Unspeakable

Oscar Wilde described fox hunting as “The Unspeakable in Pursuit of the Uneatable”.

I’d question whether foxes are uneatable – five thousand crows can’t all be wrong – but today’s activities generate some questions about fox hunting. On the day that the House of Commons voted in favour of a ban on hunting with hounds, five people claiming to be hunt supporters invaded the chamber and, in the words of one MP, “shouted some pretty rude things”. Meanwhile outside, in Parliament Square, a thin blue (and flourescent yellow) line of the Met Police’s finest faced ten thousand hunt supporters, and ugly scenes erupted: From the news footage I saw, it looked like a Police officer struck the first blow, but seeing things from only one viewpoint can be pretty unreliable – especially considering Sky News’s habit of taking a short piece of film and looping it, so that what looks like five minutes of pitched battle is in fact just the worst fifteen seconds they could find, repeated several times.

I’ve never really been sure where I stood on the fox hunting issue: I live in the city, and I’m not one of those townies who assume the right to tell country folk how to live. The place I like to visit at weekends is their workplace, and they have to make the best living they can. Also, a Saturday job on a farm many years ago let me see how foxes treat poultry, lambs, and even pregnant ewes, and it isn’t pretty.

On the other hand, there’s always seemed something wrong about fox hunting to me: I’ve shot pigeons for the pot (well, the pie tin), and I’ve pulled the neck of the turkey that later became my Christmas dinner; the only people who have the right to criticise me for that are vegetarians. But fox hunting has always seemed to belong to the world of badger baiting.

Country dwellers tell us that foxes are vermin and need to be controlled. I can’t argue with that, I don’t know enough about these things to judge, but if it needs to be done, why not do it in a way rather more efficient than killing one every couple of weeks? Given the way that nature balances population with food supply, the best way to reduce the fox population is to stop them feeding. Working, as I do, in a food factory, vermin control is very important to us, and our principal method of controlling pests is to ensure there is no food to attract them: Killing is a backup last resort. OK, I’m talking about rats and mice, but the principle is surely the same.

At the end of the day, it just seems wrong to kill purely for fun.

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