On Monday, April 8, vegan activists brought Melbourne’s business district to a standstill in a coordinated act of protest.
The protestors chained themselves to rental vans and affected 11 different tram lines, and they forced reroutes of traffic and ambulance routes. Activists also stormed a slaughterhouse and were able to negotiate the release of three sheep.
Protestors wanted to bring awareness to veganism and the high level of meat consumption in Australia. Per capita, Australia has the second highest meat consumption in the world after the United States.
The protests resulted in 39 arrests and confrontations with local police. Two minors were also arrested as part of the police action.
Eating meat is clearly ingrained in Australian culture, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison responded to the protests by calling them “shameful and un-Australian.” He also called for the judicial branch to use “the full force of the law” in punishing the protestors for their actions.
Australia’s livestock industry is responsible for 40% of its agricultural output and is a big business in the country. Protestors were attempting to bring attention to the dark underbelly of factory farms, and many of their signs directed passers-by to watch a documentary called Dominion.
Vegan Rising campaign director Kristin Leigh said to the Australian Broadcasting Company that the group had organized eight other similar protests around the country.
She said, “We want people to go vegan, we want people to stop supporting animal abuse. I don’t believe any good person supports what’s happening in slaughterhouses and so-called farms today, these are places of exploitation of innocent vulnerable beings.”
However, many Melbourne citizens were not so pleased about the animal rights activist’s choice of protest. The demonstrations caused delays on public transport and many expressed their frustrations to ABC about their commute being impacted.
Protestors also staged an event at the Melbourne Aquarium to protest the animals’ treatment in the facility. They blocked off the main entrance, but the aquarium remained open and used only side entrances.
While Australia is a meat-eating country, veganism is a growing trend, especially in younger populations. A 2016 pool found that approximately 11% of Australians are vegetarian compared to a worldwide rate that is almost twice as high. About 2% of Australians are vegans.
Lorena Castillo of sweetesthome.com.au commented, “we find Australia lags behind in the amount of vegetarian and vegan-specific products bought compared to other countries. However, there is a growing demand for products that cater to these needs in Australia. It is a trend that companies are beginning to notice.”
The vegan activists will be hoping that the latest protests are a watershed moment for animal rights and veganism in the country, but their prime minister’s words show that eating meat is deeply ingrained into Australian society.
The Australian Meat Industry Council also claimed that butcher shops are being attacked by activists, and other stories of intimidation against farmers are gaining traction within the media.
Regardless of one’s political beliefs, it is clear to recognize that the activists have generated a lot of media attention through their actions. Now, time will tell if Australians are convinced that they should look towards meat alternatives to save animals.