Animal welfarists look to the RSPCA to set an example at the official functions to extricate itself from complicity in cruelties its research (and others') reveals and condemn. Its campaigns to restrain recreational pursuits would gain from such a demonstration of self-discipline common to all aspects of animal welfare.
“Intensive farming and mass production of our food have raised all sorts of animal welfare issues. But which ones do we respond to most?” The Times Magazine’s Food Detective put this question to John Avizenius, senior scientific officer with the RSPCA (24 July 2004). He replied: “It’s interesting to see the way some issues tug on the heartstrings and others are quite hard to get people up in arms about. Back in the Seventies and Eighties the big thing was the transportation of veal calves, and I suppose the outrage at the condition of battery hens has been the nearest response since”, he reports.
“Raising sympathy for other animals, however, often proves harder. For example, there are terrible problems with chickens bred for meat associated with crowded conditions and their fast growth (from chicks to shops in six weeks). Around 100,000 a day die because their bodies just can’t cope with such fast growth, resulting in many developing heart and leg problems- yet chicken remains our most popular meat, and the animals don’t seem to pull at heartstrings in the same way as egg-laying hens. Similarly it is hard to get people to relate to the problems of farmed fish, which are often treated like the chickens of the sea.
“The dairy cow is another animal often suffering serious welfare problems, but the popular image is of them lying placidly and contentedly in fields chewing the cud and having nice lives and no problems. The reality is that one in 5 dairy cows is lame and in pain, and some industry figures suggest 80% of them can’t lie comfortably in their winter quarters because some animals are about a foot longer than their cubicles. Many dairy cows suffer from mastitis and are becoming less fertile, thanks to years of focusing on high yields of milk production. Yet the only tissue we can get people to worry about is the one of dairy cows having their calves taken away, because no one likes to think of a cute little thing being taken from its mother”.
But the RSPCA itself pays lacklustre attention to the chronic abuses its senior scientific officer describes. Acceptable alternatives freeing consumers from complicity in these malign methods of food production are increasingly on offer on supermarket shelves and in the chillers. And health and medical experts recommend selections from a portfolio of diets offering benefits like those associated with the statin drugs- and therefore bidding fair to reduce recourse to experimentation and testing on living animals. Therefore the catering at official RSPCA events should declare the Society’s solidarity with the farm animals and simply go portfolio. (VEGA puts similar challenges to veterinarians and their professional organizations).
As autumn approaches debate over an anti-hunting Bill is likely to flare up, with the RSPCA striving to rein in what some people regard as their rights to pursue traditional and cherished practices. How much sincerity of their arguments would gain if they responded voluntarily- without fractious laws and inflamed and base protestations of human rights, but with the exercise of self-discipline and restraint- to the scientific evidence. We in VEGA are always happy to help the RSPCA and caterers in achieving these compassionate ends.
And this autumn animal welfarists, especially those such as VEGA Trustees numbered among helpers, witnesses and experts for the redoubtable McLibel Two, Dave Morris and Helen Steel, will watch the fortunes of Dave and Helen in a renewed legal battle in Europe, where they hope to prove that multinationals should not be able to sue individuals for libel. The original trial, the biggest libel case in British law, has been dubbed the “biggest corporate PR disaster in history” and the court ruled that McDonald’s did “exploit children” with its advertising, produced “misleading” advertising, and was “culpably responsible” for cruelty to animals, as well as paying low wages. David and Helen, however, “failed to prove all their criticisms were true, “so the court ruled that they had libelled McDonald’s and ordered them to pay £60,000 damages. The issues linger. The court accepted McDonald’s request to exclude BSE in the testimony, as the connexion with vCJD had not been conceded by the government; however, VEGA was able to overcome this obstacle to some extent by adducing the incontestable evidence of the suffering in the national dairy herd.