Leading article: Remember the real animal welfare issues

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WHEN IT comes to their relations with other animals, human beings seem strangely incapable of deploying the reason that is their main distinguishing feature. Barry Horne, the hunger striker for animal rights, is right to draw attention to the unnecessary cruelty involved in some animal testing. He is wrong to assert, as he does by implication by claiming that he is prepared to die for the cause, that this is the animal rights issue above all others. As some of our correspondents have pointed out, there are two much larger groups of animals that are often treated badly by humans: those we use for food, and those we use as pets.

Then there is the even larger issue, which is the threat posed by the sheer scale of the reproductive "success" of our species to the survival of thousands of other diverse species. In its impact on the evolution of species on this planet, the catastrophe of human expansion does not yet match the event - probably a giant meteorite - which wiped out the dinosaurs. But give it time.

We report today on two aspects of this. First, the short-haired bumblebee, a species native to Britain, has been declared extinct - no trace has been found since the early Eighties. The World Wide Fund for Nature warns that the skylark, songthrush and water vole will follow it into oblivion in the first decade of the next century. And this is nothing as to the destruction of species in other parts of the world, including many animals in the rainforests which have never even been identified.

Second, we report on the threat to the fish stocks in the seas around our islands. This should not be an anti-European issue; most of the problem is that we have over-fished our own fish. We urgently need our politicians to rise above such pettiness and to start tackling some of the real "big picture" issues, such as how to save the skylark.