Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Tories and Fox Hunting (and me and meat)

This is a fox. Accuse me of being a scare monger if you want, but I'd like you to look at the fox here and tell me you want it hunted by a pack of slow moving hounds until its lost the energy to continue running, and then be ripped apart in the teeth of those hounds.

I'm not about to demand that wild animals should never be killed. I'm an omnivore, and I'm a fan of game. And vermin. Seriously, rabbit, pigeon, muntjac deer, these creatures are killed as agricultural pests - if you're a veggie these creatures are dying for your dinner whether you eat them or not. So I'm not going to say 'blood sports are wrong, mkay?'. That would make me a hypocrite. Grow crops and you deprive wild animals of resources, and their young will die. That is reality. We're stuck with it. The same is true of fish, crustacea and molluscs - I've gathered winkles, cockles, mussels, I've trapped crabs and caught shimp in nets. And eaten them all. I've eaten no end of line caught wild fish too. 

My point here is that killing and eating wild animals isn't a bad thing - its just a thing. It has to be done sustainably and responsibly of course, and the way we've over-exploited many fish stocks makes that a minefield for the ethical omnivore. But if you're looking for low environmental impact, low fat, high protein, high quality food at a reasonable price the critters I've listed up above are ideal. 

Life ins't quite that simple though, and just like if you're buying farmed meat you really ought to be looking into the detail of how the animals were reared (if you care at all for animal welfare or the environment we're all in), you've got to look more closely at wild game. So when I'm buying venison, pigeon etc. I'm looking closely at the carcass, (I'll buy a whole carcass for that very purpose) and yes, I'll ask searching questions of a game dealer or hunter to make sure we're on the same page - if they're responsible in their work they'll welcome this and, probably, enthuse at you about the whole thing.

So, if you're killing an animal as cleanly as you can, taking pains not to wreck the ecosystem its in, sustainably and responsibly, thats awesome. I'm OK with that. And unless you can, hand on heart' say you're taking quite extraordinary pains to ensure your food habits and lifestyle kill no animals, you should be ok with that too.

Now back to fox hunting.

Is it cruel? Yes. I mean lets not wrap this up with cliches, the beagle is bred for stamina rather than speed, its a slow creature that'll pick up and follow a scent all day, running the fox until the brink of exhaustion. The fox is a faster animal, but it can't run forever. Add to that the fact that the beagles are fed, watered, given all the advantages of modern veterinary science whereas the fox is scavenging and hunting in a harsh environment and rarely at peak health, and what we're looking at is an immensely unequal confrontation. Even a fox who survives has been subjected to an horrific chase and will have expended significant resources just in surviving massively un-natural predation, its a dangerous and unpleasant way of handling a wild animal hunt.

Is it sustainable? Well... No, not really. Sustainability isn't some magical thing that happens when you can do the same thing next year, its also about whats going on around the event. Fox hunts have a terrible habit of trespassing on other peoples land, stretching over and damaging farm fields, and the chase isn't just a few people on horse back - there are usually scores of 'foot followers' and frequently no end of vehicles following. The chase does damage to the countryside, and the idea that feeding high quality factory farmed protein to a mass of dogs to take out a small number of foxes is in some way a sustainable solution to dealing with the occasional problem animal is a complete absurdity. The overall footprint of the practice is massive.

Is it necessary and is it a good way of dealing with pest control? No. It really isn't. The total number of foxes killed by this practice was always small - the issue isn't the number, its the fact that running an intelligent wild animal to the point of exhaustion and then ripping it apart with beying hounds is a particularly cruel form of killing. Its not a good way of targetting a problem animal worrying livestock - you've no way of getting the 'right' fox thats attacking someones chickens. Its a terrible, terrible means of pest control.

So what is it for? Well fox hunting is traditional. Bluntly. The only argument in its favour is that for some in the UK (and its a tiny minority) its a traditional practice that they enjoy. They could compare that tradition to one of, say, the Inuit hunting whales (which is in some areas protected). I've heard that comparison made - and that comparison is vacuous crap. There is no need, no cultural necessity, no strong historic link between the practice and survival of the people doing it, it was a passtime for a few. And, more importantly, the rest of us from inside the same (British) culture recognise that and mostly oppose the practice.

You can, and really should, oppose bringing fox hunting back. It isn't effective, it isn't humane, it isn't sustainable, and it isn't OK. The drive to bring it back isn't a sign of the Tories being a modern, forward looking party - its a sign that they're putting the pleasure of a very few above the quality of humanity. To bring back the obscenity of fox hunting cheapens not only the Tories, but all of us.