FARMERS HAVE accused the RSPCA of hypocrisy after they were warned they could lose their valued Freedom Foods status if they supported or allowed badger controls on their land.
In a letter to scheme members, Freedom Food, a wholly owned subsidiary of the RSPCA, claims that, based on the current science, welfare concerns and a realistic assessment of what is practical, a widespread cull of badgers is totally unacceptable to the RSPCA.
It goes on to explain that it is unacceptable to use lethal methods of wild animal control as routine practice. It adds: As such Freedom Food would regard it as unacceptable for any of its members to voluntarily take part in a badger cull for the above reasons. To do so would also bring the scheme into disrepute and be a clear breach of the membership agreement, resulting in suspension.
NFU director of policy Martin Haworth said lawyers are currently looking at the letter in detail, but have yet to identify the wording used in this letter in the actual Freedom Food standards.
The letter has come on the back of an intense, and long-running, battle concerning the measures required to control bovine TB (bTB). Last year, 26,000 cattle were slaughtered at a cost of nearly £100m after herds tested positive for the disease. Evidence suggests that wild badgers can become infected with the bacteria that causes TB and pass it on to cattle. For a number of years, farmers have argued that a targeted badger cull must be part of the solution to control the spread of the disease.
Until recently the Government had been reluctant to give the green light for a cull, with evidence from scientific research often proving contradictory. That has changed with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural affairs (Defra) claiming that new evidence shows that culling of badgers done in the right way and carried out over a significant length of time can reduce the spread of the disease to cattle.
Speaking at the Conservative Party Conference last week, Owen Paterson, the new Secretary of State at Defra, insisted that the cull would now go ahead perhaps as early as this month.
However, opposers point to evidence that shows a cull will not work, and will, in fact, increase the spread of TB. In a letter to the Observer, 30 scientists, including those involved in previous culling trials, urged the Government to reconsider its strategy.
Under the terms of the licence, and in accordance with the criteria specified in the Governments bTB control policy, licensees will be authorised to reduce badger populations in the pilot area by at least 70% and maximum numbers will be specified to prevent the risk of local extinction. Confirmation of the start of the culls under full licences is expected soon.