New report analyses fox hunting debate

Our CASJ-funded PhD researcher Dr Lucy Parry has successfully completed her project at the University of Sheffield investigating the political battle over fox hunting and has had her work published in eminent academic journals and conferences.

Obviously, the whole point of our research is that it leads to better protection for animals. So on 10 May 2017 we organised a symposium in London attended by Britain’s leading animal protection organisations where Lucy presented her critical research findings (below).

We have published a report entitled Analysing the Foxhunting Debate: Implications for Animal Protection which summarises Lucy’s PhD thesis for a non-academic audience. This publication helps to fulfil our Centre’s mission to communicate its research findings to the public, animal protection NGOs and government policy-makers in order to increase understanding of the social and political factors that have a decisive impact on the progress of animal protection.

Dr Parry explains that despite the enactment of the Hunting Act over a decade ago, fox hunting remains arguably the most controversial animal issue in British politics. The debate over fox hunting is highly politicised and contentious, as indicated by the prominence of the topic in the current General Election campaign. In the past few years there has been growing interest in the political aspects of animal ethics, with an increasing number of academics offering theoretical approaches rooted in politics and philosophy to enhance animal protection (see Garner and O’Sullivan 2016).

Dr Parry’s research takes up this challenge; she argues that deliberative democracy has the potential to improve animal protection. Deliberative democracy is a prominent strand of political theory that argues for a ‘talk-centric’ approach to democracy. It puts deliberation, a specific type of communication, at the heart of democratic decision-making. Deliberative democracy is known for helping to achieve environmental goals and Dr Parry argues that it could also enhance animal protection.

The report is a summary of the thesis, highlighting the key findings for animal protection. She uses deliberative democracy as a lens through which to evaluate the fox hunting debate. She first identifies four different viewpoints on hunting in the public sphere, and examine how animals are represented within these narratives. She then follows these four viewpoints into Westminster and examines the parliamentary fox hunting debate. Dr Parry finds that despite considerable entrenchment and hostility, moments of reflection and geniality can be found in the hunting debate. However, her analysis of Westminster reveals the distortive influence of party politics and the intractability of the hunting debate. This undermines the potential for meaningful deliberation and animal protection.

Her research suggests a key role for animal protection organisations in holding the government to account for animal protection decisions. Animal protection organisations should adopt a more deliberative approach, but currently the British political system is a significant barrier to this. If we want substantive, feasible policies to support animal protection in Britain, we must pay attention to the political system we are dealing with, as well as individual animal issues.

Dr Parry’s last point identifies the historic gap in animal protection research and advocacy that the CASJ’s unique work is focussed on. Dr Parry’s research was part-funded by the CASJ in conjunction with the University of Sheffield. We are grateful to the University of Sheffield’s Department of Politics and her supervisors, Dr Alasdair Cochrane & Dr Hayley Stevenson for their invaluable help and support.

CASJ PhD Student Lucy Parry gains Doctorate

 

We are delighted to announce that our PhD researcher at the University of Sheffield, Lucy Parry, has now successfully submitted her thesis and passed her oral exam (‘viva’) to gain her doctorate in animal protection politics. The CASJ is delighted to have supported the advancement of knowledge to help animals. We’d like to thank the Department of Politics at the University of Sheffield and her supervisors Dr Alasdair Cochrane and Dr Hayley Stevenson. Here, Lucy, who has now established herself as Britain’s leading expert on the foxhunting debate and has already published in peer-reviewed outlets, summarises her findings:

Overview
My thesis is a deliberative systems analysis of the foxhunting debate. I analyse the debate from the perspective of deliberative democracy; it is systemic because I identify and analyse the debate in different communicative settings – public space (i.e. open and accessible settings involving members of the public, activists and the media), Parliament, and in-between sites such as newspapers and campaign organisations. I assess how and where different viewpoints on hunting ‘travel’ through different settings. To do this, I conducted an in-depth study into discourses on hunting with actors in the public sphere. I then analysed debates in Westminster to see which viewpoints were present, and if they had changed. I also evaluate the hunting debate from a deliberative democratic perspective, i.e. how deliberative is the hunting debate? This was driven by my argument that deliberative democracy has the potential to enhance animal protection.

Deliberative democracy places collective reasoning at the heart of decision-making. Ideally, it encompasses reasoned argument, consideration of alternative views, mutual respect and reflexivity – the ability to reflect on your own preferences and sometimes, change them. Below I outline my key findings for animal protection.

