When it comes to enforcing the rights of farm animals, it seems that the RSPCA is charged with a difficult task. After all, the organisation only has prosecutory powers within the limits of existing law. And, at present, it is perfectly legal to keep hens in battery cages and to keep sows in stalls and farrowing crates. In fact, it is the industry norm.
In my last blog entry, I questioned whether the RSPCA’s endorsement of certain meat and egg products (from companies who raise both free-range and caged animals) is somehow reinforcing that norm, by appearing to condone the actions of these companies in general. It’s a valid question, and not a new one – read the transcript of this Four Corners report for both sides of the debate.
Jane Speechley, the RSPCA’s public relations officer, replied with a pertinent point. Organisations like the RSPCA need money. And corporations have money. Do you take it and use it to further your efforts, effectively ‘working within the system’. Or do you refuse to ‘sell out’ and accept that you may have a smaller reach?
It’s certainly not a problem that is exclusive to the RSPCA. I recently worked on the production of an environmental education program that was funded by grants from government and industry – few of the industry partners had perfect environmental records, but without the money there was no program.
I think that the issue some people have with the RSPCA’s affiliation with companies like Pace Farm is that the RSPCA has always been considered quite a progressive and proactive organisation – and perhaps it seems like a ‘one step forward, two steps back’ kind of approach.
I appreciate your response Jane, and I’m afraid I don’t have an answer to your question – that’s why I raised this topic in the first place! But I think that the more we talk about these issues, the better it is. Food production seems to have become something of a sacred cow in today’s society. Many meat-eaters express a vague uneasiness about the way that factory-farmed meat is produced, but find it more palatable to just not think about it, than to have to confront their consciences and question their moral choices.
Bringing factory farming methods into the public realm for discussion and debate is vital, and is one of the reasons that I am writing – and hopefully you are reading – this blog!