London 2012 Olympics urged to give animal welfare a sporting chance
RSPCA welcomes news on cage-free eggs but disappointed by lack of commitment to other species –Monday, 07, Dec 2009 12:00
The end of Trust
by Irene Barker (Hillside Supporter)
A few days ago I spent a pleasant morning in Bury St. Edmunds, enjoying the market, doing a little shopping. The West Suffolk branch of the RSPCA was holding a street collection to raise funds and their collectors were to be seen through the town, standing quietly on
street corners, many accompanied by their dogs. We talked about the difficulty of raising money in these straightened times and the fact that there are more than 170 local branches of the RSPCA, all so-called ‘independent’ all receiving little financial help from central RSPCA, the third richest charity in Great Britain. I saw that these kindly, honest, committed people were the true face of the RSPCA, the face I believe is the driving force behind everything good the RSPCA does, who work tirelessly to raise much-needed funds, who do not grand-stand their compassion, who stroked my (rescued) dog and by so doing acknowledged his right, and the right of millions of his fellow creatures, to help, protection, sanctuary. Here was to be found the empathy, the altruism, the widening circle that flowed inevitably from William Wilberforce’s crusade to end human slavery to include all creatures great and small, including my totally insignificant dog.
Freedom Food pigs (August 2009) with accompanying dead crows. Presumably these have been placed around the pen to prevent other birds from stealing the pigs’ food!
And what of the other face of the RSPCA? The official face, that now appears monolithic, unaccountable, defensive, secretive, heartless? How did I come to lose faith in them? How did my thirty years of unquestioning support, both moral and financial, morph into a sense of betrayal, a dissipation of that most precious commodity, trust, which is the essential bedrock of all charities?
It started in 2007. I saw the footage on ‘Tonight with Trevor Mcdonald’ of the Hillside exposé of Freedom Food accredited farms (FF). Nothing has affected me more profoundly than this. It is not just because of the unspeakable cruelty exposed in that report. It is not just because the cruelty took place on a British, not a foreign farm. It was because I felt betrayed by the very organisation that promised me unconditional protection of animals, and instead offered me this image of FF -accredited, RSPCA - sponsored, hell.
Then began a two year long correspondence between me and various officials of the RSPCA.
To say the correspondence was disturbing barely covers it. From the word go a defensive wall went up, and I was in turns sniped at, ignored, told that our correspondence was at an end (unsuccessfully) and fed inaccurate and irrelevant information. However, my persistence did culminate in Mark Watts, Chief Executive RSPCA, offering me an audience with Leigh Grant, Chief Executive Freedom Food, which took place in September 2008. The interview did absolutely nothing to reassure me. It simply reinforced my conviction that the RSPCA had a tiger by the tail and was too frightened of a public backlash and possible PR disaster to let it go. Much of Leigh Grant’s defence of Freedom Food was based on quotations from the FAWC handbook, otherwise known as How to Be an Intensive Animal Producer and at the Same Time Give the Appearance of a Committed Animal Welfarist. Even a casual reading soon reveals that Freedom Food protocols and Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) protocols are generally indistinguishable from one another except in minor details and in turn pretty indistinguishable from mainstream, bog-standard welfare systems such as Farm Assured and Red Tractor.
I sent a detailed account of the interview to Mark Watts and received no reply. Then the next exposé hit the screens, this time on Channel 5 news, and I wrote again to Mark Watts urging him to act. I might as well have been calling out for a response from the Marie Celeste.
Why has there been no change as promised by Mark Watts? Why is there a cult of secrecy about the list of farms accredited by FF? Is it because so many of them fall by the wayside or lose interest, that any information about who’s in and who’s out cannot be relied upon to be accurate for more than a few months? It seems that farms unilaterally decide that they do not want to stay in the scheme, the contract between the producer and FF so tenuous and poorly formulated that they are meaningless and can be breached with impunity. And why, despite overwhelming evidence, the apparent unwillingness to prosecute FF accredited farms?
Why haven’t the images of creatures in extremis under their watch not galvanised the RSPCA into a root and branch review of the FF protocols?Why does the RSPCA persist in its stubborn conviction that behind any criticism of them there must lurk a hidden agenda? Such self- serving fantasies are themselves the product of a mindset that seems to believe that simply monitoring the multinational meat producers will bring about the dawn of a new era of responsible, cruelty-free farming, where the lives of our non-human fellow travellers are all sweetness and light, interrupted by a peaceful and swift demise at the gentle hands of the abattoir worker. No teeth clipping or castration without anaesthetic, no tail docking, no confinement in filthy pens and the final, squalid end to a nasty, short and brutish life on the killing floors of the abattoir. No subjection to attacks from sadistic morons to whose care these helpless creatures have been committed. This is the Disneyland image of farming the RSPCA in its persona as Freedom Food would present to us, fostered by sentimental fools like Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall. The RSPCA has undermined its moral credibility by legitimising a commercial system where money and not compassion is the bottom line. It must rethink its basic principles if it wants to regain trust, if it wants to convince us that it is compassion which turns its wheels rather than a macho culture of hard- nosed business ethics, a contradiction in terms if ever there was one. There are more contradictions and mutually exclusive value systems than you could shake a stick at to be found in the unholy alliance between FF and the RSPCA.
Before my lacerating experience with Freedom Food and its defenders I had never heard of Hillside Animal Sanctuary. It is only because of the work they do with rescued farm animals that I came to hear about them and their courageous exposés of barbaric practices in farms. Their many confrontations with the RSPCA seemed to match my own. It was finally the realisation that I was not alone in my concerns that brought me to this point. The RSPCA can take absolutely no comfort in the fact that it has been their intransigence, their secrecy, their aggressive refusal to engage in transparent debate about the many problems with FF, that I have sought common cause with their nemesis.
There will be more pain to come. It is in the nature of the beast that is FF. More helpless, voiceless, tormented, scraps of unvalued life will die in misery before the monolith that is now the RSPCA returns to its founding principles; until its suits, its faceless administrators and bureaucrats and its hopelessly ill-briefed press officers leave their desks, visit local branches, inspect for themselves a Freedom Farm or two, smell for themselves the terrible stench of fear and despair, look into the eyes of their real clients, and see for themselves who are truly the real RSPCA.