Camilla Swift

What has prosecuting farmers got to do with animal welfare?

What has prosecuting farmers got to do with animal welfare?
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If you were concerned about animal welfare, would you choose to spend money on prosecuting farmers whose welfare is below par? Or would you spend that money on improving animal welfare through regular unannounced farm inspections, and the labeling of meat that has met strict welfare standards? There seems to be a split in the RSPCA, and it’s this farming issue that’s causing all the trouble.

At their latest annual meeting the charity’s members voted to support a motion which would see them increase their prosecutions of farmers and slaughterhouse workers, and abandon their current Freedom Food accreditation scheme, according to minutes leaked to The Times. And it wasn’t just a small split either, but a well supported revolt, with 59 members voting in favour of the motion, and just 4 opposing.

The charity’s ‘new radical impetus’ reads the motion, ‘must not be allowed to falter in the face of forces inimical to change within and outside the society’. The proposers of the motion particularly pointed to the Freedom Food scheme, saying that ‘the RSPCA has no business sanitising death of this industrial scale’, with another describing Freedom Foods as ‘a company that assures lives that ended in slaughter’.

But the top dogs at the RSPCA don’t sound like they think their members have made the right decision. In a statement they described Freedom Foods as ‘a great British success story’, stating that their aim is ‘that all farm animals will be reared to higher welfare standards’.

Has the departure of their previous CEO, Gavin Grant, led to a division of loyalties at the charity? When he stepped down in February, there were hopes that the RSPCA might change its ways, as I wrote about back then. While he was in the job there was talk of staff disillusionment, and Melissa Kite wrote in The Spectator about a ‘culture of fear at their headquarters’. Perhaps, after he had left, they might become less militant, and revert to doing the job they were created to do, namely to campaign for better animal welfare and prevent animal cruelty. But those hopes have been severely dashed now.

Of course I can only speak for myself, but I find it highly unlikely that the majority of people who donate to the RSPCA would be in favour of the decision that its members have voted for. If you don’t believe that animal should be killed for food, then fair enough. Don’t eat meat. But this doesn’t seem to be about animal welfare, but more about an attack on the whole livestock and meat industry – a kind of hardline veganism, of the type one normally hears from Peta.

The Times described the proposers as coming from the ‘militant wing’ of the charity, and as wanting to launch a ‘hardline attack on farmers’. You don’t go into farming because you dislike animals. In the majority of cases, I would say that the exact opposite is true. Freedom Food isn’t necessarily a perfect scheme . But it would appear that the alternative is somewhat worse.