Forget hunting - here are some animal rights issues the Government should address

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From tomorrow, anyone who goes hunting with hounds will be on the wrong side of the law. The last legal avenue of resistance was closed yesterday when the Countryside Alliance failed in its effort to have the ban overturned and was refused leave to appeal to the House of Lords. The last legal meets will take place today.

From tomorrow, anyone who goes hunting with hounds will be on the wrong side of the law. The last legal avenue of resistance was closed yesterday when the Countryside Alliance failed in its effort to have the ban overturned and was refused leave to appeal to the House of Lords. The last legal meets will take place today.

Thus ends a long and, for some, picturesque tradition. The ban on hunting was not something that this newspaper sought. We regarded hunting as an unedifying practice. But we did not see it as something that required the attention of the law, still less the hours and days of parliamentary and judicial time that were squandered on it. Poll after poll showed that although many people felt strongly for or against hunting, they were the minority. The majority of voters are indifferent to hunting - and remain so. There was absolutely no need in our view for the Government to have embroiled itself in the subject at all.

The sorriest aspect of this whole sorry saga, however, is not the ban on hunting itself so much as the diversion of time, energy and money that the protracted legislative process entailed. If the Government had wanted to please the Animal Rights movement - and a great many more people besides - there were many more worthwhile and productive routes it could have taken.

The first priority would be to tighten regulation on the use of animals in laboratory experiments. There is no reason whatsoever why live animals should be used for testing cosmetics, for instance. Their use in medical research could be far more limited than it is, and subject to much stricter regulation. Where alternative means are available, they should be used.

It is almost 20 years since vivisection on chimpanzees was outlawed. The very reason why chimpanzees were judged so useful for medical research - their physiological similarity to humans - was why such experiments were banned. Keeping animals so like ourselves in laboratory conditions was rightly regarded as unacceptable cruelty. Using them in experiments was seen, also rightly, as a violation of their rights. Yet the next logical step - a ban on vivisection on all primates - has not even been broached. It is high time it was. For some reason, the ban on fox-hunting took priority.

Certain farming practices would also have been worth scrutiny. Battery hens are raised in atrocious conditions. The RSPCA will soon release cinema adverts exposing the conditions inside a broiler-chicken shed. There is almost no legislation, in this country or anywhere else, to protect the billions of chickens reared for food every year. The exotic animal and bird industry would be another target for tighter regulation. The European Union bans the import of protected species, but this does not prevent tourists from buying them outside the EU and trying to bring them into Britain.

And if the Government felt that it had no alternative to tackling field sports and that there was political capital to be made from so doing, there were more disgraceful country pursuits than fox-hunting to which they could have directed their legislative zeal. Take snaring: all snaring is banned in most EU countries, but only some types of snares are banned in Britain. And of animals regularly trapped, only badgers enjoy the partial protection of the law. Ministers might also have fixed their sights on practices that are already outlawed, such as badger-baiting, but continue with the knowledge, and in some cases the complicity, of local people.

Probably none of these issues would have fired the same degree of controversy that the ban on hunting has done. On most, there would have been a broad consensus that tightening the law was desirable. Instead, we have the ban on hunting, which has divided town from country and needlessly exposed the residual class resentment that lies all too close to the surface of British life. What a scandalous waste of precious government time.

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