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Terrible suffering of pheasants exposed
Posted 1 November 2004
The following extract is taken from The Big Issue, November 8-14, 2004:
Millions of pheasants are being subjected to shockingly inhumane treatment including massive overcrowding, physical restraints and mutilation before ending up being shot for sport, a new report by a leading animal campaign group has revealed.
The research by animal Aid uncovered cruel practices such as plastic rings being forced through the animals' beaks a few days after hatching to reduce movement, which can make it difficult to feed, beaks being trimmed or burnt off, 'blinker' to restrict their field of vision and bans around the wings to prevent escape.
It is estimated that around 35 million pheasants are released during the four-month shooting seasons which begin on October 1, but rearing in these conditions leads to fat, feeble animals of whom half will die before they can be shot, of disease, starvation , exposure, predation or being hit by cars after straying onto roads.
"Pheasant shooting is where factory farming meets blood sports", said a spokesman for Animal Aid, which ultimately wants a complete ban on the sport, now a multi-million pound industry. "The regulations for rearing pheasants are less stringent than factory-farmed chickens. The industry engenders aggression in the animals by breeding them in very crowded conditions - then solves this problem with painful mutilations and restraints. The suffering experienced by these birds, while they are being fattened for the kill and as they are repeatedly run by the gauntlet of guns, cannot plausibly be justified."
Only a quarter of birds shot will actually end up being eaten, mainly due to overshooting as rich punters often pay around £1,000-£2,000 per day for the privilege of killing as many pheasants as possible.
The report also highlighted that the release of such vast numbers of pheasants causes "ecological mayhem", partly because they attract an increase in the number of predators who are then kept at bay by gamekeepers using poisons, traps or shot illegally. These control methods inevitably affect the local wildlife and it is estimated that one-and-a-half millions birds and three million animals, including many protected species, die as a result of the pheasant sport industry. Further damage is done by the estimated 8,000 million tons of lead shot produced by the guns, which pollutes the land, watercourses and ultimately those animals that feed on them.
Animal Aid presented its findings to the parliamentary select committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which is responsible for the current Animal Welfare bill, due to go before parliament this session. The bill is intended to prevent "unnecessary suffering" in farm animals, but pheasants are not included in the latter category. Game birds (pheasants and partridges) are expected to come under an annexe of the bill, which will only legalise the industry's present self-regulatory code of practice.
Animal Aid is calling for a total ban on the factory farming of pheasants and stresses that many pheasant gamekeepers and shoot organisers operate in a semi-legal way.
"Our investigations show that they frequently fail to pay business rates, and the legal requirements to buy licences to shoot and deal in game are routinely ignored," the spokesman said. "In addition, VAT is often not paid, so these people not only abuse animals but also cheat hard-pressed rural areas."
However, the British Association for Shooting And Conservation described Animal Aid's claims as "a gross distortion for the real situation." Spokesman Simon Clarke maintained: "Regarding the birds' welfare, we adhere to strict codes of practice laid down by the National Game Farmers' Association."
Game-shooting, which employs around 3,000 people, is a booming pastime. Often a corporate perk, it has in recent years been popularised by celebrities such as Liz Hurley, and Maddona and Guy Ritchie on their country estates.