This is a very contentious subject which invokes strong emotions from both sides of the argument. I am going to attempt to be pragmatic in this post as my aim here isn’t to air my own views on the subject too much, but to point out that both sides are being extremely ineffective.
I am sick of seeing nasty narratives coming from both vegans and farmers. The most frustrating part is that we’re talking about a tiny minority of both groups; most vegans are peaceful and non-judgemental, and most farmers are just doing their best to feed the country, with most genuinely caring about their animals. I’m not against a healthy debate to express your views, but recently the rhetoric has been all-out war and that’s not productive. Stories of public brawls are constantly hitting the red-topped newspapers (which of course have their own agenda to dramatise the situation and fuel the fire).
Offending farmers by calling them ‘Nazis’ and ‘Rapists’ or threatening to spike vegans’ food with meat is just going to further alienate the opposition; this is not a productive way of debating.
Here is a slideshow of just a few of the stories and social media posts which jumped out at me during a quick search to illustrate the problem. Many of them are from a farming forum I’m a member of where most posts seem to be about veganism instead of farming. I am aware most of these are from farmers, so please see the bottom of this page for some news stories (where vegans are portrayed as the ‘enemy’ instead).
Personally, I find being preached to and judged by anyone repulsive and alienating, whether we’re discussing religion, diet, money, politics, or ethical issues. There are ways of approaching difficult subjects without causing offence, and without attacking the opposition.
On the one side, we have vegans who don’t consume any animal products at all with reasons varying from ethics, welfare, perceived health benefits (it’s harder to be healthy as a vegan but it is absolutely possible), personal preferences, and sustainability. One thing I will point out is that the majority vegans probably aren’t completely animal product free as it’s practically impossible; this TED talk shows that pig parts are utilised in over 185 different products! This is, in my opinion, a good thing. If an animal is to be killed (hopefully after having the best life possible), the entire carcass should be utilised.
I think it’s great to follow a vegan lifestyle as long as you don’t become judgemental and force your beliefs onto others using the wrong methods, least of all without proper evidence. I know it’s difficult if you’re passionate about it, but other people may be comfortable with eating meat, and are (mostly) capable of making their own decisions and moral judgements.
However, I am not condoning ignorance. I do believe that the public must become more aware of what they’re eating and where it comes from; I think abattoir visits to see how our meat is produced are useful (I used to visit one every week for over a year and hated it, but at least I now know how it works!), and if you’re still comfortable with it, then fine. If that means that farmers/abattoirs not following welfare guidelines correctly have to improve their standards, then great. If it means higher consumption of high welfare, locally sourced, good quality meat, then even better. I will not bring my children (IF I have children!) up to believe that lambs are there simply to frolic in the fields, I will educate them about the entire food chain so that they know where their food comes from.
I believe we should begin to focus on producing high quality, high welfare meat which costs more and is consumed less often to ensure sustainability and minimal environmental damage. Both farmers and vegans may disagree with my views, but that doesn’t make it OK to insult me with derogatory language.
Farmers are under mounting pressure to produce enough food for the country, make enough money to live on (easier said than done as many currently rely on CAP subsidies…), whilst not damaging the environment. On top of that, there’s the climate change elephant in the room. Most farmers I’ve met do care about their animals and may even struggle sending them to slaughter, but they have to make a living and livestock and many of our beautiful habitats in the UK probably wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for produce (e.g. the uplands appear to need grazing sheep). I think it can be argued that most people enjoy seeing livestock in the countryside, and they are culturally valuable to rural societies. That’s not to say things shouldn’t be done as ethically as possible.Farmers are extremely heterogenous; they may be producing different products, farm different land, and have different personal views. Many farmers are becoming very environmentally aware ( they kind of have to nowadays anyway due to the rise of agri-environment schemes) and may also be passionate about animals. I’m not going into any depth about whether or not I agree with various livestock farming practices in this post, but at least we aren’t as bad as the US. Let’s just hope that we will not end up importing chlorinated chickens and ractopamine fed pigs post-Brexit as that would be disastrous for animal welfare standards in the UK, and actually, I think most farmers would agree (and obviously vegans).
My stance on meat-eating
As I’m sure many of you know, I’m vegetarian because I don’t believe current meat consumption is sustainable for the environment, so until people stop eating it with every single meal and focus on eating high quality, high welfare, locally sourced meat instead (and pay more for it to ensure farmers’ earn enough!), I’ve cut it out. I also avoid consuming gelatin or anything else containing meat derived ingredients, but I am fully aware that I am still driving livestock production, mostly because I still eat organic dairy products. I have been cold shouldered by a few farmers because of my dietary choices, and they’ve actually seemed offended; please don’t assume all vegetarians/vegans are the same before you know the reasons behind it.
Despite believing that meat shouldn’t be eaten with every single meal, I don’t judge people for their choices; perhaps they have health concerns or maybe they’re from an older generation which have grown up being told meat with every meal is essential. I can absolutely agree with parts from both sides of the debate and I believe there will always be a place for livestock.
So to the vegans and farmers giving each other death threats and offending each other, you’re giving yourselves a bad name and it isn’t productive, least of all to yourselves. I really hope that some common ground can be sought by the majority of level-headed farmers/vegans; for example, most of both groups are interested in environmental protection and actually, animal welfare. Let’s debate this sensibly.
Want to read more?
Here are some recent stories surrounding the vegan vs. farmer war (I call it a war because it seems to have gone past being a debate!):
- Don’t waste time arguing with vegans online
- Farmer attacks vegan activist
- ‘Peaceful vegan activist’ Joey Carbstrong compared dairy farmers to Hitler and told them to kill themselves
- Farmer subjected to ‘scary’ online abuse by vegan activists
I also recommend having a read of this blog post written by my colleague (Adrian Colston, Centre for Rural Policy Research), entitled ‘The end of livestock farming? A world of narratives and counter narratives‘.
P.S. Please feel free to share your views in the comments, but as I’m sure you’ve noticed I don’t appreciate offensive language or shaming. I’ve tried to be as pragmatic as possible here so I’d appreciate the same in return 🙂