When you think of animal charities, the RSPCA (or your localised alternative) quickly springs to mind. Founded in 1824, the charity operates in England and Wales, with global counterparts in Scotland, America, New Zealand and Hong Kong among others. You might associate it most with rescuing domestically owned animals from cruel conditions, but the RSPCA also works to halt exploitation of animals in other areas, such as circus and lab animals.
You may have heard about a horrific incident recently, whereby over 1000 day-old chicks were dumped in a field and left to die. The chicks were thought to have been in transit through a third party who have been assumed responsible. The RSPCA inspectors found “a sea of yellow,” and the chicks were later collected by the breeder. Tragically, but inevitably, they were later put to sleep.
If you’re vegan, you will be painfully aware that this senseless suffering is perpetuated by our mass-consumption of eggs. By choosing a diet which omits animal products*, you are taking a stand against the cruelty which sees male chicks poured in their thousands into an industrial grinder, because they are not seen to be of use. You’d think that a charity like the RSPCA would be firmly against this needless mistreatment of animals, but the reality is not as clean cut.
*If, for health reasons, you find yourself unable to eat a fully plant-based diet, you could try buying eggs from local farmer’s markets and/or from sellers who only keep a few hens etc.
On its website, the RSPCA is very transparent about its approach to ethics, and clarifies that it does not seek to be a vegetarian or vegan organisation. Instead, it aims to empower the public to make more ethical choices when it comes to choosing their meat, whilst striving to eradicate mistreatment of all animals, including those raised for the food industry.
There are a few reasons why the charity might be reluctant to show an allegiance with the vegan movement. Firstly, the majority of their support (financial or otherwise) likely comes from people who are not vegan. Taking a vegan stance might aggravate their meat-eating patrons: not even Greenpeace or WWF, a charity I have supported financially for over 5 years, openly discuss or promote meat-reduction as a positive contribution to environmental and animal welfare. This can be hugely frustrating but, ultimately, the RSPCA wants – and needs – to appeal to (and subsequently receive the support of) as many people as possible, and taking a vegan hardline simply won’t achieve this.
There are also political aspects of the argument to consider. Not only are there strict guidelines that charities must adhere to when it comes to political activity and activism, there’s also, in this case, the matter of royal patronage. The charity was first given royal patronage in the 1800s, with the Queen standing as its current royal patron. However, because the RSPCA’s position against badger culling and fox hunting, this has been called into question. Personally, and at the risk of sounding unapologetically anarchistic, I’d say stuff the royals if they think unnecessary culling and blood sports are cool. But there is no avoiding that the RSPCA is walking a fine line all the time, as it tries to balance its aims and beliefs with receiving the right support and exposure. It’s not black and white, that’s for sure.
So, should vegans support the animal charity? This is a question of personal opinion. The incident with the abandoned chicks is just one in a long line of controversies that have marred the RSPCA’s reputation, and there are certainly a lot of more ethically-minded animal charities out there who are likely in greater need of our support.
With all that said, I don’t think we should rule out supporting the RSPCA entirely. Despite their speciesism and cognitive dissonance, they are still the most well-known charity working to maintain animal welfare in the UK. They are still doing valuable work to influence laws, prosecute animal abusers and rehome mistreated pets. There are definitely ways they could improve, and perhaps with continued support they will get there.
What do you think? Should vegans support the RSPCA or should we pledge our allegiance elsewhere?