The RSPCA – between a rock and a hard place

The poor old RSPCA is in the news again, once more over the private prosecutions that it brings.

Its mission statement: The RSPCA as a charity will, by all lawful means, prevent cruelty, promote kindness to and alleviate suffering of all animals

How well is it fulfilling its role?

At present the organisation investigates cases of cruelty –  159,631 in 2014

prosecutes those it deems merit it – 1,132 prosecutions in 2014

campaigns against controversial activities such as animal testing and fox hunting

and it fundraises 

I would argue that all those activities are essential to fulfilling its mission.

Richard Martin MP, co-founder in 1822 of the RSPCA (the very first animal charity in the world) said, “If legislation to protect animals is to be effective, it must be adequately enforced.”

Significantly, since the introduction of the Hunting Act 2004 and under it, there have been more than 430 successful prosecutions, some brought by this charity, others by IFAW and the League Against Cruel Sports. Now the Tories want to examine the RSPCA’s power to prosecute on the grounds that its campaigns may be influencing its choice of cases to bring to court. We can suppose that this new move has nothing to do with the fact that David Cameron made overturning the Hunting Act part of his manifesto, or that in 2012 the charity prosecuted DC’s own hunt for illegally hunting a fox with hounds!

In Scotland and Northern Ireland animal charities have the power to investigate but not prosecute. This may soon become the model for England and Wales if the Tories have their way. A model the RSPCA argues, which would fail animals, since animal welfare is a low priority for our overstretched police force. The RSPCA reckons to save the state £50 million a year by taking on private prosecutions.

There has been much adverse publicity about the enormous cost of bringing these private prosecutions, especially in the Tory press. According to the Daily Mail they cost the charity £22.5 million in the last year. Many traditional supporters of the RSPCA are happy to donate for the support of animal shelters, the work of inspectors and animal rescue, but gib at their hard-earned cash funding these expensive cases. There is a fear that charitable donations on which the charity relies, could dwindle.

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On top of that there have been lurid headlines in the Tory press about AR ‘radicals’ seeking election to the Charity’s board. Today’s Telegraph proclaims that “activist who thinks all pets should be freed and a vegan” (jeez, an actual vegan, how extreme can you get?) “who once compared farming to the holocaust in the running”

The animal rights community at large, on the other hand, has very little time for the RSPCA. They believe the charity is mealy-mouthed. They are particularly angry about the RSPCA’s Freedom Food certification given to farms considered to practice high animal welfare. In reality, this scheme is inadequately monitored and some horrific conditions have been uncovered on FF approved farms. They say the scheme is a disservice to the cause because it gives the consumer an illusion of buying high-welfare produce not substantiated by the reality.

This could be a stormy era for this historic charity as it attempts to steer a course through the towering waves of the Tory government, the Countryside Alliance and the Tory Press; its own traditional stalwart supporters; and those who would like to see it go much further in preventing cruelty to, and alleviating the suffering of all animals in this country.

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