Thursday, August 13, 2020

Animal Cruelty 3 - The Racing "Industry"




Softeis / CC BY-SA (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Horse Racing  – An Industry in Decline?

With the Spring Racing Carnival gathering pace in Australia, perhaps it's time to spare a thought for the horses who'll be running for their lives. While still legal in most countries, horse racing also involves cruelty and death for the animals involved, even if not intentionally.

While we occasionally hear about a horse falling in a race and having to be euthanased on the spot – the US reportedly had around ten horses a week destroyed on its racetracks in 2018, while the UK recorded 186 horse deaths in 2019, we don’t hear about those which die later of exhaustion or doping or about those which are injured and die during training. Nor do we hear about the many foals which are discarded and euthanased long before they ever race. Steeplechases, jumps and hurdles are even more deadly with falls seven times more likely according to the UK report, and entail 18.9 times more risk of death or injury according to an Australian one. Whipping and the use of  'tongue ties' to prevent a horse evading the bit, which, while not necessarily lethal, are nevertheless additional causes of stress and pain for the animals. For shocking footage - don't say you haven't been warned, about what goes on behind the scenes in the racing industry click here.

Perhaps it's good news then that, as with bullfighting, interest in this archaic 'sport' is also declining, especially among young people. A report in the New York Times says betting on horse –racing has declined in the USA from around $15 billion in 2002 to $11 billion in 2019, along with a decline in the number of foals being produced from 33,000 in 2002, to 19,000 over the same period. An Australian poll conducted  in 2019 found that interest in viewing horse racing had declined and that most fans were over 50, with 15% over 65 and only one 5th under 35. 


 Greyhound Racing - Going to the Dogs

Interest in greyhound racing is also waning. It is banned in two states of Australia - NSW and the ACT, but a proposed ban in Tasmania has recently been challenged by operators in Devonport.  In the USA, the Humane Society says that greyhound racing is now illegal in 40 states, and gambling revenues have fallen by 70% as other forms of gambling have become more popular. If anything, the animals used in greyhound racing are treated even more poorly than in horse racing and far more are bred than are ever raced. Although illegal, "live baiting," that is, using living animals as lures, continues and as the RSPCA writes, “Each year thousands of greyhounds are abandoned and discarded by industry participants...because they are deemed unsuitable for racing.' Many of these dogs are simply euthanased, along with those which have 'treatable injuries'  or minor injuries and are thus "considered economically unviable.” There is also a high injury rate from competitions. For example, in the USA over 15, 000 injuries were reported between 2008 - 2018, though not all states are required to report. Typical injuries include broken legs, broken necks and broken backs, head trauma and paralysis and even electrocution from the electronic lures.

Since only on -field injuries are recorded for both greyhounds and horses these figures are at best only the tip of a much larger iceberg with little indication of  what becomes of these animals. Even registers of thoroughbred horses which are now required to be kept, have been proven to be grossly in error . In both the UK and Australia, these racing “industries” claim to regulate themselves and there are no specific laws or standards for such animals, other than general animal welfare laws and not even these, especially in the case of greyhounds, are necessarily being complied with, nor is there any external oversight. In both cases the animals are merely regarded as a ‘product’ -commodities whose sole purpose is to turn a profit for their owners. If you think things might be better in the USA, check out CNN's footage from 2013. It's little wonder that Australia ranks almost at the bottom of the ladder out of 36 OECD countries when it comes to animal welfare, with only Japan scoring lower.

The arguments in favour of racing are the same as those for retaining cock fighting in Puerto Rico. They run along the lines of –“It’s traditional,” “My father did it and I’m going to do it too.” “It’s good for the economy.” “There aren’t any jobs; I won’t be able to pay my mortgage if you don’t let me do this.” 
I can’t speak for other jurisdictions, but in our state the racing industry claims to make a $103 million dollar contribution to the economy, via food and accommodation, transport and so on, as well creating some 999 jobs in rural regions for breeders, trainers, vets and farriers and uses this to demand $30 million in government support.
 
Many of these arguments don’t hold water. The jockeys for example, make very little compared to the owners and any others in professional sport and are exposed to far greater risks. A report from the USA says that it is the most dangerous professional sport and has the lowest pay.  In the USA, even with new safety regulations in place, there were still 13 fatalities since 2000 and that doesn’t include those riders who suffer traumatic head injuries or paralysis.

As far as the economy goes,  Mona -Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art,  brought in $134.5 million to the state's economy between 2017 – 2018 and since it began in 2011, it has created around 1,300 direct and indirect jobs. It also operates continuously not just during the occasional racing carnival.

Ah, say the proponents, but racing creates work in rural areas where there would otherwise be little demand for the specialist skills currently employed in the racing industry. While I’m sure the strappers at the Coliseum must have felt the same way, when gladiatorial skills became redundant, or the hand weavers who were displaced by the coming of the industrial revolution, it does not justify continued exploitation of animals for entertainment, especially when a decent festival can achieve the same end without harming anyone or anything else.

I'm thinking here of say, the Falls Festival which in  a non -COVID year brings in around $34 million over four days, or the Taste of the Huon which not creates jobs, a spectacle and a quick injection of funds for the region, but also generates long term benefits through showcasing its produce, accommodation and natural beauty, thereby creating demand, new business and new residents, long after the festival is over. 
 
For those missing the boost to retail sales that Fashion on the Field inspires, we could continue the tradition by having a Fashion Festival devoted entirely to parading fancy hats and displaying one’s finery amid lashings of champagne and strawberries, but without the cruelty. This would utilise  racecourses and their bars and facilities. Feats of courage and strength could be displayed in footraces, gumboot -throwing or other tests of human skill, while those who primarily miss the betting could bet on these contestants or go to a casino, something which didn’t exist when horse racing became established here. At the end, you could have a huge Batchelor and Spinsters' Ball to take care of the social aspects.

Though it's hard to break with established tradition, owners could also take a leaf out of Cirque Du Soleil's book. This company - originally a loose collection of street performers, reinvented the circus, whose revenues were also declining because of concerns about animal welfare. It is now a multimillion dollar enterprise based entirely on human skill and dexterity and one which really pulls the punters in. Jockeys should take note too, that its employees earn in the order of  $30,000 - $100,000 per year and do not necessarily have to risk life and limb as a performer. If watching something raced to death is essential to your survival, what about mechanical horses or something like Robot Wars? All the thrills and spills and none of the agony, plus there's no need to feed the contestants between events. 

In the meantime, we should insist on independent oversight of these animal related activities. This shouldn't be too much to ask, especially while the industry depends on support from the public purse. 

Below are some other ways to help:
  1. Write to Racing Australia and
    Harness Racing Australia, to ask
    for immediate action to improve
    the welfare of race horses  and not just on paper or as a PR exercise!
     
  2. Instead of placing a bet or going into a sweep at work you might want to make a donation to horse related animal welfare organisation e.g. one that re -homes horses

  3. Don't let the country keep going to the dogs. These industries are already in decline. 
For more information, visit:

AU: RSPCA
UK: ANIMAL AID
USA: THE HUMANE SOCIETY OF THE USA
Greyhound racing
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