Sainsbury's backs Freedom Food badger cull farmers
SAINSBURY’S has insisted it would be wrong to penalise its Freedom Food members who ‘by geographic circumstance’ happen to be in the badger cull areas.
Sainsbury’s is the UK’s biggest user of the RSPCA’s Freedom Food label, stocking around 300 lines. But it has distanced itself from the RSPCA’s threat to suspend members of the animal welfare scheme if they take part in the English pilot badger culls.
It has also described calls by RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant for consumers to boycott milk in response to the badger cull as unhelpful and impractical.
In a carefully worded statement, Sainsbury’s told Farmers Guardian that it would be wrong for it to take sides on the badger cull debate.
“We are fully committed to Freedom Foods and our higher animal welfare standards,” the statement said.
“The government has been through due process and decided to proceed based on scientific evidence. It is for not for us to second guess this, but we do urge the government to keep the evidence under review.
“We believe we are right to maintain a balanced position and to support our farmers. There are animal welfare concerns on both sides of the debate and it would be wrong to penalise farmers who by geographic circumstance happen to be within the official DEFRA cull area.
“Through our work with our 3,000 farmers we know bovine tuberculosis poses a significant threat to the health and welfare of British livestock. In 2010 and 2011 over 50,000 cattle had to be slaughtered in England in an attempt to control the spread of this disease.”
The statement added that it ‘is not helpful – or indeed practical – to talk in terms of boycotting dairy products from certain areas as the vast majority of milk is pooled in the UK’.
“It would be highly unlikely any retailer would 100 per cent know which farms may be involved, as this is not being disclosed by the Government” the statement said.
There are also signs that farmer support for Freedom Food has been affected by the RSPCA’s stance.
NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond described the charity’s actions as ‘intimidation’. “I have had people contacting me who are extremely concerned and are thinking of moving away from Freedom Food. They believed they had signed up to an assurance scheme to add value. They never expected to be threatened by the RSPCA in this way,” he said.
Mr Raymond also accused the RSPCA of hypocrisy given that Freedom Food standards require farmers to manage levels of potentially harmful pests to avoid the risk of disease spread, which often means shooting rabbits, rats and foxes, for example.
The NFU’s lawyers have been looking at the implications of the threats for scheme members, while the union has also been talking to retailers, like Sainsbury’s, who use the scheme to stress its concern at the RSPCA’s tactics.
The threat has provoked an angry response from farmers on the Farmers Guardian’s website and social networking website Twitter. Some farmers have said they are considering quitting the scheme, while others have called for farmers to boycott it. The RSPCA’s stance has received some support from consumers, however.
In its letter to scheme members, Freedom Food says it would regard it as ‘unacceptable for any of its members to voluntarily take part in a badger cull’ and that this would ‘bring the scheme into disrepute and be a clear breach of the membership agreement, resulting in suspension’.
An RSPCA spokesman stressed that the scheme standards state that the RSPCA is ‘concerned about the welfare of all animals that have the capacity to suffer’. “It is therefore only permitted to cull wild animals that pose a threat to the welfare of farm animals, when other non-lethal methods have already been applied,” he said.
He said RSPCA does not consider culling ‘to be in any way justified on the grounds of protecting farm animals from harm and that badgers will suffer as a result of the cull’.
“We’re freedom food and at present feel like withdrawing.” @johnarcher8
“I’ve been FF twice. Surely this disgraceful political stance by RSPCA raises questions about the integrity of the RSPCA brand.” @philLatham
“As a consumer, I expect RSPCA to drop #badgercull farms from label scheme - farmers don’t HAVE to cull, it is a free choice.” @oldsmith