Dramatic demonstrations by animal rights activists have whipped up outrage and debate across the country, with the meat industry condemning the vegan protesters’ tactics.
In the early hours of Monday morning animal rights activists carried out a series of co-ordinated protests at meat-processing plants in New South Wales and Victoria, including chaining themselves to a conveyor at Goulburn’s Southern Meats.
In Melbourne’s CBD, trams screeched to a halt and commuters were delayed on their way to work by a mass protest outside Flinders Street station.
The protests follow Queensland’s move to introduce tough new penalties for animal rights protesters who invade farms.
In January, a Melbourne steakhouse was stormed by vegan activists, and on Sunday, the Gippy Goat cafe in regional Victoria announced it would shutter following “months of constant harassment, vile statements and threats from the abusive vegan activists”.
Monday’s demonstrations were organised by vegan protest movement Dominion, with protesters carrying signs saying “You have been lied to” and telling the public to watch the group’s documentary film on the treatment of animals in Australia.
“Unfortunately the only way the consumers are going to be able to see what happens inside abattoirs is for activists to go in and get that footage, because the industry is never going to put it out themselves,” Dominion director Chris Delforce told The New Daily.
Mr Delforce said the demonstrations would continue “so long as these industries are continued to allow to operate in secrecy”.
As long as there’s a complete lack of transparency, these actions will continue to draw the public’s attention to it.”
Melbourne’s Sea Life aquarium was also targeted on Monday, with more than 50 protesters gathered outside the popular tourist spot.
Some chained themselves together to show their objection to what they described as a for-profit business imprisoning animals for entertainment.
“Captivity is cruelty. It’s not conservation, it’s exploitation,” Chelsea Hanna, a representative of animal liberation group Justice for Captives, told The New Daily.
“If [the aquarium] truly cared about the animals’ welfare they wouldn’t be making a profit or putting the animals on display.”
Meat industry condemns protesters
The Australian Meat Industry Council condemned the protesters as troublemakers that put “hundreds of workers and thousands of animals at risk”.
At least five meat-processing plants were invaded by animal rights protesters on Monday, AMIC said.
“What this amounts to is workers in regional and rural Australia being impacted by people who are not part of their communities,” AMIC chief executive Patrick Hutchinson said.
They come in, they cause trouble. They create images that are not representative of the work our members do. They damage a business’s ability to operate, and then they’re gone.”
Australia’s meat sector provides 55,000 full-time jobs and is worth $22 billion annually, with abattoirs among the largest employers in many small towns, AMIC said.
“If people want to raise concerns or issues, then they must go about it in a civil way,” Mr Hutchinson said.
AMIC revealed that it is working with police and government to resolve the situation and develop “improved approaches to managing ongoing activism”.
Are the animal activists morally justified?
The actions are morally justified if “the protesters are correct in their judgement that what is being done to these animals is a heinous moral act”, ACU Institute for Philosophy ethicist Tyler Paytas said.
Animal rights activists consider animals to be the moral equivalent of human children – innocent creatures capable of suffering – that are imprisoned in cages for entertainment and murdered for consumption, Dr Paytas said.
[If you shared those beliefs] what would you be willing to do? Block traffic or tie yourself to a building?”
Breaking the law can be “perfectly justified” if it’s done to “prevent a greater wrong”, Dr Paytas said.
“We can’t assume that such protests are a clear moral wrong just because it’s disrupting people’s day.
“Causing inconvenience … can be justified by the much greater good of putting an end to a heinous activity.”
However, confrontational tactics could backfire and hurt the vegan cause, Dr Paytas said, pointing to social media outrage that included commenters claiming they would eat extra meat on Monday to spite the vegans.
“The cost [of confrontational protests] is potential backlash,” he said.