THE role of RSPCA was highlighted in the West Australian parliament last week with a debate over its opposition to the live export trade.
Shooters and Fishers MLC Rick Mazza moved a motion in Parliament last week calling on the government to investigate whether the RSPCA was transforming from an animal welfare society into an animal rights activist.
Mr Mazza said RSPCA was losing its original core values and community respect.
"Animal welfare is about making sure animals aren't mistreated, but animal rights are more extreme," he said.
"Animal rights groups don't want animals killed for food.
"My constituents in agricultural regions have said they are concerned with some of the things the RSPCA does."
He said one of the main reasons for disillusion was the RSPCA's stance on live export.
The Society openly opposed live export and was lobbying to have the trade stopped.
Mr Mazza said it should be working with government for support in implementing improved welfare standards, rather than outright opposing it.
"We are all aware a lot of farmers rely on the live export trade for successful farming businesses," he said.
"Lobbying to have it stopped will have a knock-on affect in the agricultural regions which I don't think a lot of people realise."
The RSPCA receives $500,000 from the Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) each year, funding which Mr Mazza has criticised.
He said it was a concern that DAFWA would give half a million dollars to an organisation that openly opposed the department's major initiative.
Nationals WA member for the agricultural region Paul Brown said given that funding came from the government, there should be some scrutiny as to how it was being spent.
"It is concerning when they receive money from the State Government but actively engage in protests against the policies of the State Government," he said.
"They are not a full animal activist society but they are seen to be moving in that direction and they are consistently aligning themselves with activist organisations such as Animals Australia."
Mr Brown was also frustrated that the RSPCA openly opposed live export but its national manager Lynne Bradshaw continued to indicate it wanted to work with industry to improve aspects of the live trade.
"If it wants the removal of live animal export as part of its charter, how can it reasonably expect the industry to work collaboratively with it," he said.
Agriculture and Food Minister Ken Baston told parliament that there needed to be a clear distinction between animal welfare societies and animal rights political activist organisations.
"The two most notable animal activist organisations are Animal Liberation Australian and PETA, both these organisations are clearly hardcore animal rights activists and we need to be careful not to get that mixed up with the RSPCA," he said.
Mr Baston told Farm Weekly that what sets the RSPCA apart from such organisations was it actually did the ground work to ensure animal welfare.
He understood, however, that many farmers were concerned about the society's direction.
"Many farmers have concerns that the RSPCA has begun to drift towards involvement in issues that could be seen as championing the political rights of animals," Mr Baston said.
"In my meetings with them I have sought their reassurance that they remain focused on what they were set up to do."
The RSPCA has hit back at the comments made by members of parliament.
RSCPA national president Lynne Bradshaw said the RSPCA was not a vegan or vegetarian organisation and it seemed a small section of the agricultural community was trying to discredit the society.
"We are not anti-farming and we are not against people eating meat," Ms Bradshaw said.
"The RSPCA is an animal welfare organisation.
"Along with the huge amount of work we do protecting and caring for companion animals through our shelters, enforcing the Animal Welfare Act through our inspectorate teams and caring for injured wildlife we also run the Approved Farming Scheme which is a set of higher welfare standards for the care of layer hens, pigs, meat chickens and turkeys."
She said it had always and would always continue to campaign for a transition away from live exports to a meat only trade.
Ms Bradshaw said the RSPCA supported the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System (ESCAS) which had been put in place by the industry since the 2011 Four Corners report.
"We support ESCAS in that it is better than nothing," she said.
"And we would like to work with industry to see some improvements in that system and in that way the trade will become more secure."
Ms Bradshaw said while there was still a live export trade the RSPCA would continue to work with industry to promote good animal welfare practice.
"We are not opposed to working with anyone, but as it stands we would ultimately like to see an end to the trade," she said.
"How can we endorse this trade when there are so many holes it leaks like a sieve.
"But while it is still happening we will continue to work with all parties to push the case for animals."
Ms Bradshaw said the RSPCA remained one of Australia's most trusted charities and was the leading animal welfare organisation in Australia.
She emphasised that the RSPCA was not affiliated with either PETA or Animal Liberation.
"We believe that while the farming of animals for food and fibre continues, the conditions under which those animals live must meet their physical and behavioural needs," Ms Bradshaw said.
"We believe we can help improve how farm animals are treated by getting involved in the process and constantly pushing for higher production standards along the supply chain.
"The RSPCA continues to work with governments, farmers, police, local governments and a myriad of other stakeholder groups and the wider community to ensure animal welfare standards in Australia are continuously improving."