The RSCPA could be veering towards animal rights rather than welfare, writes Ian Johnson, NFU South West spokesman...
‘Respice Misericordiam’ (‘shows mercy’). It’s the RSPCA’s motto and sits beneath the society’s coat of arms, which includes a cockerel (representing farm animals).
“The golden drops (underneath the portcullis) represent the mercy and also the money which our generous supporters give to enable us to carry on our work”.
The society’s mission statement is: “The RSPCA as a charity will, by all lawful means, prevent cruelty, promote kindness to and alleviate suffering of all animals.”
And therein lies my dilemma – is the RSPCA, an undoubtedly highly effective and much cherished animal welfare organisation, being positioned to take a rather more radical road – a direction of travel veering away from animal welfare towards animal rights?
The distinction may be subtle, but it is highly significant.
You see, nobody from HRH the Queen, the RSPCA’s patron, right down to yours truly, who has had a unique insight into the society’s workings via a short stint as head of its press , would argue with many of its impeccable achievements and objectives in combating cruelty.
But, and it’s a big one, there is currently an apparent disconnect between this laudable heritage and some of the rhetoric being used in the RSPCA’s name surrounding the proposed culling of badgers to help reduce the incidence of tuberculosis in the countryside.
Its new chief executive, Gavin Grant, a Wiltshire resident, is widely reported to have called upon tourists to avoid cull areas on the basis that landowners should be made to feel the “commercial consequences” of allowing culling on their land.
“Those who care,” he says, “will not want to visit areas or buy milk from farms soaked in badger’s blood.”
Well, aside from the headline-grabbing intent of such remarks and the fact that they ignore the scientific justification and legality of a limited cull on private land for the purposes of disease control and animal welfare, what actually lies behind them?
To use his own analogy, is Mr Grant trying merely to tap into a potential new vein of donations?
Possibly, given that the RSPCA’s expenditure is apparently exceeding its income of around £115 million, with legacies taking a particular hit – down by over 20 per cent – and reserves diminishing to under £50 million.
But, if so, it’s a risky , given that such stridency may alienate as many donors as it attracts.
Is he perhaps sniffing political blood and making early preparations to assist with the blood-letting of the Tories, as he did so effectively in paving the way to propel the power-hungry Blair regime into office via the ‘animal vote’ when he was campaigns director at the RSPCA in the early Nineties?
This may have some traction because, amongst other things, he is a Liberal Democrat who was involved in Nick Clegg’s party leadership campaign and he may well be looking to a renaissance of RSPCA influence under a Lib Dem/New Labour coalition after the next election.
Or is he simply seeking to radicalise the organisation in a bid to appeal to a new generation of ‘activists’ – again, possibly somewhat risky in that his stated intention is to try to generate more engagement with big companies interested in enhancing their image via their ‘ social responsibility’ ratings, presumably by donating to the RSPCA?
The society does have a somewhat turbulent history in terms of the composition of its national 25-strong ruling council, elected from among its 40,000 members.
When I started my brief but interesting sojourn there, it was agonising over the expulsion of the Animal Liberation Front’s press officer, Robin Webb, who was not without sympathisers within the organisation.
And now, under Gavin Grant’s stewardship, the RSPCA is joining in common cause with a ‘motley crew’ of ‘anti-cull’ organisations including the League Against Cruel Sports (humane culling of badgers having nothing whatsoever to do with either ‘cruelty’ or ‘sports’).
Perhaps even more surprisingly given that the RSPCA has its own farm assurance , Freedom Foods, a pragmatic approach to welfare standards involving a quality mark labelling scheme for meat, eggs and dairy produce, is that its ‘anti-cull coalition’ comrades include VIVA (Vegetarians International Voice for Animals), Animal Aid and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).
These ‘animal rights’ groups advocate a vegan diet excluding meat, eggs and dairy produce.
In fact the animal rights movement generally is dedicated to ending the status of animals as property and to their use in the research, food, clothing and entertainment – quite what would happen to said animals in such a ‘liberated’ world is a little hazy.
So if the animal rights movement is all about ending their use by mankind as opposed to animal welfare being about responsibly ensuring their health and well-being, and the culling of badgers is a scientifically and legally validated means of disease control in pursuit of the ultimate health and well-being of both badgers and cattle, is the RSPCA an animal rights or an animal welfare organisation?