The RSPCA has supported its chief executive in calling to "name and shame" farmers who take part in the badger cull, and confirmed it will strip participants of their Freedom Food accreditation.
Gavin Grant made the comment on the BBC's Panorama programme, sparking outrage among farmers, who fear it could incite violence by anti-cull activists. But a spokeswoman said Mr Grant had "the full support of the RSPCA for advocating a position we have held for years".
The animal charity said it unreservedly condemned any harassment, intimidation or threats of violence. "We have always insisted that those opposing the planned cull should do so by lawful and peaceful means only," added the spokeswoman.
But David McDowell, the RSPCA's former acting chief veterinary adviser, condemned Mr Grant's comments. Writing on the NFU website, he said: "Targeting people carrying out lawful activities oversteps the boundaries of reasonable behaviour."
Other commentators went further, calling on Mr Grant to step down, and for the RSPCA to be stripped of its charitable status.
"Gavin Grant was totally unmasked on Panorama," said Ian Johnson, NFU spokesman in the South West. "He's done the RSPCA a huge disservice and now lacks any kind of credibility."
The RSPCA has refused to name the person who sent letters to producers in Gloucestershire and Somerset in October, threatening farmers with suspension from the Freedom Food scheme if they took part in the cull.
"Freedom Food farms agree to abide by certain standard requirements as part of their membership of the scheme," said the RSPCA spokeswoman. "This requires that humane systems are used to control or deter wildlife posing threats to farmed animals. Vaccination of badgers is such a humane alternative. Such an approach should be used on Freedom Food farms if farmers wish to take any action on badgers."
Badgers were not a significant source of bovine TB and culling them would make little meaningful contribution to the control of TB in cattle, she added. "Freedom Food standards allow for humane lethal force to be used as a last resort against wild animals posing a threat to farmed stock. Free shooting at night certainly does not qualify."
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