Saturday, November 7, 2009

Turn out your wardrobes!

Do you have any clothes you don't wear any more, or maybe unopened packets of underwear you bought when you were a size smaller?

All of them can be used to raise valuable funds at our charity shops at 188 Mill Road, 61 Burleigh Street, Cambridge and 156 High Street, Newmarket. Even worn or damaged clothes can still be sold for recycling and ones that are in good condition but old-fashioned are surprisingly saleable at the moment.

We can also sell "quirky" items such as musical instruments, old cameras and 1950s wireless sets, as well as ornaments, pictures and books.

188 Mill Road specialises in 2nd hand books and 61 Burleigh street in vintage clothes, but either of them would be delighted to receive your donations and we will arrange to transfer them to the appropriate shop if needed.

We would also be grateful for donations of old towels for use as washable animal bedding.

188 Mill Road and 156 High Street, Newmarket are open Monday-Saturday and 61 Burleigh street is open Tuesday-Sunday.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Should the RSPCA campaign for veganism and abandon Freedom Food?

This was put to me as a serious question and I think it deserves a serious answer (as always, please remember that these are my personal views and no-one else is responsible).

Firstly, I believe there's a substantial moral issue about the desirability of trying to bring about a future in which no animals would live in association with humans. This would mean substantial disruption even for some wild species which have adapted to live in a landscape which has been modified by human activities (such as keeping grazing animals). Some domestic animals would become extinct; in some cases this might be better for them than continuing to be kept inhumanely but this wouldn't always be the case. Some would possibly survive as feral populations, bringing further questions about the justifiability or otherwise of human control of their numbers. Unless we reintroduced large carnivores, it's likely that populations of some wild animals such as deer would still need to be limited by human action. Members of some species would have significantly more uncomfortable lives if they had to live in a feral state.

Secondly, there's the practical question of whether an RSPCA campaign in favour of veganism might overall do more harm than good. My answer to this is that it might do good provided it remained one element of a range of activities that were generally acceptable to the broad mass of the animal-loving public. If anyone is doubtful about the possibility of doing harm, they should look at the reaction to Lord Stern's advocacy of vegetarianism as a means of reducing climate change.

On the whole ordinary animal lovers are quite sympathetic to other people who don't eat meat because they care about animals and they would probably be happy, or at least unconcerned by, a campaign to increase the number of vegans. In any case, reducing the total consumption of meat is almost certainly the only realistic way to make high-welfare systems viable; otherwise the pressure to for intensive farming will be irresistible.

Once campaigns get more radical than that, suspicion begins that the campaigners don't really care about animals but are "political". At worst, a substantial campaign in favour of veganism might be used to justify claims that RSPCA investigations of cruelty to animals are part of a plot to destroy animal farming.

There has already been a petition on the number ten website asking for a government enquiry into the policies of the RSPCA apparently with the intention of removing an alleged bias in favour of animal rights. In fact the government petitions site demonstrates exactly how oddly the RSPCA is viewed (by both friends and enemies) as no other charity attracts remotely similar numbers of demands for the government to do something about it. Topics include one asking the Prime Minister to tell the RSPCA to abandon the Freedom Food scheme (rejected on the grounds that this was nothing to do with the government.)

Thirdly, of course, there are legal limitations on the way the RSPCA can campaign. With the introduction of a more rigorous public benefit test for charities it is likely that more campaigns may be challenged in the future, particularly if they appear to have political aspects.

The main objections made to the Freedom Food initiative appear to be:
  • That it may make agriculture more acceptable to people who otherwise might demand that animal farming is ended altogether.
  • That it operates on the assumption that farmers basically want to do the right thing and need technical advice about the best ways to improve welfare instead of assuming that people will be cruel to animals unless they are carefully watched.
  • That it does no good because the only people willing to spend more on high-welfare products are those who would become vegans if they were only pushed hard enough.
  • That the RSPCA could stop all use of animals if it wanted to.
  • The objector in fact dislikes something else that the RSPCA does (e.g. campaigning for a ban on hare-coursing) and Freedom Food is just a convenient weapon.
But if it is assumed that most people can't be trusted to treat animals humanely it becomes difficult to explain how closing Freedom Food could be expected to produce a net increase in the number of vegetarians and vegans. In contrast, there is at least some evidence that people who are not prepared to become vegetarians are willing to pay more for higher welfare.

Freedom Food is by no means perfect, but anyone who believes it should be abolished needs to prove it would be preferable for welfare certification schemes to be controlled entirely by commercial interests. My own view is that it is better to have an imperfect scheme which is continually under pressure to improve.

Twitching kitten

This kitten was found wandering in the street and taken to a vet by a member of the public under an RSPCA log number. She's very pretty and friendly but seems to have some kind of nervous system problem as she's unsteady and has trouble getting into her litter tray in a hurry. As the pic shows, there's nothing wrong with her appetite and the vets think the best plan is to wait and see whether the unsteadiness gets worse or better.

She was full of worms and fleas, which we've treated, so crossed fingers that an improvement in her general health will help with the other problems.