Roar writer Rhian Kerslake argues for common ground between vegan activists and small farmers against the harms of intensive agriculture.
A calm lunchbreak, joking with workmates, and a bit of peace from the grunting, arsey sows. The barn is stood to the side, pigs nosing amongst themselves, their round bodies flopped in old straw as they cooled off.
Suddenly, a small crowd of figures are at the farm gates. More cars pulled up, teetering on the edge of the grass verge. They advanced over the gate, phones bared. Sandwiches were abandoned and the farm owner called for.
The next few days would explain all: this was a group of so-called “Vegan Activists” (I hesitate to call them that. Many vegans feel uncomfortable with the association). This group, as many do, plan their attacks over Facebook and strike at night. Breaking in, they plant cameras and audio recording equipment across the farm, then leave. Days later, they return en-masse as a frothing mob.
The attack isn’t just disruption of the farming day and the animals; that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Most of their work comes in the form of a highly edited, ultra-gory video released across the Internet. Fantastic camera angles and editing paint their target as a Cronenberg-esque nightmare. This is served with a side of online harassment.
This is a “new normal” that doesn’t reach the front pages. In recent years, the likelihood of a strike from these militants has increased massively. An elderly family friend that lives down the road has voiced her fear: she lives alone on her farm with her granddaughter.
These farmers start at 5 am and finish when they go to bed for the night. If something goes wrong, they’re up at all odd hours of the night. My dad, a smallholder himself, has not spent a day away from the farm in the last 7 years. What these militant vegan groups don’t understand is that farmers are far from the Twitter accusations of “rapists” and “murderers”. If they want to blame anyone for intensive-style farming, they need to turn their heads to British consumers.
At the top of the chain is the consumer, for demand is everything. Below them sits the supermarket. They hold all the cards. If the buyer wants cheaper meat, the supermarket grovels and offers. This crushes British farmers under the weight of ever-bigger price drops. So, how can farmers still pay the bills and provide for the nation? They intensify, making the most of the land and animals they own. It’s not glamorous, and it’s a far cry from the perfect ideal of a grass-fed farm, but it’s the reality of today’s farming landscape.
As more and more farmers fall down the slippery slope of industrialisation, pushed by a lack of consumer support for small farms, it seems unfair for vegan activists to then blame farmers for a problem they indirectly contribute to.
Groups like Animal Rebellion understand this; that’s why they’re standing with us farmers against the 2020 Agriculture Bill. This bill is an attempt to replace the EU Farming regulations with hormone-injected beef, chlorinated chicken and cheap, low-quality meat from the US. This push for cheaper produce has to stop. Human health, environmental destruction and economic sustainability are at stake here.
It’s not too late! There are still bastions of hope throughout the UK: high-welfare, grassy smallholdings throughout the country that need your support before they, too, are squeezed into the shape of US-style intensive farms.