The hunting debate
I conducted an in-depth study to identify narratives on hunting. A wide range of people took part including animal protection organisations, former activists, hunters and hunting advocates. The four viewpoints identified are:

1. Liberal-progressive: objects to hunting on the basis that it is cruel and serves no practical purpose. A further objection is that hunting is outdated and that modern British society has moved beyond that type of activity. It employs the animal welfare ethic where animal use is justified by necessity and if carried out humanely. It upholds that debates around hunting should be open and diverse. Anyone can have an opinion on hunting and can bring something to the discussion.

2. Countryside management: argues that hunting is a form of wildlife management and pest control. The British countryside is a man-made environment and needs to be actively managed. Makes a distinction between wild and domesticated animals and argues that they should be treated differently. It values an open debate on hunting, but at the time believes that those opposed to hunting just don’t understand it.

3. Sporting libertarian: argues that hunting is not an effective way of controlling foxes. But it is a legitimate sport and should be allowed to continue. There is definitely a place for hunting in today’s society and just because people don’t like it, that’s not a reason to stop. This position hates perceived inconsistency in others’ views – like if people oppose foxhunting but they still eat meat.

4. Critical-radical: against hunting for the same reasons as the first position, but with a stronger inclination towards giving animals the same moral consideration as humans. Puts forward a political argument about the class structure and why hunting continues to be such a contentious issue. Closer to an animal rights view but does not explicitly endorse it. Critical of the farming industry and considers power relations to be an important aspect of the hunting debate.

This study shows that the hunting debate is more complex than just pro and anti. Most importantly, it suggests that animal welfare and animal rights are closely aligned and have more in common than not; the two viewpoints are 76% correlated.

This goes against efforts in parts of the mainstream media to divide the animal protection movement into two. Recently, media reports have lambasted organisations like the RSPCA who have been ‘accused of becoming too focused on animals rights rather than animal welfare, its traditional role’ (Telegraph.co.uk 2016). However, the majority of my research participants aligned with both liberal-progressive and the critical-radical viewpoints. This serves as a unifying boost to the movement and a response to those who deliberately seek to divide and conquer animal protection.

In Westminster
I tracked these four discourses into debates in Parliament. Whilst the first two positions are quite well represented in Westminster, the latter two discourses are distorted and much weaker. In particular, the critical-radical discourse is presented as an attack on the ‘Tory toff’. But this caricature is not part of the original viewpoint; there is a critique of the class structure but it does not rely on the ‘Tory toff’ stereotype. The distortion of this discourse makes it vulnerable to attack and risks alienating MPs and the public who are against hunting. The distortion of the critical-radical viewpoint is worrying for animal protection; it is the most radical and counter-hegemonic position yet is reduced to a bit of a joke in the corridors of power.

I also analysed three different cases to see how messages are transmitted from public to power, and vice versa. Of particular interest is the Blue Fox group (Conservatives Against Fox Hunting). Unlike so many of the protagonists, this group fosters a constructive and supportive atmosphere, aiming to grow the number of anti-hunting Tory MPs. Its approach is respectful and seeks to persuade, rather than further entrench disagreement. It is a rare example of a more deliberative approach in the hunting debate. Most importantly, the group has also been pretty successful in increasing the number of anti-hunting Tories in recent years. This suggests that a more deliberative approach could be favourable when trying to persuade MPs.

Blue Fox is a unique case, founded by local Conservative members and working within the party with existing MPs. It is a lot harder for an external organisation to gain traction in the same way. Therefore, whilst a more deliberative approach can in theory enhance animal protection, the Westminster system undermines both deliberative democracy and animal protection at the moment. The dominance of adversarial party political and the concentration of power in the executive mean that meaningful, respectful and constructive dialogue around hunting is unlikely.

Nonetheless, my research still shows that a more deliberative approach to animal protection could yield valuable results. Previous studies have shown that those in animal use industries may be more open to persuasion by rational argument (Brown and Quinn-Allan 2015). Another study found that animal activists are more susceptible to visceral responses like disgust or horror (Herzog and Golden 2009). This suggests that tactics such as graphic imagery or emotional shocks are useful in cementing animal protectionists’ conviction, but less useful in seeking to persuade others. We need to consider what animal protectionists’ aims are: are they trying to build their support base, appealing to those who already agree? Or are they trying to persuade government or industry to change their ways? Animal protectionists need to be aware of this in how they proceed. That the most radical discourse on hunting is poorly represented in parliament suggests that there is much work to be done to articulate a stronger animal protection position.

