There has been a huge evolution in consumers’ understanding of their role in how farm animals are treated. A growing number, for ethical or environmental reasons, are concerned about food production. They, correctly, see themselves complicit in the process. Some who can afford the premium use organic produce.
Others have cut meat consumption, many have stopped eating meat altogether. Others eschew farmed fish, others avoid all fish. Production ethics have assumed unprecedented weight. Arguments about production standards have been advanced by Irish beef producers trying to block the EU deal with South American countries which, they say, will allow beef produced under standards very different to those in Europe.
That argument has validity though its shelf life is uncertain as Irish beef, pork or chicken is increasingly produced in feed-lot settings. One argument on how animals are produced and treated closed emphatically in recent days when RTÉ, in an exemplary commitment to public service broadcasting objectives, focussed on the greyhound industry.
What was uncovered was shameful, horrendous and totally unacceptable. RTÉ Investigates: Greyhounds Running for Their Lives, exposed the routine, gross and willful abuse of greyhounds. The behaviour of some, but not all, of those exposed was shocking. It was so indifferent to animal welfare that it provoked deep shame and anger.
The light-touch administration by the relevant agencies, their failure to impose even basic welfare standards suggests those agencies are not fit for purpose. Indeed, their failure to protect greyhounds seen to be treated as disposable playthings rather than sentient animals that feel pain leaves the relevant minister — Minister for Agriculture Micheal Creed — little if any wriggle room.
Once again the risks, the unnecessary vulnerabilities facilitated by light-touch regulation were highlighted. It is surely time we learned that lesson, one already absorbed by sponsors of greyhound racing who, in light of reporter Conor Ryan’s expose, are reviewing their relationship with a culture of cruelty and indifference out of step with today’s values.
They realise that any link with this industry is a tacit endorsement. Mr Creed, whose office subsidies this immorality to the tune of €16m a year, must accept that principle applies to his department as well.
RTÉ exposed many horrors, doping, gross overproduction of pups and drug cheats winning blue riband events but the most harrowing was the fate of greyhounds exported to China or Pakistan where they faced barbaric cruelties. This suggest all dog exports, including those from puppy farms , must be made illegal and ferry companies or airlines held accountable for breaches.
That is a quick fix but far better policing is needed too. The industry has, for decades, dismissed criticism as politically correct sentimentality. That evasion has been exposed as a lie and provokes a basic question: Why is the State supporting an industry, supposedly an entertainment, built on such cruelty?
It is hard not to think that the game is up for a practice that might have had, once upon a time, a respected place in our ancient tradition of fieldsports.