RSPCA faces watchdog’s scrutiny over ‘aggressive’ badger campaign



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August 19
Dominic Kennedy Investigations Editor

The RSPCA is accused of trying to intimidate farmers into opposing a badger cull

The Charity Commission is considering enforcemnt action against the RSPCA after its aggressive campaigns are thought to have damaged its reputation in rural areas. It is the second time this year that the commission has examined RSPCA activities. The animal charity has suggested naming and shaming those responsible for an experimental badger cull and used photographs of dead sheep to campaign against live exports.

Relations between farmers and the charity deteriorated over its campaign against culling badgers. Controlled killings will begin within weeks in Somerset and Gloucestershire to prevent the spread of tuberculosis in cattle. In Wales, vaccines are used instead of culling, and some Welsh farmers blame this for a rise in bovine TB.

Emyr Jones, president of the Farmers’ Union of Wales, wrote to the Charity Commission outlining his concerns about the RSPCA’s “aggressive and threatening” lobbying. He highlighted a news report stating that Gavin Grant, the charity’s chief executive, “would be campaigning to ‘stop consumers drinking milk’ if supermarkets were unable to differentiate between ‘badger-friendly milk’ and milk from the cull areas”.

Mr Jones accused Brian May, the Queen guitarist and RSPCA vice-president, of expressing “extreme and aggressive views regarding the boycotting of milk”. May had called for people not to drink milk from areas where badgers were being killed. [Editor: TOTALLY UNTRUE !!]

“The charity also appears to be encouraging tourists to boycott those areas,” Mr Jones said. “The RSPCA is acting in an intimidatory way which constitutes an attempt to blackmail the farming industry, and farmers within culling areas in particular, into opposing a cull, while disseminating misleading and unsubstantiated information.

“Such actions have brought the RSPCA into universal disrepute among the farming community, and this sentiment is now growing among members of the general public, who are effectively being incited to engage in extremist animal rights lobbying activities.” He urged the commission to investigate the RSPCA with a view to withdrawing its charitable status.

Mr Grant told Panorama in November: “The spotlight of attention will be turned on those marksmen and on those who give permission for this cull to take place. They will be named and we will decide as citizens of this country whether they will be shamed.” The RSPCA said Mr Grant meant that ministers responsible for the cull should be identified, and it denied calling for a boycott. “What we believe is that ethically minded consumers may wish to exercise freedom of choice with regard to milk from cull areas.”

An anti-culling advertisement by the RSPCA, headlined “Vaccinate or exterminate?” and illustrated with a picture of a bullet aimed at a badger, led to 118 complaints tothe Advertising Standards Authority, which is checking whether its rules on accuracy have been broken.

The charity also became embroiled in a row when 46 sheep died after being unloaded from a lorry at Ramsgate. Most were shot by RSPCA staff when a dispute arose over their condition. The charity then released a photograph of the slaughtered sheep as part of its campaign against live exports. “The photograph taken exists as a testament to what actually occurred at the port, which had no on-site facilities to deal with the emergency that had arisen,” the RSPCA said.

Simon Hart, the Tory MP for Camarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, said that the RSPCA was becoming “more militant and animal rights-focused”. He added: “That’s coming at the expense of all those people in the regions, on the high streets, doing what the RSPCA in my opinion should be doing: working at inspector level, helping animals.”

The Charity Commission said: “Concerns have been raised with us about the charity’s campaigning activities in relation to the badger cull and live animal exports. We are currently assessing these concerns.

“We have written to the charity’s trustees, asking how they ensure their campaigning activity legitimately meets the test of furthering their objectives in accordance with our guidance, and that they have fully considered the impact on their charity’s reputation. “We will carefully consider their response in order to determine what, if any, regulatory action is required.”

Its powers include replacing trustees, freezing bank accounts and appointing an interim manager.

The RSPCA said: “We are confident we have acted properly in accordance with the requirements of charity law and the commission’s guidance.”

In January, the charity was asked to explain why it spent £326,000 prosecuting members of the Heythrop Hunt for unlawful hunting.