rspca jeremy cooper

The former boss of the Freedom Food welfare assurance scheme has become embroiled in a row over the RSPCA’s future direction just weeks after taking over as CEO of the charity.

Jeremy Cooper - who took on the job in April - came under fire from animal welfare campaigners last weekend after admitting the charity had become “too adversarial” in recent years and would be “a lot less political” under his watch.

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Cooper, who worked for both Tesco and Waitrose in a 24-year retail career, said the charity had alienated farmers in its aggressive campaign against the government’s badger cull under predecessor Gavin Grant’s stewardship, and suggested it would be “very unlikely” to ever bring another prosecution against a fox hunt.

Citing Grant’s call to “name and shame” dairy farmers who participated in the badger cull as “not helpful”, Cooper said he wanted to move perceptions of the RSPCA away from being over-zealous and heavy-handed.

“It doesn’t mean we won’t stand up for animals [in future], but we are not a political organisation,” he insisted.

But the former RAF corporal - who took over as CEO of RSPCA subsidiary Freedom Food in 2013 and oversaw its rebranding as RSPCA Assured in 2014 - was accused of betraying the charity’s principles by campaigners. His comments were labelled a “political disaster for the RSPCA”, while an online petition calling for his resignation had attracted almost 8,000 signatures as The Grocer went to press.

Cooper and the RSPCA council issued a statement on Tuesday (17 May) clarifying their position, saying the interview had been “misinterpreted by some, and abused by others”. They insisted the RSPCA’s “continued commitment to all animals remains as strong today as it has ever been”.