FOX HUNTING with hounds would be banned if it was subject to international standards on animal welfare, two experts said yesterday at the Government's second day of hearings into the future of the sport last week.
Only one out of eight experts called by the Government and representatives of hunting bodies, anti-hunting campaigners and the Middle Way to give evidence on the cruelty of hunting with dogs was wholly supportive of hunting in all its forms. Of two supportive of hunting, one was against deer hunting as currently practised.
Prof David Morton, Head of Biomedical Science and Ethics at Birmingham university, told the hearing that welfare standards prepared by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development for domesticated animals said that if something was likely to cause suffering in humans it should be assumed it caused suffering in animals.
Hunting caused fear if the animal's escape route was blocked and pain and distress were part of the chase, he argued. These were observable in the animal's behaviour, which was evidence enough. Therefore, he argued, "avoidable suffering" was involved.
The Rev Prof Andrew Linzey, research fellow in Theology and Animals at Oxford, said the cruelty involved in hunting was "morally indefensible" and "in a class of its own".
He said: "There is something specially abhorrent about causing suffering to sentient creatures. It is also potentially socially harmful. Violence and abuse of animals may be linked to other forms of abuse."
Prof Linzey went on to argue that he had seen evidence suggesting a link between violence to animals and child abuse, domestic violence and rape in American states where hunting took place.
Both he and Prof Morton agreed that hunting would be banned if it was subject to the standards prepared by the OECD.
Lembit Opik, MP, of the Middle Way Group, asked Prof Morton what he thought about competitive shooting and fishing. Prof Morton gave a careful reply, saying he believed that it was "morally problematic to go angling for sport." But he said the intention of shooting was "to destroy almost instantaneously."
Extreme anti-hunting campaigners have made no secret of the fact that if hunting is banned they will push for similar bans on angling and shooting.
Prof John Webster, head of animal husbandry at Bristol, said man had a responsibility for minimising suffering to animals but this extended beyond the method of control or killing itself, to acts of neglect - for instance the suffering of shot and wounded animals, or the causing of starvation to whole populations.
He said gassing or shooting would cause death in an animal typically in 1 to 2 minutes, which was comparable to the suffering caused in hunting. Sentient animals, such as foxes, learnt from experience and most would escape the hunt more often than not, so it was possible they were not unduly alarmed by the chase.
He was concerned, however, about the time some deer hunts took - up to eight hours in some cases. "In my view, that is longer than it should be," he said.