Farm Ireland

Tuesday 18 December 2018

'We are not anti-farmer - it's about animal rights'

Veganism is on the rise in Ireland but farm leaders are concerned about the 'misinformation' they claim is being spread by some activists

Farmer's son Declan Bowens is a vegan who runs an animal sanctuary near Navan. Photo: Seamus Farrelly
Farmer's son Declan Bowens is a vegan who runs an animal sanctuary near Navan. Photo: Seamus Farrelly
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

Veganism is the practice of not eating meat or consuming animal-based products. While Bord Bia estimates that only 2pc of the 8pc non-meat eaters in Ireland follow a vegan diet, veganism has become a contentious issue in the past year, partly due to the provocative 'Go Vegan World' advertising campaign.

Farm leaders were unimpressed by the campaign which portrayed conventional farming as inhumane. However, most vegans would maintain that they are not anti-farmer.

Farmer's son Declan Bowens is a vegan who runs the Back into Daylight Animal Sanctuary in Navan, Co Meath. He told the Farming Independent that he's not anti-farmer, he just doesn't agree with the lives "animals are forced to live" on Irish farms.

"I'm not against farmers. My nephew is a drystock farmer and although I don't agree with his practices, we still get on. It's about the treatment of animals and their lifestyle. Bulls are castrated and cows are constantly made pregnant.

"In my opinion, it's cruel and very traumatic for the animals," he said.

"In this day and age when there's so much more potential for soya to be grown in Ireland, there's no excuse and the Government should give more supports." Westmeath sheep farmer and Farming Independent columnist John Fagan thinks the suggestion that Irish farmers are cruel to their animals is "abhorrent" and that farm organisations need to "step up to the plate" to tackle false messages that are being spread about Irish farming.

"I've no problem with people being vegan. It's their own option. Like everything in life it probably has its good points and bad ones but saying that Irish farmers are cruel to animals is abhorrent to me. It's so inaccurate and ridiculous.

"Farm organisations need to stand up and be advocates for our industry. Maybe we could organise fundraisers for animal rights organisations."

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IFA's dairy chairman Tom Phelan too pointed out that he "fully respects the right of people to make their own dietary choices" but he was "disappointed by misinformation being spread about the dairy industry on social media as Irish dairy farmers care about their animals, not just because it is good for business".

"They operate their farms under the most stringent animal welfare legal standards in the world and take great pride and pleasure in the health and welfare of their herds, and it is simply inaccurate to suggest otherwise,"he said.

'We are not against farmers; we are against animal use'

However, Go Vegan World founder Sandra Higgins thinks otherwise and states that their billboard adverts "show animals for who they are".

She plans to continue the campaign for as long as necessary and believes veganism is a growing trend in this country.

"The ads merely refer to standard, legal practices inherent in all forms of animal use."

In recent weeks, farmers in the UK claimed that they received death threats from vegans, but Sandra says the organisation isn't anti-farmer.

"These allegations serve the purpose of distracting from the real victims: animals at slaughterhouses who are killed for something we do not need.

"Go Vegan World does not condone threatening or abusive behaviour to anyone - other animals, vegan activists, or farmers. We are not against farmers; we are against animal use," she said, adding their costly campaign was funded through like-minded individuals.

National Dairy Council (NDC) chief Zoe Kavanagh says it's important that this shouldn't be a "dairy versus vegan debate".

Dairy industry

In a survey carried out by the NDC last year, 2pc of 1,000 people surveyed identified as vegan and more than half of them said they trusted the dairy industry.

However, she feels the industry does need to be more proactive in promoting dairy to 20-30 year olds who are unsure about its benefits."We need to be more proactive on Facebook and Instagram.

"Anyone over the age of 35 has direct understanding of the grass-based system, but there's less of an understanding among the younger population and that's who we need to target."

Whatever your side of the debate, dietician Orla Walsh would encourage those on a vegan diet to take supplements as it "isn't nutritionally complete".

"When any food group is being cut out you do need to find substitutes and plan ahead. People on a vegan diet should take an Omega 3 supplement and Vitamin D and B12 as these are found in animal-based foods."

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