Recently the Australian government has been cracking down on vegan animal activist whistle-blowers. Activists entering farms to capture footage may be able to face up to $200 000 fines as of this year, this is despite the fact that activists have captured countless footage of animal cruelty (both legal and illegal practices) in Aussie farms and abattoirs. In response to revealing such footage, rather than acting to protect animals, the government has responded by trying to silence activists with heavy penalties under proposed ag gag laws. As some have aptly pointed out (below), our government’s response to vegan protesters is worse than you would expect for people trying to bring peace to animals.
Given the recent debates about their actions and the resulting political reaction, you’re going to be hearing a lot about animal activists from media and government, much of which will include sensationalism and misinformation in an attempt to protect an increasingly scrutinised industry (animal agriculture).
So what is the aim of vegan activists who enter farms and why the harsh penalties? In light of such debates, here are some common questions and misconceptions about recent actions by activists and my responses to them:
“Why are vegan activists entering farms?”
Activists enter farms to capture what’s happening to animals and expose it to the public, just as an investigative journalist might do when an unjust situation is being hidden by those in power. If we relied on government and multi-billion dollar corporations (like the animal agriculture industry) to be open and honest about how they function, and to be the only ones to deliver our news – we could be sold any fantasy to assure they keep getting our dollar.
“Why not let the industry show us their practices on their own terms?”
Animal agriculture industries don’t like consumers seeing how they’re treating animals because they know without a doubt it would impact their profit-margins. So they’re not offering up transparency on their own any time soon. And like any business selling a product, they need to be held accountable for how they function. So when a business built on killing animals in the masses refuse to show how they’re doing it – people will inevitably do it for them. Most of us would hope someone would do the same for us if we were ever to be in the position of the animals.
“But these are family farms”
Unfortunately, that doesn’t make farms any better. Most animals eaten in Australia come from factory farms – highly industrialised forms of farming where animals are kept in cages, thousands crammed together in concrete, unsanitary sheds, forced to live in their own excrement and tossed aside if they’re sick or injured. The family farm we imagine – the one of vast green fields and animals roaming around happily, is a rare fantasy. Industrial farming has been pushing out the ‘local family farmer’ for decades. Did you know that in the 1960s, there were around 50,000 pig farms in Australia. Today, there are less than 1,400, and yet the total number of pigs bred and slaughtered for food has increased? Still, in the minority of cases where animals come from ‘better’ farms, they will endure practices like separation from their mothers, teeth cutting, castration, and beak burning. And they will always end up in slaughterhouses (unless they die of disease, injury, deformity or starvation first) which involve things like – gassing animals alive, shredding, throat cutting while conscious, shooting, dismembering, tossing, and beating. Animal farming is an ugly image no matter who the farmer.
“We should release the addresses of activists given Aussie Farms have released a map of Australian farms”
Activists aren’t entering the homes of farmers, they’re entering facilities – ‘Business’ facilities that are supposed to be transparent to the consumer (in some cases farmers may live on the same property as these facilities, but these properties are vast and animal sheds are separate to personal homes). The names of farms and their locations which are included on the map are also already publicly available information on Google Earth – the same system Aussie Farms used to make the map.
“So why not lobby the government instead?”
Activists are lobbying the government. They have been doing this for years – to end live animal export, battery cages, greyhound racing, and so much more where footage of cruelty has been shown time and time again to authorities. Some of this lobbying has only been possible because of activists who have captured footage. But change also needs to happen on a grassroots level. Big change happens from consumer demand. Why would industries and government change anything for the better unless people demand those changes? Consumer demand shifts the status quo. And consumer demand can only change when people know what’s happening and see a reason to demand something better.
“Activists just want to attack farmers”
Not at all. In fact, there has been no news of an activist attacking a farmer since these protests and investigations have been happening upwards of 40 years. Consider the fact that almost every video of animals in farms or slaughterhouses you’ve seen has come from an undercover activist. This is decades of work – how many vegans have we heard of in this time harming farmers or slaughterhouse workers? Activists have nothing to gain from attacking farmers, it would do very little to help the animals. What will help is showing the public what’s happening to animals. The aim is to target the practices, not the people.
“Do vegans hate farmers?”
Vegans don’t hate farmers. There may be some who let out their feelings of horror, anger or grief on farmers after witnessing farming practices on animals. But underlying this, vegans understand that farmers are just part of a wider problematic system of animal exploitation. Remember, vegans ate animals once too. Vegans want to support plant farmers, and animal farmers into transitioning into plant farming – because this kind of farming isn’t confining and killing animals. It is also much less harmful on the environment and requires far less resources. Just like any industry whose time has come, we want to see animal agriculture industries phase out, and transition into sustainable farming of products that don’t rely on the suffering of vulnerable beings. This is how change works – we wouldn’t protest against the introduction of Blurays & home film streaming services so that we can save the jobs of video rentals right? Change is inevitable when it comes to systems that are flawed or outdated.
“Vegans have a vegan agenda. Why don’t they let people eat meat?”
What is the vegan agenda exactly? What vegans want is actually not so different to what most people want – to get rid of animal cruelty. And to show people that animals are in fact experiencing cruelty in these industries. If eating meat didn’t involve animal cruelty, there would be no fuss. But it is, and that’s why activists advocate for people to exercise their consumer power and stand against the funding of animal cruelty with their dollar every time they buy food. Now comparatively, what is the agenda of animal agriculture industries? Profit. We know that eating animals is now one of the leading causes of environmental damage and linked to a variety of the world’s current leading health concerns, so this is not an industry with a charitable agenda. How do these two agendas compare?
Animal agriculture is a multi-billion dollar industry. In the last decade, there have been significant shifts in the market towards plantbased foods. People are increasingly turning towards alternatives knowing the impact of meat on our planet, health, and animals. It is no wonder the industry is doing what they can to prevent consumers from learning more about their inner workings.
So if you ever find yourself slandering activists, consider that what activists are doing is in the best interest of the public too. They are demanding freedom of information from a powerful corporation – a fundamental right in a progressive democratic society. Penalising activists for whistleblowing is an abuse of power that further tightens the reigns on transparency, something that concerns all of us.