References
Brown, A. & Quinn-Allan, D. (2015) ‘Bridging empathy and protective indifference? Animal welfare, online engagement, and the activist-slacktivist divide’, In the Australasian Animal Studies Association. Animal Publics: Emotions, Empathy, Activist, University of Melbourne, 12-15 July 2015, Unpublished.

Herzog, H. A., & Golden, L. L. (2009) ‘Moral emotions and social activism: the case of animal rights’, Journal of Social Issues, vol. 65, pp. 485-498.

Telegraph.co.uk (2016) ‘RSPCA boss says sorry for blunders and admits charity was too political’, Telegraph.co.uk [online], available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/05/13/rspca-boss-says-sorry-for-blunders-and-admits-charity-was-too-po/

What does Brexit mean for the future of animal protection?

Most UK animal welfare legislation is based on EU rules formulated with UK involvement, so Brexit has the potential to affect animal protection levels in the UK (and across the remainder of the EU). Before the EU referendum, the CASJ explained that the impact of Brexit will depend on the UK government’s appetite for listening to the public and valuing animal protection versus promoting profit-maximisation, international trade and deregulation.

So now, in the immediate aftermath of the vote, what do the prospects for animal protection look like?

First of all, the Vote Leave campaign didn’t respond to our query regarding their animal protection intentions. This doesn’t inspire confidence, though we should point out that the official Remain campaign didn’t bother to reply either. In fact, this lack of interest from both designated campaigns is another revealing clue to the broad disregard for animal protection across the British political establishment.

It’s actually hard to make very confident predictions because of the Brexit camp’s lack of clarity over the UK’s future status. But, as this blog by environmental experts indicates, there seems to be two broad options for the UK government if it does actually go through with Brexit:

  • The ‘Norwegian’ Option: It reaches an agreement with the EU to stay in the single market as a member of the European Economic Area (EEA), similar to Iceland or Norway. In this scenario, the UK would still be subject to most EU laws affecting animal welfare. But we would have much less influence over the content of those laws. Overall, and other things being equal, this scenario would probably not make a huge difference to the evolution of animal welfare standards compared with staying in the EU.
  • The ‘Free Trade’ Option: It has a looser future relationship with the EU outside the EEA. We may end up being more open to imports of animal products from countries with very low welfare standards such as China and the USA (through TTIP, for example), making it a challenge to maintain our current standards, which are poor in the first place.

So how will the UK government balance animal welfare and business interests in the future? The big picture does not give grounds for much optimism. Regardless of which party has been in power, the British state has a long tradition of strongly backing profiteering over compassion. More animals have suffered more intensely in factory farms and research labs as successive governments have implemented EU laws as feebly as possible. Behind closed doors, industry and civil servants have worked together to weaken animal welfare protection, and elected politicians of all stripes have lacked the backbone to stand up to them. With the leading Brexit advocates calling for even more deregulation, power may shift further against animal protection.

On the other hand, a more positive indication was given by Agriculture Minister George Eustice in an article in The Times before the vote. He argued that by leaving the EU, the UK Government could replace existing EU grants to farmers (known as the Common Agricultural Policy – CAP) with new subsidies for higher welfare systems in British farming and so stop them being undercut by foreign farms operating to weaker standards.

For example, Mr Eustice claimed that pig farmers would be in a position to receive new grants to support the extra cost of raising their animals in better conditions that mean they don’t have to have their tails docked to prevent stress-related tail-biting. As a result, the products from those animals could be sold cheaply enough to compete with pork etc. raised in more intensive systems, thereby making higher welfare standards in the UK economically viable.

Some commentators have also suggested that EU rules prevent the UK from banning the live export of farm animals or the importation of some products that are no longer produced in the UK for ethical animal welfare reasons, such as fur. But the RSPCA has argued that if/when the UK leaves the EU it would still be a challenge to ban live exports and fur products because of the need to:

  • adhere to EU rules to be able to carry trading with the EU
  • and/or adhere to World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules

Once again, whether the UK government takes any opportunities to increase animal welfare will depend on its commitment to the cause relative to its preference for economic growth. Sadly, the UK government has recently opposed proposals from Germany, Netherlands and Denmark to tighten EU rules on live export for the sake of animal welfare. In many respects, the UK has been a drag on improving animal welfare across the EU, rather than the other way around.

So unless there is a fairly radical change of approach from the UK government, the omens are not good.

This is why our pioneering proposal for a new Government Animal Protection Commission is, if anything, more urgent than ever. That’s because this would entrench animal protection in our system of government for the first time, giving animals more of a level-playing field in the battle against the state’s deep obsession with money and profit above everything else.