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The vegan movement: Fad or fashion?

Pierrette Desrosiers for Progressive Dairy Published on 31 December 2019
Protesting dairies

If I say “vegan,” what comes to your mind? Probably a “hippie” eating tofu and veggie pâté while singing “Kumbaya” around a tree with knitted slippers on his feet.

Basically, a person who follows the Buddhist mantra “live and let live,” with nothing to really to worry about.

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In the past, veganism was unknown and misunderstood. And what if I told you that one day this movement was going to cause one of the biggest shifts of change in the entire agri-food industry and that we do have to worry about it? Veganism is growing fast and is raising tensions between activist groups and various agriculture players around the world.

Identifying vegans, vegetarians or flexitarians

First of all, here are some definitions:

  • Vegetarians: Do not consume meat but can consume dairy products and eggs

  • Flexitarians: Do consume animal products in moderation

  • Vegans: Do not consume or use any products from animals, such as meat, leather, honey – all products from animals or insects are prohibited

More than a diet, veganism is an ideology where their practices are like a religion. Veganism followers ban the use of honey, fur, leather, cosmetics and animal-tested drugs, hunting, fishing, etc. The most extreme will ban pets and even service dogs. Why? Because they believe it is morally wrong to benefit from animals and their byproducts.

Vegans are anti-specieists and are against any form of value distinction between species. In their eyes, all are different but equal: people, cows, cats, rats, etc., and even mosquitos. Under this premise, vegan activist organizations are aiming at the complete abolishment of all forms of direct or indirect use of animals and their byproducts in our lives. In their minds, no improvement in animal welfare will legitimize their use. You can guess how it creates tension between vegans and omnivores.

Veganism is gaining momentum

Several elements have come together to favour the popularity of this phenomenon, such as: vegan products flooding the supermarkets, animal abuse videos on social media that become viral by appealing to a person’s compassion, the growing environmental concerns and bad press of animal products on health, and all of the celebrities and influencers who promote this way of life.

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In addition, city residents between 20 and 35 years old (the group most likely to identify with this movement) have almost never had direct contact with animals other than pets. They have also inherited an anthropomorphic “Walt Disney” vision: the tendency to attribute human reactions to animals and things and to think animals are like us in their feelings and needs.

Today, there are over 300 different associations who advocate vegan/anti-speciesist ideology with varied approaches, ranging from simple sensitization to civil disobedience. According to a 2018 survey from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, more than 3 million Canadians had put down their steak knives; 7.1% of Canadians call themselves vegetarians while 2.3% describe as vegan.

Who funds vegan-activist associations?

According to Gilles Luneau, a French journalist who investigated the phenomenon, “Billionaires from Silicon Valley are funding activist associations (like L214), while investing in new agri-food industries.” Last year alone, the L214 organization, one of the best-known vegan-activist associations in France, received 1.14 million euros from the American Open Philanthropy Project (OPP) to make noise in universities and begin a war on caged chicken farms. The OPP, created by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, also funds artificial meat from stem cells.

Luneau added that several American foundations networks, mainly heroes from GAFAM – Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft – also finance other artificial food start-ups. These start-ups aim to override field farming and traditional livestock production in order to promote artificial and industrial feed production. Luneau said, “The empire of fake food is on the way.” This is worrisome, seeing this drastic transformation of our mode of feeding and a loss of potential food autonomy. Even Nestlé invested in this phenomenon with CEO Mark Schneider saying at a news conference that plant food is much more promising than meat.

In this race towards artificial protein, several large companies will make big profits from veganism. More vegans will mean more “veggie burger” sales.

Are you ready for activists on your farm?

If activists arrived on your farm without warning and entered into your buildings to film your facilities or steal your animals (alive or dead), to broadcast their visit on social media, would you know how to react?

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In years past, this has happened in France, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Australia and even among our American neighbours. Recently, vegan activists or animalists (activists for the abolition of animal production) crossed Canada’s borders.

On April 28, in Abbotsford, British Columbia, approximately 200 activists landed at Excelsior, one of the province’s largest hog farms. Nearly 50 of them entered the buildings illegally. A video posted by the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) followed this event, showing scenes of neglected pigs apparently filmed on this farm; however, no evidence could prove the origin of the video.

On March 9, two Ontario dairy farms were visited by activists. Approximately 15 activists from the Direct Action Everywhere association (DxE) disembarked and broadcasted their visit live on Facebook. They had brought pastries and flowers for the farmer and the calves “to testify their peaceful presence.” In exchange, they wanted to leave with a living calf. As the farmer refused, they finally left with a dead calf to bury it “appropriately,” according to them.

