LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BOYS AND GIRLS... welcome to the big top blog of Douglas McPherson, author of CIRCUS MANIA, the book described by Gerry Cottle as "A passionate and up-to-date look at the circus and its people."

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Brexit, sentient animals and animal rights - a lesson from the circus

So Theresa May's government has voted that "animals can't feel emotions or pain." That's what the headline says in the London Evening Standard and the Independent. Boy, has that got people up in arms on Facebook and Twitter. The Tory Brexiteers haven't sounded so heartless since May campaigned on wanting to bring back fox hunting and the ivory trade.

The only thing is... it isn't true.

The UK government is currently deciding which bits of European Union law it wants to write into the British statute after Brexit. Among the items they have rejected, Caroline Lucas of the Green Party wanted them to adopt Clause 13, Title 11 of the Lisbon Treaty which was introduced in 2009 and says "animals are sentient beings with feelings and that must be taken into account when creating policy that affects them."

That sounds fine on the face of it. After all, anyone who has a pet dog or cat knows their pet is both sentient and capable of feeling pain, fear, affection and other emotions. So why wouldn't we want that on the statute books?

The reason is the animal rights agenda, which isn't the good thing that many unthinkingly believe it to be. I didn't know anything about it myself until I began looking into the question of animals in the circus.

I used to believe that organisations such as Peta and Born Free campaigned against circuses because they thought training and transporting animals involved cruelty. When I started talking to circus trainers, I realised that they cared greatly for their animals and that their animals appeared to be happy in thier lives. So were Peta and the rest mistaken?

Eventually, I discovered that the issue wasn't cruelty at all. It is the vegan ideology that, regardless of how they are kept, animals shouldn't be in circuses at all. Not only that but, according to Peta, we shouldn't be farming them for food or skinning them for clothes, betting on horse races, visiting zoos or even using things like wool and eggs which don't involve killing animals but does involve keeping them in captivity.

Peta doesn't hide this agenda, which is stated in the motto on its website: "Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment or abuse in any other way."

Key to that is agenda is the idea of "animal rights." Again, the phrase "animal rights" sounds fine on the face of it. They've the right to be treated well, yeah? Well yes. But supposing those rights become closer to the rights of humans. We don't eat other humans, so therefore we wouldn't be able to eat an animal that had the same rights as us.

The words "sentient" and "feelings" in Clause 13 of the Lisbon Treaty makes it easier for groups like Peta to argue that animals have those rights, not to improve the conditions in which they are farmed but to legislate against them being farmed at all.

If that sounds far-fetched, look at the way animal rights lobbyists have driven nearly all the animals out of circuses on both sides of the Atlantic - destroying even the mighty Ringling Bros in the process. As Thomas Chipperfield argued in the Times a couple of years ago (If They Ban Circus Lions Pet Cats Will Be Next) circuses have always been the thin end of a very large wedge.

In fact, if you start researching the animal rights influence on agricultural policy in America in particular, and the campaigns against even milk production, you may start to wonder whether circus is the canary in the animal rights coal mine.

In that context, keeping the words "sentient" and "feelings" out of UK legislature is not a step towards a culture of cruelty to animals, as casual readers of the Standard and Independent may conclude. It is instead a sensible step back from a future of animal rights extremism in which all animals have 'personhood' and are completely excluded from human ownership.

Update 22 November 2017.
To clarify what MPs actually voted for, Stuart Andrews, MP for Pudsey, explained why he voted against inclusion of the EU clause:

“Can I make it very clear that I absolutely believe that animals are sentient beings. Of course they have feelings, emotions and feel pain – any pet owner, like myself, will know that first hand.
“I did not vote that animals cannot feel pain. We said the exact opposite. Minister Dominic Raab said in the debate. “Animals will continue to be recognised as sentient under domestic law”. This has been the case since 2006 and will continue to be so.
“A specific amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill was not deemed to be right, but the Government will deliver the same result using a different route.
“I am proud and pleased that the UK has higher animal standards than any other country in Europe and in the past four months we have announced an Ivory ban, CCTV in slaughter houses, increased the maximum sentence for animal cruelty and are banning microbeads. EU law is no panacea: you can keep animals in unspeakably cruel conditions without breaking a single EU law."


  1. Questo articolo รจ bellissimo. Complimenti

  2. Per favore ho bisogno di mettermi in contatto con il giornalista