Tony Wardle

Freedom Logo

Time to Dump Freedom Food

Troubles mount for the RSPCA as its support for factory farming becomes an embarrassment

Shocking pictures of the conditions inside two RSPCA Freedom Food farms were transmitted by BBC1’s Watchdog in January and produced a vehement complaint from the RSPCA to the Broadcasting Standards Commission (BSC). On October 25 the Commission upheld Watchdog’s expose and rejected the RSPCA’s complaint entirely.

The programme showed an intensive pig farm and egg-laying hens in a crowded ‘barn’ system. It also included an interview with the RSPCA’s then director general, Peter Davis, who defended factory farming by saying that it was necessary to meet the publicdemand for animal protein. Viva! worked closely with the programme makers throughout.

Peter Davis complained that the RSPCA had not been given a proper opportunity to respond to the allegations and that the film contained inaccurate and misleading claims. The BSC rejected both complaints, saying that Mr Davis was shown the Watchdog film prior to transmission and had declared himself happy with it. They added that the RSPCA had been provided with adequate opportunity to respond to the allegations and there were no unfair claims.

Following transmission of the programme, RSPCA council members were told that the public had reacted angrily against the charity, including removing collecting boxes, making hundreds of telephone complaints, withdrawing support, cancelling membership and cancelling legacies. There had also been resignations from branch committees. Peter Davis launched a major (unsuccessful) investigation to find the anonymous RSPCA council member who appeared in silhouette on the programme to condemn the Freedom Food scheme. Some members of council tried to cap the cost of this investigation at £36,000 but the proposal was rejected. All council members were asked to sign a legal document swearing they were not the mole.

The adjudication by the BSC came at a bad time for the RSPCA, which had just reported a £16 million loss resulting from poor stock market investments and was being threatened with industrial action by its180 animal collection officers (ACOs). They were angry at the plan to cut their wages and reduce the amount of time they can spend in picking up injured and abused animals. New planned animal centres were also cancelled to save money. This was in contrast to the continued promotion of Freedom Food, which has soaked up millions of pounds of members donations since its inception.

One ACO said feelings were running high and added: “The RSPCA is a professional organisation run by amateurs. The more you work for it the more you feel that animal welfare isn’t the main issue.”

Peter Davis – who at council meetings has referred to Viva! as ‘that four-letter word’ – has now stood down and his post as director general has been taken by Ms Jackie Ballard, the anti-hunting, ex-Liberal Democrat MP. The decision to appoint her has prompted resignations and rampant speculation. However, it is likely that anyone would be a better choice for the animals than ex-army general Peter Davis, who championed Freedom Food despite Viva!’s and other’s exposés showing animals kept in shocking conditions. Coming like a breath of fresh air, Ms Ballard admits that if your cause is saving animals, it’s a bit odd to eat them.

She has already said that the RSPCA should campaign for zoos to free all large animals and adds: “My ambition is to make it a charity my 24-year-old daughter – who cares about animal testing and whaling – will want to join. I would like to see RSPCA members with placards at the docks protesting against live export of animals and outside meetings of the World Trade Organisation, which regards animals as commodities.”

No protest at battery cages

RSPCA Australia has also jumped into bed with factory farmers by operating a scheme similar to Freedom Food called Liberty Foods. From one participating farm alone, Pace Farms, the charity receives $110,000 for use of the Liberty name on crowded, barn-reared eggs, which were the subject of an equally distressing Australian TV exposé.

The RSPCA does not endorse battery eggs but when Pace farms recently put in a planning application to build the biggest battery unit in the southern hemisphere, there was no objection from the charity. Even worse, it actually congratulated Pace Farms by saying it was: “…pleased to observe the attention being given to bird welfare considerations in the state of the art cage system being proposed at Wyalong by Pace Farms.”

We are told that these ‘state of the art’ cages will hold 16 to 20 birds, be stacked six tiers high, five rows to a shed, 60,000 birds per shed with just one employee looking after two sheds – one person to ensure the daily welfare of 120,000 hens.

Producing more consternation amongst Australian activists, Hugh Wirth, president of RSPCA Australia, recently announced that he ate and enjoyed kangaroo meat, adding that you have to be careful how you cook it because it doesn’t have much fat… He did not say if he enjoyed the destruction of family groups, the shooting of female kangaroos carrying babies, the bludgeoning to death of pouched joeys and the death  by starvation and predation of abandoned ‘at foot’ joeys. Of course, he is aware of such things as only this July the RSPCA produced a report detailing the extent of the cruelty involved in kangaroo killing.