The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
This is the largest and richest animal welfare charity in the UK. As far as can be ascertained, it has, at the time of writing, approximately £170m in the bank.
There are questions being asked, however, about how much this organisation in its present guise is a positive force for animal welfare, as its founders wished. There are several areas in which these concerns arise.
The RSPCA claims that 'half of its expenditure goes on animal welfare' - why so little?
The RSPCA appears to be accountable and answerable to no one. For an organisation with so much money and wielding so much power and influence, how is this acceptable?
There are reports of ‘bully-boy’ tactics in seizing animals, often illegally, from people who have no wish to hurt animals. These seized animals are sometimes reported to be inadequately kept and to end up dead, with no chance for their legal 'owners' to collect defence evidence. On the question of illegal seizure, the RSPCA has long known the law and has apparently knowingly flouted it, according to its own statements, in the pursuit of prosecutions. The RSPCA has a vested interest in prosecutions, since that attract more funds, yet it is still allowed to bring prosecutions and to take statements under oath. The Police and Customs & Excise no longer bring prosecutions themselves, instead going through the Crown Prosecution Service. The Scottish SPCA (SSPCA*) does not bring its own prosecutions and has been heard to list the disadvantages (and unwarranted cost) of doing so. Is the risking of charitable funds by the RSPCA, on prosecutions where the outcome is by no means certain, a legitimate and charitable use of their money?
RSPCA Inspectors have intimidating, police-like uniforms and read out people’s rights, telling them that "you are not under arrest …". What does that do to a respectable lady of 70 years? The terror can only be imagined. There are many cases in which it could be argued that education and communication were needed, not the strong arm of criminal law. Animal welfare, not convictions, should be the objective. Can a body, with a clear and manifest vested interest in prosecutions and with no constitutional ‘checks and balances’ in place, be safe with this right and capability?
There is evidence that many in the RSPCA may be against natural medicine, particularly homeopathy but also aromatherapy, acupuncture, herbal medicine etc. Prosecutions are often brought, against people using homeopathy, with no veterinary homeopathic expert brought in to support the prosecution evidence brought by the RSPCA. Similar deficits are seen in cases where herbal medicine, acupuncture, aromatherapy etc. have been used. This approach appears to be borne of ignorance and to be fuelled by prejudice within the veterinary profession. In order to guide 'owners' in their use of natural therapies, for animal welfare and relative security from prosecution, we have formulated some guidelines: Responsible use of natural therapies for animal welfare.
Many small, private animal rescue centres have been the subject of prosecutions. These centres attract funding from the animal-loving public, albeit in a small way, which might otherwise go to the RSPCA. One hopes that there is no connection between these facts. There is talk of licensing such establishments and the RSPCA is angling for the inspecting duty for this. Can a competing body, with no checks and balances, safely be granted such a rôle?
There are anxieties about an organisation which can set up a so-called ‘welfare standard’ for farm livestock (Freedom Food), market the food at a large premium on account of its claimed welfare merits, yet not publish the names of the farms that subscribe (see also 'Farm Assurance'). There is, footage to show that welfare standards on such farms are not what they are supposed to be. There have been reports of hot-wire de-beaking of chickens and tail-docking of pigs, to prevent the cannibalism caused by the stress of over-crowding. The Director General of the RSPCA (Peter Davies) was heard, on BBC Watchdog, to say that intensive farming was a necessity. Why would a welfare organisation support such a view, unless its vested interest in Freedom Food necessitates it?
The Daily Telegraph reported on the RSPCA's subsequent witch hunt (at great financial cost), for the council member who spoke out on the BBC Watchdog programme. Free CDs are obtainable from www.hillside.org.uk. Footage and reports can be viewed at: http://www.hillside.org.uk/, to compare reality against expectation.
Anyway, Freedom Food is not a standard for granting a 'free' outdoor life to farm animals, as one might be led to believe from idyllic photographs and encouraging messages. Rather it is claimed to 'aspire' to allow the animals 'five freedoms': from 'hunger & thirst', from 'discomfort', from 'pain, injury or disease', from 'fear & distress' and to be able to 'express normal behaviour'. It is an 'aspirational' standard (meaning they'd like to have such standards), not an actual standard or requirement for member farms. This is a smoke screen, preserving the sub-standard practices of today under a disguise of hoping to improve things in the future. Why can't the RSPCA go for proper welfare, now, with all their money and their stated reason for existence?.
It may be surprising to learn that the Freedom Food logo has even been ‘sold’ to MacDonalds (of all companies) and other retailers, and appears on their take-out food packs. It is not clear what the RSPCA earns from this.
