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’.

Twitter snapshot

“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

Readers' comments (19)

  • As up to 97% public is against the cull, Sainsbury's will have to find a way of identifying and labelling milk and meat produced by non-cull farmers. Customers know it's possible to identify meat from farm to fork and to separate out lots of different types of milk. They won't be satisfied with Sainsbury's claim it's just too difficult to identify milk not produced by farmers enaged in the cull.

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  • what badger cull?

    not very likely is it? and if it is, it won't last more than a week.

    70% of land ownership is always needed for the cull to happen, if it drops below that at any time the cull stops.

    its not rocket science is it...

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  • The Peasant
    With the very few huge processing plants from which supermarket supplies come, is it really feasible to collect and process produce from farms where culling is taking place separately from those where it is not?
    I think Sainsbury's are being honest. I am sure Anonymous | 19 October 2012 12:32 pm that they and you will find that "up to 97%" of the public is a long way short of a real 97%

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  • I for one will no longer shop at Sainsbury's. I want to be sure that I am not supporting farmers who allow this mindless cull on their land. The research has shown a cull to be ineffective in the eradication of Btb. There are alternative and better methods of tb control than a badger cull. This is a totally unethical mass slaughter of wildlife in order to offer an immediate "carrot" to quiet farmers when it is known that deeper farming reform is necessary and this must include vaccination

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  • Easy solution, don't shop at Sainsburys until they get some common sense.

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  • The antis need to realise that the least expensive thing term of animal'slives is to cull. Less cattle shot through routine testing, less anmials that are not routinely tested shot through discobery of infection, less wildlife including badgers dying from this devastating disease. On average 400 cows are being shot every week in the UK through UK.

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  • It is the supermarkets that are squeezing the farmers dry in the first place,if they paid fairer prices farmers would be able to provide better conditions for their animals.
    Dont blame the badgers blame the likes of sainsburys and buy your milk from the milkman fresh on your doorstep every morning like i do.

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  • But this travesty of a proposed cull is not going to help the cows or the farmers - or if it it does it will be a huge cost for a tiny effect - and many scientists think it will actually cause more TB through the perterbation effect.
    DEFRA and the NFU have suddenly gone strangely quiet today (19th). I wonder why? Lets hope they are trying to think of some clever wording to make people think they have not performed one of the most spectacular U-turns ever!

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  • I have stopped shopping at Sainsburys b ecause of their attitude to the cull long ago along with Tesco. These seem to be the worst offenders so we can be sure some of their produce comes from the cull zones. I will not but from any supermarket that backs the cull and continue my boycott of meat and dairy.

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  • I am passionate about farming and good animal husbandry. Sometimes this means difficult decisions and I've seen a lot of animals put down in heartbreaking circumstances.

    I really want to see bTB eradicated and if the science said a cull would work I think it should be considered, but the science is clear that a badger cull will not work and in the absence of any possible chance of a cull leading to a meaningful bTB reduction, it just becomes an inhumane, barbaric and pointless slaughter which goes against everything I believe in.

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