paper after paper has run with the line that the government are not going to bring the Hunting Act debate back to parliament any time soon - and quite possibly never. Even the Sunday Telegraph, usually such a friend to the hunters, cast doubt on the chances of repeal.
While the hunters have been frustrated by snow and frost, the political commentators have been focussing on the fact that the parliamentary arithmetic does not favour repeal of the Hunting Act and in fact shows that any vote on repeal would be lost.
With repeal of the Hunting Act now in the political long grass, the hunters are wondering what to do. Whatever the Countryside Alliance and ‘Alice in Hunterland’ may say about support for repeal and for hunting, the numbers on the ground are telling a very different story. What we are seeing while monitoring hunts are fewer and fewer supporters and followers, fewer meets and an apparent tightening of the proverbial belt. The hunters’ discussion boards (we monitor them in cyberspace as well) tell the same story: falling support for live quarry hunting, and people saying “we can’t carry on like this”.
The steady procession of hunt staff to court is also undermining the morale and the willingness of hunt staff to do their Masters’ bidding. Acting as a fall guy for a group of people who want to put two fingers up to the law on their fun day out isn’t much fun for the staff when the result is a criminal record, a fine and a legal bill plus all the hassle that goes with becoming a convicted criminal.
Bankers, insurers, professional bodies, and in many cases employers take a very dim view of criminal convictions. For the hunts involved, the legal costs of defending a case can be very significant and their insurers will not be keen to pick up the bill if it turns out that the hunt have in effect supported and or condoned acts of illegality. Certainly for those hunts with a blot on their escutcheon, the cost of insurance will probably rise rapidly and the insurer may well demand staff and management changes before agreeing to provide cover for the hunt for the next season.
Hunt supporters, be they followers or land owners, will be thinking twice before letting hunts with a criminal record onto their land, lest they are charged with knowingly allowing or participating in an illegal activity. For professionals, conviction could lead to their professional standards body taking a view with regard to their fitness to practice if they have a criminal record and their insurer may well refuse professional activities cover. By law insurers are not allowed to provide cover for criminal acts.
However reluctant they may be, what the hunters must now accept is that the Hunting Act is here to stay. Repeal is not on the agenda and won’t happen any time soon, if ever. Continuing to hunt illegally is a high risk strategy. Continuing to train hounds to follow live animal scents is a high risk strategy and to continuously expose staff and supporters to the risk of criminal conviction is not a support winning strategy.
Hunting has always been a high visibility activity. You can’t hide a hunt under a bush. You can’t always hide a hunt with a wild animal in the front of it, in some remote corner of a big estate. What the hunters now have to face is a decision of whether to change to legal trail hunting or simply to give up and turn into a purely social club meeting in the local pub to discuss the tales of years gone by.
My Christmas Eve blog about ethical eating and the Christmas meal attracted quite a lot of comment from vegans and vegetarians, who pointed out that in their view there was no such thing as ethical meat eating and that all farming and slaughter involves unnecessary suffering and is therefore by definition cruel.
A recently published book, The End of Food by Paul Roberts, describes the coming crisis in the world food industry. There is no doubt that increasing population and reducing land areas for agriculture in an era of climate change are going to force and drive change to how we farm and what we eat. In terms of the food product from land use, meat from ruminants is one of the least efficient land uses, if cereal production is an option on that land.
The industrialisation of food production processes from the egg to the ovum that turns into a meat producing animal is generating millions of almost genetically identical animals which become standardised products destined for the supermarket shelves. Those processes are the same for the intensively reared game birds, reared in their millions to be used as live targets for shooters.
There are issues which are less widely discussed with regard to intensive cereal production. One of the biggest risks associated with intensive cereal production is of near genetically identical crops. Cereal diseases such as blight mutate with alarming rapidity and crops can be devastated by them. The steps taken to counteract such threats from genetic engineering through to crop spraying can also have significant environmental impacts. Just consider what has happened to the bee population as more and more chemicals have been used in cereal production.
The core issue in terms of food production from a cruel sports perspective is the intent of the person involved in that activity. It seems obvious to me and I am sure to all our supporters that playing with an animal and subjecting it to unnecessary suffering before killing it, is objectionable. It seems equally clear and particularly so to the vegetarians and the vegans, that if it is not possible to breed, rear and kill an animal humanely without it suffering, we should not do that either. The moral and ethical issue as far as hunting and shooting for sport is concerned, is that it is not possible to conduct the activity without causing unnecessary suffering to the animals used as targets for these sports. By that definition such activities should not in our view be allowed because they intentionally cause unnecessary suffering.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the whole debate about the morals and the ethics of what we eat lies in the issues it raises about the use of land and the exploitation of wildlife. In an ever more populous world, choice is going to move from the person to the state. Politicians faced with escalating food prices on the one hand and hunger on the other, are going to lose patience with selfish individuals who demand the right to do what they want, irrespective of the greater good. Freedom of choice in what food to produce and how to produce it in any civilised society, may soon be boundaried, just like hunting and or shooting for sport are, by law. The needs of society as a whole should come before the pleasures and sports of the few.