The RSPCA has written disparaging remarks about welfare on organic farms (their direct competitor in the market place, for food sold at a premium) and about the use of homeopathy on organic livestock units. There is talk of licensing all livestock farms, whether organic or not. The RSPCA could be in line for the inspecting duty for this. Can a competing body, with a vast commercial interest, with a self-confessed prejudice and with no constitutional ‘checks and balances’, be safely granted such a rôle?
The RSPCA recently published its 10-point Action Plan, in the wake of the Foot & Mouth Disease disaster. In it are some worthwhile proposals, which had often been made by others, long before the FMD crisis! It speaks of the evils of long-distance travel to slaughter, remarking that this has long been known. Why did this 10-point Plan not appear before, if it was so obvious to the RSPCA? Where was the RSPCA, when animals were in need? Others have spoken out stridently about such things while the RSPCA, with enough funds to enable it to be effective, stood back. What happens to RSPCA ‘Freedom Food’ animals destined for slaughter? Has the 10-point Plan yet achieved anything, for the welfare of farm animals?
Where was the RSPCA when animals were starving and drowning in fields, left there because of Foot and Mouth (FMD) movement restrictions, in 2001? The MAFF (now DEFRA) appeared to be guilty of mass and corporate cruelty, by leaving these animals to starve (in the interest only of conserving our meat export market). Why was there no prosecution? The RSPCA may have been guilty because it did nothing. It could have brought prosecutions against MAFF. With its millions, it could also have paid the military to airlift and drop hay for these unfortunate creatures.
Where was the RSPCA, during the same crisis, when animals were being wrongly shot, being left to die slowly in the piles of their dead fellows? Was this what the RSPCA refer to as ‘necessary suffering’?
Where is the voice of the RSPCA, among those who object to animal experimentation on scientific, moral and ethical grounds?
Where was the RSPCA, when reports were made over a period of years, about the Buckinghamshire horse and donkey welfare disaster? When action was finally taken (January 2008), the very expert RSPCA media-machine revelled in media coverage and basked in glory, omitting to mention or explain the RSPCA's inactivity on this case over years. Had there been earlier action, how much suffering could have been averted?
It may surprise the reader to know that there appear to be no controls over the RSPCA. There is a Police Complaints Commission; there is an Insurance Ombudsman; there are watchdogs for telephone, electricity and gas suppliers. There is no such person or body to apply checks and balances to the actions and activities of the RSPCA. It operates outside the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Nonetheless, this organisation has been given even more powers, through the Animal Welfare Act 2006 (successor to the Protection of Animals Act 1911).
Police-like uniforms, police-like ranks, the right to take a statement under oath, the right to bring criminal prosecutions without a ‘filter’ being applied by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the secrecy over the ‘Freedom Food’ scheme, the routine mutilation of animals in that scheme; are these the usual activities that we would like to associate with an animal welfare charity?
It is always worth looking at the spending pattern of any charity, to which one is considering making a contribution. If a charity spends your money on an activity, you are effectively funding that activity. It is prudent to be sure that you agree with the actual use of the money, rather than the stated objectives of the charity. The case of P.C. Jonathan Bell, who was prosecuted for killing a seriously injured cat, in which he was acquitted, a verdict against which the RSPCA tried unsuccessfully to appeal, should be read (Daily Telegraph 8th April 2006). The BBC aired a report on this case: 'The RSPCA and the Dead Cat', at 10am on Sunday, April 9 on BBC Radio Five Live. The relevant web page is: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/staffordshire/4889574.stm.
The business of the multiple German Shepherd 'euthanasia' episode (Pontardawe, Swansea Valley, Wales) has provoked outrage among many commentators e.g.: http://www.germanshepherdrescue.co.uk/rspca-captive-bolt.html and http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/south_west/8230378.stm. The process by which euthanasia was judged to be necessary for these animals (they had a skin problem) and the deliberations about the method used have not been made clear. It is the AVMC's opinion and contention that 'elective euthanasia' (i.e. that not demanding emergency action) should be confined by law to qualified veterinary surgeons, who have the training to assess the necessity and to carry out the task humanely.
Animals desperately need a champion. The money that has been donated to the RSPCA has been given for the cause of animal welfare. We sincerely hope that the RSPCA will revisit its roots and remember its original purpose. In this way, we may regain an effective and rightly wealthy animal welfare charity, in which we can have confidence and pride.
If anyone has information about the RSPCA or Freedom Food, from any standpoint, positive or negative, we will be grateful to hear it via our feedback facility. We are, however, only able to take information that is properly supported by fact.
*My humble apologies to the SSPCA for misrepresenting them until today (18th February 2008). I had them down incorrectly as the 'Scottish RSPCA'. It's not called that but it is called the SSPCA (Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). Apparently, they lose donations through this sort of misunderstanding.
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