Charity chiefs say they have spoken to the production company behind the show and suggested having “welfare-friendly alternatives to animal use in the trials”, but they said they were disappointed with the response.
ITV bosses defended the show’s record, saying it “complies with animal welfare law” and they were proud of “exemplary production practices”.
The RSPCA said that, if they are alerted to concerns about how animals are used in the programme, they will investigate and take action where possible.
The first episode was broadcast on Sunday, becoming the most watched non-news show of the year.
A statement on the RSPCA (England and Wales) Facebook page said: “We have serious concerns about the welfare of animals on #ImACelebrity, which airs for three weeks from this evening.
“We’ve raised our concerns a number of times over the years and never had a response – until the production company got in touch with us this year.
“Sadly it’s clear that they will continue to use animals for the show.”
A further statement by the RSPCA added: “Since ‘I’m a Celebrity’ was first aired, animals have been dropped, thrown, handled roughly, crushed, chased, overcrowded, scared by contestants and prevented from escaping from stressful experiences.
“There have also been incidents where animals have been killed for no other purpose than entertainment.
“The show’s messaging and the potential to prompt people to try and copy the ‘bushtucker trials’ at home for entertainment is also worrying.
“We feel that deliberately portraying certain species as nasty or frightening or as objects that can be used purely for entertainment rather than sentient, living creatures sends out totally the wrong message.”
RSPCA bosses said they will continue to “urge ITV and the production company to rethink the way they use animals in I’m A Celebrity and replace the challenges with animal-friendly alternatives”.
They said: “Unfortunately, a number of the animals used in the challenges, such as cockroaches and crickets, are invertebrates and aren’t covered by the Animal Welfare Act or the Performing Animals Act, which apply in Wales. This means they have little protection under the law.
“However, if we’re alerted to concerns about other animals which are covered by these laws being caused suffering or distress during this programme, we’ll look into this, and, where appropriate, investigate. Where we can act, we will.”
An ITV spokesman said: “I’m A Celebrity complies with animal welfare law concerning the use of animals and we are proud of our exemplary production practices.
“We have a long working relationship with the RSPCA in New South Wales, Australia and as such contacted their counterparts some months ago when we knew that the programme would be made in the UK, with a view to working collaboratively with them.”
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