In Alberta, the Hutterite turkey farm at Jumbo Valley was also targeted by activists. More than 30 activists entered the buildings. In addition, 30 members of the DxE association broke into a Montreal Costco on Sept. 19 to protest against animal product consumption. The DxE organization is established in some 20 countries.

Laws are beginning to get tougher for animal activists

In the Sept. 21 issue of La Presse Canadienne, it reads that “Ontario could legislate to protect farmers from animal rights activists.” According to Ministry spokesman, Avi Yufest, “The animal rights groups’ demonstrations often violate farm biosecurity, or trucks carrying livestock to a processing plant, putting the province’s food system at risk.”

On Dec. 2, the “Security from Trespass and Animal Safety Act”, was introduced in Ontario, that would increase trespassing fines on farms and food-processing facilities and illegalize the obstruction of trucks carrying farm animals. British Columbia is also preparing to toughen penalties for farm intrusions. Lastly, four protesters were charged for entering the turkey farm in Alberta.

How to prepare for these intrusions

Dairy Farmers of Ontario (DFO) emailed all members the week before the March 9 event, warning that activists were preparing to break into farms around Toronto. DFO also invited their members to install signs saying, “Private Property” and “Biosafety” and to report any suspicious behaviour or vehicles approaching their farm.

However, some provinces do not have guidelines on how to handle these situations. When I’ve asked about their protocols in case of farm intrusions, many are surprised and shocked to even hear about these activists. They have no plan and often are not aware of the phenomenon, and their reaction is quite normal since the phenomenon is new.

The illegal intrusion of a group of activists on a farm can have disastrous consequences: threat to biosecurity, escalation of violence, increased distress for owners, their families and employees, etc.

Although incidents of this kind are rare for now, it is better to prevent rather than react. Several countries have already established a list of clear recommendations to be ready for the potential intrusion of on-farm activists. At all times farms should:

  • Restrict entrances and lock buildings to prevent access to strangers

  • Put up signs stating private property, the biosecurity rules and that it is an offence to enter without permission

  • Make sure you have the best practices and train employees well on animal welfare

  • Install a surveillance camera system

If activists arrive at the farm:

  • Stay calm. Do not make any threat. Remember that everything is filmed.

  • Ensure your safety, as well as your family and employees’ safety, at all times.

  • Ask politely and firmly for them to get out. Remind them that they are on private property, that you have important biosecurity rules and that it is forbidden to enter your buildings.

  • If they do not leave, withdraw and call the police immediately, asking them to come quickly to your property.

  • Call 911 and say there is a safety concern for everyone on the farm.

  • Keep your distance from the activist group and, above all, avoid any form of violence.

  • If possible, film their activity as long as it doesn’t put your safety into question.

  • If they persist in leaving with your animals – dead or alive – do not consider refusing; let them go with the animals to avoid any escalation of the situation.

  • Immediately report to the authorities.

First of all, remember you have to protect human lives and avoid altercations to prevent anyone from being hurt. Altercations would only fuel social media or could lead to lawsuits against the owners.

It’s urgent that politicians take the phenomenon seriously in order to legally prepare and to protect farmers, their families and their businesses. It is unacceptable for activists to break into private businesses and risk biosecurity, the lives of employees and owners, as well as their own lives.

Everyone is free to act according to their beliefs – for example, to not consume animal products, avoid going to the zoo or wearing leather. It’s a personal choice. However, this becomes a problem when militant activists use totalitarian and drastic means (intrusion into private companies, propaganda, defamation, psychological violence, vandalism, cyber-bullying, etc.) to impose their ideology on the rest of the population. On social media, they accuse farmers (and other industry players) of horrible things, such as being “animal abusers”, “rapists” (insemination), “killers”, “kidnappers” (the calf being separated from its mother), “polluters”, etc.

Live and let live?

Vegans apply the “live and let live” mantra towards animals but obviously not to human omnivores. For farmers – who, for many, already have a high level of psychological distress – the pressure exerted by activist groups is sometimes the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Although the anti-speciesist activist advocates for the respect and compassion for all living beings, it is clear these qualities are manifested in a very arbitrary way. They do not seem to apply to farmers and other players in the animal industry.

What can we do? As consumers are increasingly disconnected from the reality of farming, they get lost in the ocean of contradictory or erroneous information. It is more important than ever to present information in a digestible way. Everyone can be an agriculture ambassador at their level. Farmers, in addition to feeding the population, will now have a new role of informing, educating and raising awareness of the practices of your community. It is up to everyone in the farming community to put meat around the bone.  end mark

ILLUSTRATION: Illustration by Kristen Phillips.

Pierrette Desrosiers
  • Pierrette Desrosier

  • Work psychologist, professional speaker and business coach
  • specializing in agriculture
  • Email Pierrette Desrosier

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