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Animal rights activists descend on MP's office

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A protest was held outside Richard Benyon's Newbury office against Government support for battery-bred pheasants

ANIMAL rights activists targeted Newbury MP Richard Benyon's office yesterday (Wednesday) to protest against the coalition government's support for battery-bred pheasants.

Animal Aid blames the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which Mr Benyon presides over as minister, for the Government's decision to overturn a Labour-led ban on the caged breeding of pheasants to be used for hunting.

Two protesters from the group, one dressed as a pheasant, visited his Cheap Street office to hand over an information pack on what they described as the mistreatment of pheasants.

The group claims that the increased industrialisation of pheasant and partridge production for sport led to animal suffering, drawing comparison with the excesses of the broiler chicken industry. They released a film on their website which they claim reveals the suffering of birds bred in large sheds.

Speaking before the protest, Animal Aid director Andrew Tyler said: “Many people in Britain do not realise that, every year, around 50 million pheasants and partridges are intensively reared especially so that they can be shot for the sheer pleasure of killing them.

“The meagre protection these birds receive during the production phase has been reduced still further, thanks to the callous disregard for their welfare demonstrated by coalition Defra ministers.”

One of the protesters, Claudia Tarry, said: “Most people would likely assume that when you go game shooting you are shooting wild animals, but this is not the case. These animals are bred in the most appalling conditions. Every year, 50 million animals are bred for shooting and the vast majority of them are not even retrieved, let alone consumed.”

Another, Hope Carveth, from Bucklebury, criticised the game industry in general: “It is not game shooting as it used to be. It is not shooting for the pot. Breeding animals just to be shot for fun, in my opinion, is wrong.”

The protesters were confronted by a West Berkshire game warden, Henry Theobald, who attacked their views: “The problem with the Act as it was is it would have meant all the birds would have come from France, which would be much worse for the animals,” he said. “We have a far better system in this country and animals are much better protected here. I have seen the video on the website, but what I would like to know is did you get in touch with the owner? Because where I work, if a bird dies or it is sick, it is removed from the population.”

He also contested the protesters' claims that the majority of birds shot for sport are not consumed.

Mr Benyon's office said he was away on ministerial business and therefore unable to comment on the protest yesterday (Wednesday). However, prior to the protest he said he had not seen the film on the Animal Aid website and would not comment on it, but added: “There were good reasons why we overturned the ban.

“We have very high standards (of animal welfare requirements) for game birds as we would for all kinds of animals.”

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