NFU director of policy Martin Haworth said: “The NFU takes this threat to its members very seriously. Our lawyers are currently looking at this in detail, but have yet to identify the wording used in this letter in the actual Freedom Food standards.
“In fact, the RSPCA’s welfare standards for beef cattle, for example, state that farmers must manage the levels of potentially harmful pests to avoid the risk of disease spread, and that while methods of physical exclusion must be included whenever possible, if such methods are inadequate or unsuccessful, other approaches must be enacted.”
Freedom Food, a wholly owned subsidiary of the RSPCA, told its members: “based on the current science, welfare concerns and a realistic assessment of what is practical, a widespread cull of badgers is totally unacceptable to the RSPCA”.
The letter continued: “As such Freedom Food would regard it as unacceptable for any of its members to voluntarily take part in a badger cull for the above reasons. To do so would also bring the scheme into disrepute and be a clear breach of the membership agreement, resulting in suspension.”
The NFU pointed out that the RSPCA supports culling as a routine practice for deer, for example, with 350,000 removed annually.
“In this light, we can’t help but see the Freedom Food letter on badger culling as hypocritical,” said Haworth.
“I feel extremely disappointed that the RPSCA has resorted to such tactics normally reserved for other animal rights organisations. It seems to us that this letter has nothing to do with the welfare of farm animals, which is what the Freedom Food scheme is all about.
“Instead, it looks to us like the RSPCA trying to attack farmers’ businesses financially to try to stop farmers from lawfully participating in what is a sadly necessary step to tackle a devastating animal disease.”
The RSPCA has also called on shoppers to boycott milk produced on dairy farms in the cull areas, said the NFU.
But an RSPCA spokeswoman said: “The standards applying to Freedom Food members 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. The culling method used must also be humane.”
The 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, she added. “Consequently any Freedom Food farm participating in the cull would be in breach of RSPCA welfare standards and their agreement with Freedom Food.”