The NFU has accused the RSPCA of hypocrisy after farmers were warned they could lose their valued Freedom Foods status if they supported or allowed badger controls on their land.
In a letter to scheme members, Freedom Food, a wholly owned subsidiary of the RSPCA, claims that, ‘based on the current science, welfare concerns and a realistic assessment of what is practical, a widespread cull of badgers is totally unacceptable to the RSPCA’.
It goes on to say that under the standards, Freedom Food members are required to apply ‘all reasonable non-lethal and humane methods of wild animal exclusion/control’. Freedom Food adds that it believes it is ‘unacceptable to use lethal methods of wild animal control as routine practice’. The letter states: “As such Freedom Food would regard it as unacceptable for any of its members to voluntarily take part in a badger cull for the above reasons. To do so would also bring the scheme into disrepute and be a clear breach of the membership agreement, resulting in suspension.”"The NFU takes this threat to its members very seriously" said NFU Director of Policy Martin Haworth. "Our lawyers are currently looking at this in detail, but have yet to identify the wording used in this letter in the actual Freedom Food standards. In fact, the RSPCA’s welfare standards for beef cattle, for example, state that farmers must manage the levels of potentially harmful pests to avoid the risk of disease spread, and that while methods of physical exclusion must be included whenever possible, if such methods are inadequate or unsuccessful, other approaches must be enacted.
“I note that the RSPCA says it is “unacceptable to use lethal methods of wild animal control as routine practice”. To connect this to the government’s TB eradication programme is a nonsense. The planned badger controls are only one part of a wider package of measures to tackle bovine TB.""In no way is it “routine”. The pilot areas have been specifically licensed by Natural England, under the Protection of Badgers Act for the absolute purpose of preventing the spread of disease. The cull will be confined to defined areas and will be heavily regulated. It will also be strictly monitored by an independent group to confirm it is safe, it’s humane and effective in controlling this terrible disease.
“Questions should be asked of the RSPCA’s objectives. It fully supports culling as a routine practice for deer, for example, with 350,000 removed annually. The same goes for rats and rabbits. Have Freedom Food members ever been suspended on these grounds? In this light, we can’t help but see the Freedom Food letter on badger culling as hypocritical.
“I feel extremely disappointed that the RPSCA has resorted to such tactics normally reserved for other animal rights organisations. It seems to us that this letter has nothing to do with the welfare of farm animals, which is what the Freedom Food scheme is all about. Instead, it looks to us like the RSPCA trying to attack farmers’ businesses financially to try to stop farmers from lawfully participating in what is a sadly necessary step to tackle a devastating animal disease, just as the RSPCA has tried to do by calling on shoppers to boycott milk produced on dairy farms in the cull areas.”