Thursday, August 8, 2013

Enquiry into the RSPCA? - Part 3: Farm animals

Animals who are kept to produce food or other products (wool, milk, eggs etc) for people or for other animals

Reform or abolition?

The RSPCA's Inspectorate will act to enforce animal protection law if farm animals are mistreated just as they do when the victims are companion animals, although they may refer complaints to the local Trading Standards or to DEFRA where they believe this is more appropriate.

As well as this law enforcement role, the RSPCA campaigns to change the law to provide more protection for farm animals and it operates a sophisticated farm assurance scheme, Freedom Food, which is designed to drive up welfare standards by providing a route by which farmers can get a premium for voluntary improvements.

The Society has commissioned an audit of the impact of the Freedom Food scheme by external scientific experts with a view to determining which aspects of the scheme have been effective in improving welfare in terms of the lifetime experiences of individual animals. The panel's report has now been published.

In addition to Freedom Food, the Society operates a "Good Business Awards" scheme to reward welfare innovation by individual businesses. This is able to be more adventurous than Freedom Food which is very much geared to what can be attainable in normal food producing activities rather than niche markets.

The RSPCA does not specifically promote a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle although many of its staff and supporters are themselves either vegetarian or vegan.

What an enquiry might comment

There is a segment of the animal protection movement which finds it utterly abhorrent that an animal welfare charity should involve itself in farming and would like the RSPCA to withdraw from Freedom Food and all similar activities. Some individuals with these views have devoted considerable effort to seeking out malpractice on Freedom Food farms and this may have been unintentionally useful to the scheme as it must leave farmers in no doubt that they will be found out if they only pay lip-service to welfare.

Publicity for "bad apples" in the scheme has been embarrassing for the RSPCA and they should probably look at extending unannounced checks on farms as well as the planned audits which are key to Freedom Food's function as a method of improving standard farming practice.

There is a fundamental tension between those who believe that killing and eating animals can never be compatible with welfare and those who accept that the wider society are probably always going to eat meat and wish to ensure that animals kept to produce food are treated as humanely as possible. Realistically this source of strife is not likely to disappear.

Any assessment of the value of the RSPCA to society at large needs to make allowances for the tendency for criticisms to come from those who believe it is not radical enough as well as those who think it has moved too far towards the arena of animal rights.

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