On Monday there were mass protests by so-called vegan activists across Australia. Not only did they cause disruption by blocking major intersections in Melbourne, they also targeted small businesses in Queen Victoria Market, as well as farms, abattoirs, and meat-processing plants across the country.
We live in a democratic society where protests are not just allowed but are seen as healthy when done properly and peacefully. However, protests that target people and their livelihoods, that target employees who cannot find other work, and that target the mental health of families and business owners, are not just illegal, they create an environment where no solution is reached and innocent people, families and communities are damaged.
The fact is, peoples’ livelihoods depend on this industry. The meat industry doesn’t just stop at farms. There are more than 100,000 people employed along the supply chain, including on various types of farms (broadacre farms, specialist farms, hobby farms), in abattoirs, in processing facilities, in the transportation of meat and livestock, and in the many butchers, delicatessens, supermarkets, cafes and restaurants across the country that are merely supplying our society’s demand for meat products.
Moreover, the disruption caused by these protests disproportionately impacts people who work in small and family businesses. Small businesses simply don’t have the elasticity to recover from this sort of disruption. They still have to pay their staff for the lost day of work. They will have customers also impacted.
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If this behaviour continues, small businesses will be forced to close. For example, the day before Monday’s protests, it was announced the popular Gippy Goat Café attached to Caldermeade dairy goat farm was closing down. This was after the owners and staff — innocent people just trying to do their jobs — were subjected to months of harassment, abuse and threats of violence from aggressive vegan activists.
This café closing down doesn’t do anything to help animal welfare. In fact, there was actually worry expressed about the welfare of some baby goats stolen from the farm by vegan activists in December because the animals were taken away from their mother’s milk and the care of vets. The closure of this cafe does mean, however, that people will lose their job and a family will go through a hard time. It is a loss for the whole community.
Aggressive protests like the ones seen on Monday also disproportionately impact people in regional Australia. In many regional towns, small businesses in the meat industry are the core of the local economy — without the abattoir, without local food retail shops, some of these towns wouldn’t be able to exist. Not only do they provide jobs, they, like many other small businesses in regional Australian communities, sponsor local sports teams and support local charities.
People don’t choose to work in an abattoir or a butcher because they hate animals — they may be experts in ensuring the humane processing of stock, or it might be the only work they can find or the only way they can stay in their home town. And in many cases, these businesses are already under a lot of stress from the drought and rising energy costs.
That being said, it is also important to respect peoples’ right to express their opinions and to engage in peaceful activism. The attack by these few belligerents was an attack on broader society and on the economy. We all know that when a few try to force their opinion on the many, a conflict will occur, people will be harmed and no one really wins.
The good and honest vegans out there, those who want to promote peace and compassion (the majority), should not be targeted or criticised for the unnecessary behaviour of a very small but aggressive minority.
They may be an easier target for aggressively minded protestors, but creating more victims by wrecking small businesses isn’t the answer to the problems of animal welfare and climate change. It only serves to foster anger, distrust and resentment between people who are doing nothing wrong.