Freedom Food, which is owned by the RSPCA, has written to members of the scheme informing them that the widespread cull of badgers is totally unacceptable to the RSPCA, and that supporting the move would bring the label into disrepute and constitute “a clear breach of the membership agreement”, resulting in farmers’ suspension from the highly valued label.
It argued that under the Freedom Food standards, members are required to apply “all reasonable non-lethal and humane methods of wild animal exclusion/control”.
The RSPCA believes that vaccination, increased levels of testing and improved biosecurity are more effective ways of dealing with the problem in the long term.
However the NFU has hit back, pointing out that the badger cull is in no way routine and denouncing the RSPCA for hypocrisy. Director of policy Martin Haworth said: “The NFU takes this threat to its members very seriously. 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.”
He said that to refer to the measure government’s TB eradication programme as ‘routine culling’ was “a nonsense”.
“The planned badger controls are only one part of a wider package of measures to tackle bovine TB,” he said. “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, humane and effective in controlling this terrible disease.”
Haworth accused the RSPCA of hypocrisy and pointed out that the charity supports the routine cull of 350,000 deer per annum and said that questions should be asked of the RSPCA’s objectives.
He said: “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.”