The UK as a leader in animal welfare? Well, some animals are more equal than others | Catherine bennett

With a million images of themselves to choose from, many of which were taken by a respectful state photographer, Boris and Carrie Johnson used a photo of their dog, Dilyn, for their recent Christmas card.

While unlikely to appeal to the current Pope, the pet is, they likely concluded, more generally harmless, seemingly uninvolved in the family’s relentless requisition of free luxuries and, on a more positive note, a sharp reminder of the household’s remaining claim to virtue. Or if that is saying too much: to their formal recognition as sentient beings.

To say what you want of his indifference to human well-being, not excluding that of close family members, the Prime Minister has, by his standards, worked tirelessly for lobsters. Better yet, his wife, who is employed by the Aspinall Foundation, a zookeeper so high-end she disdains keeping zoos, is regularly described as an “animal rights activist.” There is talk of a show about Carrie’s wildlife on Netflix. Certainly, lizards, vipers, insects and many other less immediately captivating creatures have not yet seen the interest of having, in Downing Street, these natural successors of Armand and Michaela Denis or the Free born couple – but did we mention Dilyn, the famous rescue dog?

Since this administration began, the animals – sometimes held in the air for this purpose – have been the couple’s way of signaling that they are not, after all, crap. Johnson may not have succeeded, for example, in freeing Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, having dashed his hopes of release, but consider his work for the Badgers, following his girlfriend’s much-publicized intervention (as she was then).

In 2019, the future Mrs Johnson, after a briefing from Dominic Dyer, then CEO of Badger Trust, asked Johnson, who was previously not known for any interest in animals beyond dressing and death, to stop an impending badger cull in Derbyshire. A judicial review, brought by the National Farmers Union, was subsequently rejected. Carrie Symonds went on to condemn trophy hunting, elephant rides and the fur trade and became Peta’s 2020 Person of the Year in the UK. “Symonds is a true ally of animals and his activism is bearing fruit,” said Peta, citing his condemnation of monkey labor.

As for her husband, her government went on to produce an Animal Welfare Action Plan, a quintessentially boastful document in which George Eustice, the Secretary of the Environment, explained why, even though he rejects the regulation of the EU, UK will be the world leader in animal welfare. “The way we treat animals reflects our values ​​and the kind of people we are,” he wrote. “We will continue to raise the bar and we intend to take the rest of the world with us.”

A lesson in raising the international bar came sooner than one might expect when, during the chaotic evacuation from Kabul, the Johnsons intervened to save some of the dogs and cats collected by the Pen Farthing charity, Nowzad. Farthing’s ally Dominic Dyer told the BBC he had once again “reached out” to Symonds and “forced the Prime Minister’s arm”. So it seems reasonable to ignore Downing Street’s denials, especially given the testimony of whistleblower Raphael Marshall before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. There was a “Prime Minister’s instruction” to evacuate the Farthing dogs, no political justification for it and it came at a sickening cost. “There was a direct compromise,” writes Marshall, “between transporting the animals from Nowzad and the evacuation of British nationals and Afghan evacuees, including Afghans who had served with British soldiers.”

To balance this triumph for a British animal welfare brand so global that it favors pets over humans, there are indications, however, that the government is not so much anti-speciesist as it is species selective. If Farthing had chosen to deliver neglected Afghan goats, they probably would not, for all their sociability and intelligence, have inspired a merciful intervention from Carrie Johnson. The RSPCA has already noted, following Liz Truss’ trade deal in Australia (probably a role model for others), that a government proudly sensitive to pet smuggling and badger survival will abandon gladly breeding standards for trade deals. Unless further intervention is imminent, Dilyn’s owners, recently poised to trade the lives of performers for Farthing cats, have no problem with imported beef from cattle raised in “huge dairies.” ‘naked fattening’ and subject to transport times of 48 hours and lamb from animals mutilated without anesthesia.

Applied to slaughtering animals for fun, Johnson’s eclectic welfare principles could lead to even more confusion in countries unfamiliar with Britain’s class-based animal welfare tradition. What, for example, makes the welfare of a British badger more worthy of consideration than that of a British crow? The bird is renowned for its intelligence, capable of social learning, reasoning, and the use of tools – probably more effective in this regard than Johnson, for all of his opposable thumbs.

The cleaning up of the nest is, unlike the Prime Minister’s “tip”, a no-brainer. Their rank in Tory animal taxonomy dictates, however, that crows are one of several wild creatures that can now, following an update to the law, be more easily killed in order to protect game birds, which far outstrip all of them. native British birds and is the cause of considerable ecological damage. Jackdaws, pigeons and rooks can also be sacrificed for a higher purpose: the subsequent slaughter of protected game birds, by landowners, in greater numbers. The RSPB said the revised regulations could be a “massive setback for nature conservation.”

Again, it’s not too late for another intervention from Ms Johnson. Even though crows and pigs lack the superficial appeal of dolphins, monkeys and Dilyn the rescue dog, she might still decide that a certain aversion recorded to killing game birds for fun, and to mistreating livestock for profit, is a minimum requirement for a career in the pet shop. well-being. While it is true that there is no law that says professional animal lovers must love all animals. The late Steve Irwin was killed while harassing a stingray. And they are still looking for a successor to Joe Exotic.

Catherine Bennett is a columnist for the Observer

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