I have just read about an online petition that has been set up by the RSPCA to ban the illegal use of dogs to harvest mandrake roots. Mandrake, Madragora officinarum, has been harvested for millennia for its medicinal properties.
The problem is that the plant screams on being torn from the soil and anybody hearing the screams will die. EU Health and Safety Regulations now require all mandrake harvesters to be properly trained in order to gain a licence to collect the roots. They must also wear the correct protective clothing, including a special ear protector that is tested to above the usual regulatory limits.
An RSPCA spokesman said that although EU countries comply with the correct safety measures, because of the cost involved, illegal harvesters are using the traditional method of tying a starving dog to the plant, and then standing a safe distance away, waving a bowl of food at the dog. The hungry animal rushes towards the food, pulling up the plant as it does so and promptly dies.
Protestors have complained of the cruelty involved, even before the dog is sacrificed in order to harvest he much prized root. Although the risks are great small fortunes have been made by the illegal harvesting of the roots.
The EU are holding an emergency meeting to discuss this matter today.