Animal campaigners attended an agricultural show this weekend in a bid to bring attention to the biosecurity risk posed by hunting hounds.
The annual Halifax Agricultural Show features a parade of fox hounds, but according to welfare charity the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS), these animals could potentially spread disease to livestock and across the countryside.
The League says: "Only last week, a new report found that nearly 100 hounds were killed following an outbreak of bTB at the Kimblewick Hunt Kennels, which has been attributed to the dirty, overcrowded and dilapidated conditions in which they were housed."
A major report commissioned by LACS - Hunting with hounds and the spread of disease - analyzed more than a thousand published pieces of evidence in the public domain. The author Professor Stephen Harris concluded: "Hounds used for hunting carry numerous infectious diseases which can be spread to livestock, other hounds, and even humans. The dogs often contract the diseases after being fed the carcasses of diseased livestock.
"Diseases spread by hunting hounds contribute to a substantial number of infections each year, costing the livestock and farming industries 'millions', as hunts regularly ignore 'biosecurity' measures which are designed to prevent disease spreading.
"At least 4,000 hunt hounds are euthanised by hunts each year, many around 6-10 years old, often because they are too ill to keep up with the rest of the pack. Studies suggest many of these will have diseases but post mortems are rarely done."
'Melting pot of disease'
Chris Pitt, Deputy Director of Campaigns at the League Against Cruel Sports, said: "Agricultural and country shows are a long-standing tradition and a part of country life, but research shows that they are basically a melting pot of disease which is leading to disaster for farmers and animal welfare.
"You've got hunting hounds from different parts of the country all mixing together. If even one of those dogs is carrying disease – which is highly likely – then the risk of it passing it to other dogs or livestock is also high. The disease then gets moved around the country and livestock dies, which is both a financial and welfare cost. Local hounds are then fed the carcasses – and the cycle continues.
"Anyone taking livestock to a show must follow basic biosecurity measures to ensure that their animals do not spread, or pick up, disease. There are question marks over how successful these measures are anyway, but evidence suggests that hunts take even less care with their hounds. Given the huge impact disease has on the countryside, it's unbelievable that so little care or thought is being given to this problem."