In an impressive display of its growing political clout, the animal rights movement helped bring about significant legal changes in Britain, the US and Australia in the past week. In Britain, overturning centuries of tradition, the House of Commons voted to ban fox hunting. The ban becomes effective in three months’ time, although there is certain to be a legal challenge. There have been threats of civil disobedience by hunting enthusiasts.
Fox hunting, which raises fierce passions in Britain, has been a political football for years. In September 2002, 400,000 hunting supporters marched through London in one of the biggest protests in 150 years. But so determined was Tony Blair’s government to pass the bill that it invoked the little-used 1949 Parliament Act to override the opposition of the House of Lords, a measure which had only been used three times before.
Turning to the US, the Supreme Court has refused to overturn a ban on cockfighting in the state of Oklahoma. Only two states now allow the sport, New Mexico and Louisiana, and animal rights activists have set their sights on introducing bans there as well. “My advice to anyone moving to Louisiana thinking it’s a cockfighting refuge is not to unpack their bags,” says Wayne Pacelle, president of the US Humane Society, the world’s largest animal rights group. “It’s going to be a very short stay.”
And in Australia, pressure from the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has forced the wool industry to end the practice of mulesing, or removing wool-bearing skin from the sheep’s crutch area. The practice will be phased out by 2010 and in the meantime efforts will be made to make mulesing less painful. Lobbying by PETA has already forced leading US retailer Abercrombie & Fitch to ditch Australian wool products. The wool industry fears that other high-profile chains such as Gap or Benetton will join the boycott. Whether this concession by the wool industry will placate PETA remains to be seen. It still insists that mulesing must be stopped immediately, along with Australia’s huge live sheep export trade.
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