SEE MORE ON SOAPBOX
Queen guitarist accuses government of taking part in campaign to discredit animal charities ‘bringing fox hunters to justice’
24 Augus 2013 by Mark Townsend
Rock star Brian May, a vice-president of the RSPCA, has accused the government of being involved in a campaign to discredit animal welfare organisations as part of an increasingly rancorous war of words ahead of this week’s badger cull. Speaking before the expected start of the cull tomorrow, the Queen guitarist accused officials of utilising vested interests and elements of the media to espouse “propaganda” supporting the controversial scheme.
May, 66, said that Britain’s biggest animal welfare charity was under concerted pressure from critics who had not forgiven it for its role in the successful campaign to outlaw fox-hunting.
“The current campaign against the RSPCA is scandalous, completely manufactured by those who condone bloodsports and cannot abide the RSPCA and all other animal charities bringing fox-hunters to justice,” he said. “This is all about money and power, vested interests, undercover deals and votes.”
The actual cull is expected to start on Monday evening in the west Somerset and west Gloucestershire pilot zones, though the timing has not been officially confirmed. The pilot will run over six weeks, during which more than 5,000 badgers could be killed as part of a controversial programme to reduce the spread of tuberculosis to cattle. May said members of the public had confirmed they will turn up to register their opposition. An online petition begun by the musician calling for an end to the cull has so far attracted [far in excess of] 263,000 names.
On Thursday, the National Farmers’ Union won a high court injunction restricting people from protesting against the cull after some members said they had been intimidated and needed protection. However, lawful protest will still be allowed.
“We will fight peacefully and decently, even if the other side is behaving despicably,” May said. “Many people say they will be walking their dogs nearby on Monday night and afterwards.”
He also claimed that many MPs and officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) were finding it problematic to support the ban: “The evidence is that many Tory MPs are finding it increasingly hard to keep supporting the party line on the cullwhen their constituents are urging them not to. Sadly, it’s clear that many of the honest Defra workers are embarrassed by it.”
May also urged the NFU, which has accused the RSPCA of aggressive lobbying, to condemn farmers who have hassled animal rights supporters. “Nevertheless, it’s apparent that there have actually been threats made on both sides. We need the NFU to acknowledge that there has been huge aggression from their side towards those who, peacefully, oppose the cull. Of course, most of the media report only one side of the problem, painting a false picture of irresponsibility of those who oppose this deeply violent act,” he added.
Supporters claim that culling badgers is the only way to tackle TB in cattle, which they say is spread from infected badgers to livestock. Rates of TB in cattle have risen significantly in recent years, with 28,000 cattle slaughtered in 2012 at a cost of £100m to taxpayers. However, opponents say culling is inhumane and ineffective in controlling the disease.
But May, whose group, Save Me, founded in 2010, campaigns for the protection of animals against cruel treatment, said: “Just as justice had to be fought for in the case of the abolition of slavery, the emancipation of women, and the outlawing of all kinds of despicable practices justified by tradition and ignorance, the rights of all sentient creatures to decent treatment have to be fought for.”
Defra says that the cull is important to help control a disease which is devastating the farming industry, and it rejects any claim that it is involved in any attempt to discredit its opponents.
HOW IT WILL WORK
– Badgers will be shot in the wild instead of being trapped before culling.
– Pilot culls will see the killing of 70% of badgers in each area, which could mean the culling of 5,000 animals.
– The government spent £90m on TB control in England during 2010-11, including £6.9m on research and development.
– Surveys in the 1980s and 1990s suggested there are between 250,000 and 300,000 badgers in Britain.
– Defra estimates that the cull – across a 150km2 area during the summer for the next four years – will lead to a 16% cut in bovine TB.