One example of the Labour Government’s action on animal welfare which can be described as a “dollar short and a day late” is its policy on wild animals in circuses.

It is, of course, to be welcomed that Jim Fitzpatrick MP, Minister of State for Food, Farming and Environment (DEFRA), stated on March 25, 2010.

I agree with the clear view emerging from the huge response to the government’s consultation that keeping wild animals to perform in traveling circuses is no longer acceptable. So, I am minded to pursue a ban on the use of these animals in circuses. We also want to make sure that circus animals are well looked after once they stop performing. Nobody wants to see them simply destroyed, and we will work with all concerned to secure a future for these animals.

Since its election in 1997 the Labour Government has made significant progress for animal welfare; however, an “easy” issue which should have been dealt with by now is wild animals performing in traveling circuses. This is an easy issue because there is overwhelming public support for a ban, which was corroborated by DEFRA’s latest public consultation, and involves a relatively small number of animals.

The government is to be congratulated to have earlier chosen Mike Radford, a respected legal authority in animal welfare, to lead its consultation 2007, “Wild Animals in Traveling Circuses,” but it was an impossible brief: to make a scientific assessment as to whether these animals suffer. The Academic Panel concluded that there

appears to be little evidence to demonstrate that the welfare of animals kept in traveling circuses is any better or worse than that of animals kept in other captive environments.

In short, there was little or not scientific research into wild or non-domesticated animals in circuses. Whereas it is understandable to frame this consultation on the basis of science, the Academic Panel concluded it was an “entirely political decision.” Given that, as the Academic Panel recognized, “less than 50” wild animals are used in British circuses and, as demonstrated by the recent consultation, public opinion is overwhelmingly in support of a ban, the Government should have approached this issue from the outset as a matter of public policy.

Quite simply, is it morally acceptable for wild animals to perform in circuses?

In this light, Jim Fitzpatrick’s decision is, of course, welcome. But given all the arguments in favor of a ban the government is still only “mindful” of one. Therefore, the assumption can be reasonably made that such a ban will most likely appear in Labour’s manifesto for this election. Which raises the question is Labour’s handling of this issue better if it had implemented a ban and demonstrated its commitment to animal welfare in the general election or shows their commitment by promising action if elected to form the next government?

My take is that it should have been the former. This is why I think Labour is a day late and a dollar short on the issue of wild animals in circuses. Further, if the Conservatives are elected to form the next government, time will tell as to whether they will act and if so how.

Interestingly, there is no mention of this issue in the manifestos of  Vote Cruelty Free, IFAW’s “Missing a Voice” and PAD’s Vote 4 Animals. The RSPCA’s Political Animals states:

The RSPCA is currently campaigning for a ban on wild animals in circuses in England and Wales. We believe that it is both an animal welfare and an ethical issue for wild animals to be kept in close confinement in circuses and made to perform unnatural behavior, and we do not believe that this does anything to educate the public or foster respect for animals.

For more information, please visit the Captive Animals Protection Society.

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