LONDON––Vegan Society activist Peta Watson-Smith has lost her seat on the 25-member ruling council of the Royal SPCA of England and Wales, but fellow vegan and “radical” candidate Joseph Piccioni, a past ruling council member whom Watson-Smith nominated, was elected.
The RSPCA on June 5, 2014 announced the winners in the six-way balloting for five open ruling council positions. Elected were former RSPCA chief veterinarian Christopher Laurence, Adrian Donno, Sally Phillips, and Christina Tomlinson. All but Laurence, seen as the most conservative of the candidates, were endorsed by former RSPCA chair Daphne Harris. The winners will serve three-year terms.
Had both Watson-Smith and Piccioni been elected, the balance on the ruling council was widely believed to have been tipped toward vegan and vegetarian policies, and toward adopting stronger policies against hunting and “shooting,” as bird hunting is called in Britain.
Watson-Smith had campaigned against further RSPCA support of Freedom Food, a program begun in 1996 that certifies that meat, milk, and eggs have been produced according to animal welfare standards. Piccioni is believed to represent a similar perspective.
Piccioni, like Watson-Smith, is associated with the Hillside Animal Sanctuary, in Frettenham, Norwich. Founded by anti-factory farming campaigner Wendy Valentine in 1995, Hillside has sponsored several undercover exposés of abusive treatment of farmed animals, one of which, at Cherrydene Farm in Bergh Apton, Norfolk, involved mistreatment at a facility approved by Freedom Food.
But Piccioni is better known for his role in influencing the RSPCA to withdraw from participation in Crufts, the annual exhibition of the British Kennel Club, as a statement of opposition to breeding dogs commercially and breeding them to unhealthy conformation standards. Both the RSPCA and Dogs Trust withdrew from involvement with the Crufts show in September 2008, soon after the BBC documentary “Pedigree Dogs Exposed” detailed health problems in dogs bred to Kennel Club specifications.
Watson-Smith, 61, already controversial for her opposition to Freedom Food operating under the RSPCA umbrella, stirred up a storm of protest in the days ahead of the election after Times of London investigations editor Dominic Kennedy quoted her as saying, “I don’t think people always appreciate what is the holocaust going on behind closed doors. You talk about the Jews. This probably sounds like animal rights, but if you recognise animals as sentient beings, why are we treating them so abysmally on farms?”
Some Nazi practices during the Holocaust were directly adapted from early factory farming experiments. Post-World War II comparisons of factory farming to the Holocaust may have begun with the Holocaust survivor, author, and vegetarian Isaac Bashevis Singer, and were amplified by Animal Rights International founder Henry Spira, who survived Krystalnacht. Such comparisons are still made often by Holocaust survivor Alex Hershaft, 80, who founded the Farm Animal Rights Movement in 1980.
Charles Patterson extensively explored the comparisons, and the controversy surrounding them, in Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals & The Holocaust (2002).
But Watson-Smith’s remarks were nonetheless immediately seized upon and denounced by representatives of British animal use industries, defenders of Freedom Foods, and some Jewish organizations.
Said Jewish Vegetarian Society director Lara Smallman, to Jennifer Newton of The Daily Mail, “Whilst we share Peta Watson Smith’s opposition to factory farming, we do not believe anything positive can come from making comparisons with the holocaust. Using the word ‘holocaust’ is not going to advance the vegetarian cause; rather, it will only serve to offend, divide, and quite possibly, alienate people. The emphasis should always be on engaging and educating the public in a responsible and meaningful way.”
The new ruling council members are to take office at the RSPCA Annual General Meeting on June 14, 2014. Among the most urgent business before the ruling council will be selecting a chief executive to succeed Gavin Grant, who held the position for barely two years before resigning for health reasons in February 2014. Deputy chief executive John Grounds succeeded Grant on an interim basis, but in April 2014 Grounds also resigned, without explanation.
“I look forward to continuing to working with these trustees, all of whom have experience on the RSPCA council,” said RSPCA chair Mike Tomlinson.
(See also “Will vegan anti-hunters seize the RSPCA?”, http://www.animals24-7.org/2014/06/01/rspca-ruling-council-vote-seen-as-critical-to-future-of-the-charity/, and “RSPCA of England & Wales caught in a crossfire,” http://wp.me/p4pKmM-9J.)