The television producer who turned the world of competitive dog breeding upside down with a damning documentary says not enough has changed since it was aired.
Speaking as Crufts got underway at Birmingham’s NEC, Jemima Harrison said she was saddened that the Kennel Club had not gone far enough to outlaw in-breeding which experts fear is harming certain breeds.
Since Pedigree Dogs Exposed was shown on the BBC in August 2008, the Crufts organisers have said they will no longer register puppies bred from mating a dog with a close relative.
But Ms Harrison said she was alarmed that officials at the Kennel Club seemed to have ignored a report it commissioned, which recommends it bans close breeding of half-siblings or grandparent to grandchild.
An impassioned open letter from Ms Harrison to its management is published this week in Dogs Today magazine as the world’s biggest dog show gets underway.
She urges the 137-year-old organisation to consider “outcrossing”, breeding.
But the journalist said she was not optimistic because of the “blinkered” views of certain sections of the dog world. “Some breeders don’t seem to understand genetics,” she said. “They get very upset if you tell them that it’s wrong to in-breed.
“Everything tells us that nature abhors in-breeding but it has been a fact of life with the Kennel Club. It was only very reluctantly that they stopped first degree mating.”
The report by Cambridge University genetics professor Sir Patrick Bateson published in January said breed standards endorsed by the Kennel Club “can be demonstrated to be directly threatening to health and welfare”.
He said the competition’s rules should be rewritten to avoid encouraging pronounced characteristics in facial and bodily features.
The report advised against grandparent to grandchild mating and said that out-crossing must not be ruled out.
It has been hailed as vindication for Harrison’s TV report, which initially forced the Kennel Club to change its guidelines on first degree breeding.
Ms Harrison claims the Kennel Club is yet to accept most of what she believes are the report’s most serious recommendations.
“They seem to think that if they stop in-breeding, they will be left with a collection of mongrels,” she said.
The broadcast of Pedigree Dogs Exposed led to the withdrawal of the BBC’s long-running coverage of the show and a number of high-profile sponsors including Pedigree Petfoods backed out of deals.
New breed standards for 209 dog species were announced in January 2009 to prevent the practice of exaggerating features such as a short muzzle which can lead to breathing difficulties.
The Kennel Club has continued to reform and announced changes to the rules for this year’s Crufts show which will allow its chief vet to examine and exclude any dog if he feels they are unhealthy.
In response to Ms Harrison’s concerns, Kennel Club secretary Caroline Kisko said: “Second degree mating is something that we will consider on a breed by breed basis.
“We don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water because some breeds are so small that if you were to ban second degree mating, you would be getting rid of the breed altogether.
“We are not going to jump on the basis of somebody who has a different point of view to our own genetic advisers.”
The Kennel Club said it was delighted that the four-day show would be broadcast by digital channel More 4.
Presenter Clare Balding will examine health and welfare issues surrounding dog breeding and specially-filmed sections will focus on puppy farming, status dogs and cross breeding, with a vet on hand to answer viewers’ questions.
Despite being viewed as an enemy to certain breed societies, Ms Harrison said she was looking forward to visiting this year’s Crufts and said she had received support from most dog owners.