Racing’s Goliath should fear Animal Aid’s David

100,000 signatures on an e-petition triggered a parliamentary debate a fortnight ago. The proposal was made by Animal Aid, and it was this: that the government

Create a new independent welfare body to protect racehorses from abuse and death

Tom Kerr’s Racing Post article today lays out some of the arguments made during that debate, concentrating on quotes from politicians which the BHA and racing will consider less than supportive.

In a blog piece today, Trainer Jim Boyle’s article in response to Tom Kerr’s, highlighted the fact that the debate was far from wholly doom and gloom for our sport. Indeed, the government’s formal response to the petition was this:

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) is responsible for the safety of jockeys and horses at races in this country. The BHA works with animal welfare organisations like the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare to keep racecourses as safe as possible for horses.

According to the BHA the overall equine fatality rate in British racing has reduced by one-third in the last twenty years, from 0.3% to less than 0.2% of runners in 2017, the lowest figure on record.

Given that overall racehorse welfare is improving and fatalities at racecourses are falling, we do not see a need to set up another body responsible for racehorse welfare.
Racehorses, like all domestic and captive animals, are afforded protection under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Under this legislation, it is an offence to cause any unnecessary suffering to an animal or for an owner, or keeper, to fail to provide for its welfare needs. Any person or organisation may initiate criminal proceedings where there is reason to believe that unnecessary suffering has been caused, or may report the matter to the police, local authority or RSPCA who will decide whether or not to institute a prosecution. The maximum penalty for an offence under the 2006 Act is a fine of £20,000 and/or six months’ imprisonment.

If anyone has any concerns about the welfare of an animal or considers that its welfare has not been provided, then they should report the matter to the local authority who have powers under the 2006 Act to investigate such matters or to the RSPCA who can also investigate.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Whatever the merits of how the debate is presented, the most worrying aspect here, in my opinion, is that Animal Aid appear to have upped their game substantially.  The petition was supported by a YouGov poll they commissioned. The results of that poll were presented by Animal Aid as follows:

  • After being told about the number of horses who are killed each year due to horse racing, 63% of respondents support the creation of a new, independent organisation to be responsible for race horse welfare.
  • 63% of respondents support the idea of making it a requirement for the names of all race horses who die during racing each month in Britain to be reported publicly, rather than the current system of expressing deaths as a total number or percentage of times that horses have raced.
  • 74% of respondents would support the idea of race horse owners and breeders being required to pay an initial sum of money and a monthly levy fee during the race horse’s career, which would then be used to fund their future care after racing.

The heading for these claims was:

Over half the public want a new welfare regulator for horse racing

Tom Kerr refers to Animal Aid as an ‘extreme animal rights’ organisation. In an otherwise fine article, I thought this was a mistake and diluted the message Tom was trying to get across.  Animal Aid claim they’ve been campaigning for over 40 years. Some of their past tactics, and their spokesmen, haven’t helped their cause. But they appear to have become much more professional. Branding them ‘extreme’ discourages people from taking them seriously.

Rather than gathering their own statistics and throwing them out to newspapers around Grand National time, then seemingly disappearing for a year, Animal Aid finance YouGov polls and drive petitions with such success they’re forcing parliamentary debate.

It’s time to take them seriously. I could have written exactly the same thing about the Campaign For Fairer Gambling (CFFG), started by a businessman called Derek Webb and run by a couple of media savvy staff. They didn’t even have a permanent office. Webb spent less than £3m in going from a voice in the wilderness to effectively getting the law changed. In doing this he has wiped billions off future profits in the retail betting sector.

The big bookies’ apparent defence when Webb first popped up was to take cover behind an old proverb: God is on the side of the big battalions.

Oh yeah?

The retail betting industry’s handling of the CFFG campaign against them ought to be the classic PR school case history for the next century in how not to do things.  Racing must not fall into the same trap.

Coincidentally, 5 Live had a story today about the success of the TV show Last Chance Lawyer, about Howard Greenberg who apparently takes on what others believe are hopeless causes in defending criminals in New York.

Greenberg was entertaining. The most interesting quote from him, for my money (and it made me think right away about that FOBT campaign and Animal Aid’s) was this:  “Facts don’t win cases. Emotions win cases.”

A sweeping statement perhaps, but he specialises in appealing to human nature when handling juries. Mister Webb appealed to human nature and emotion in his FOBT campaign and has, whether he intended to or not, set a template for those who want to harness the public and the media to their cause.  I suspect that template has been fleshed out, framed and hung on the wall at Animal Aid HQ.

Joe McNally



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