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Animal Rebellion at Smithfield Market: Reflections of a Day Tripper

Words and photos by Myra James

7th October 2019 isn’t a day I’ll forget in a hurry. In the run-up to the Rebellion I was struggling to know what to do. I felt pretty sure I wasn’t up for camping in the street or being arrested. But how could I ignore this important movement, calling for the changes closest to my heart – a world in which animals are treated with respect and all of us are kept safe from the worst impacts of climate and ecosystem breakdown?

I decided to book a train ticket and get myself to London for the day. I feel privileged to have been part of the day that set up the first fruit and veg market at Smithfield. Will we one day see only plant products on sale in the famous old market? I hope so.

fruit and veg market

I arrived in London, travelling from West Yorkshire, in time to join the rebels gathering in Russell Square. There I met up with Sara and Kerri from Manchester Animal Rebellion – very happy to have found them in the large crowd there. I also bumped into someone wearing the same boots as me, from Will’s Vegan Shoes (other brands of vegan footwear are available)!

After a couple of short speeches, some practical advice and singing practice, we set off on our march to Smithfield Market. Along the way we sang and chanted while people in office buildings stopped work to watch and take photos.

As we approached the market I began to feel quite emotional. I wasn’t sure whether we were about to enter a place where we would be surrounded by meat, but that wasn’t the case. No meat was evident that afternoon. We took up our place in the arcade that runs through the building. Work began on setting up the market stalls, and later stocking them supplies of beautiful fruit and veg. Meanwhile at the other end, live music was played. It was an international event. I met people from Croatia and from Italy. There were some very young children there, a reminder of why we are doing this – to try to ensure a safe future for their generation.

I was so busy helping to pile vegetables on the market stalls that I missed the start of George Monbiot’s speech – I’m afraid I abandoned the task when I realised he was speaking. I’d heard him speak before and knew we could expect something special from him, and he didn’t disappoint. He spoke of the centuries and millennia of conditioning we have to unlearn in order to accept the necessity for a world which is not shaped by animal agriculture. From classical and renaissance literature through Romantic poetry to children’s books, we have grown up in a culture which presents the rural idyll as something to yearn for. The innocent picture of people and farm animals living in harmony. The truth of animal agriculture, we now all understand, is very different. Examples of the disastrous nature of livestock agriculture and fishing came thick and fast in a fact-filled and inspirational talk. 

George reminded us of the damaging environmental impact of livestock, whether farmed indoors, or in free range systems. Run-off from free-range farming causes harmful algal bloom in rivers. Sheep farming uses twice as much land as the UK’s entire built environment while producing just 1% of the nation’s food. Meat products from local farms may well come from animals fed soya from Argentina. Blue Planet 2 alerted us to the horrifying impact of plastic in the oceans without pointing out that most of that plastic comes from the fishing industry.

We know about the Sixth Mass Extinction that we are in the midst of. George has renamed it the First Mass Extermination, because extinction sounds like something that just happens. What is happening now is something we have done.

Monbiot was followed by Dominic Dyer, CEO of the Badger Trust, who spoke passionately about the cruelty and obscene ineffectiveness of the badger cull.

Later came a talk by another icon of our movement, Chris Packham. I’m sad to say that I had left before he spoke but his talk, as well and George Monbiot’s and Dominic Dyer’s, can be found on Animal Rebellion’s Facebook page.

Animal Rebellion Smithfield banner

There was just one arrest during Animal Rebellion’s day at Smithfield Market – of the person who scaled the market building to fly the banner heralding the arrival of Smithfield Fruit and Vegetable Market. Although it all happened in a place where the bodies of innocent victims of the agriculture industry are taken for sale, it was nonetheless a joyful day, looking toward a better future. 

Events became more sombre during the night, long after I had left, as the deliveries of meat began to arrive. A funeral procession was held in memory of the animals, and this can also be seen on the Facebook page.

My thoughts now, in the comfort of my Yorkshire home, is with the brave rebels who have taken up their positions at Westminster. The police have warned that anyone protesting other than in Trafalgar Square risk arrest, so it remains to be seen how long this rebellion will hold its ground.

With the news dominated by Brexit this vital act of rebellion for the future of our planet is not receiving the coverage it deserves but with right on our side we have to remain hopeful that people in power will hear and act in time.

Encouraging activities for all in the IPCC report on food, land and climate

Recently, we wrote about the UN’s special report on climate change. More specifically, the group responsible is called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Today, we would like to share an encouraging excerpt:

“Consumption of healthy and sustainable diets presents major
opportunities for reducing GHG emissions from food systems and improving health outcomes (high confidence). Examples of healthy and sustainable diets are high in coarse grains, pulses, fruits and vegetables, and nuts and seeds; low in energy-intensive animal-sourced and discretionary foods (such as sugary beverages);  and with a carbohydrate threshold.”

The best way to achieve this healthy and sustainable diet is adopt a partly or fully vegan lifestyle. 3 Valley Vegans helps people in the upper Calder valley with our continued events, newsletters, social media and web pages.

Source: IPCC SRCCL final government draft (chapter 5 food security, pages 5-6). Accessed 14 September 2019.

The food security challenge

The global food system is under pressure. Over the next 35 years, the growing global population will demand more food than has ever been produced in human history!

Animation by Zedem Media via Global Food Security.

Burning down the Amazon: meat and dairy at the root of it

Few will have missed the recent news reports about the awful spate of fires burning down vast areas of the Amazon rainforest, the generator of 20% of the world’s oxygen and home to 10% of the world’s known biodiversity.  However, the media were less willing to attribute the cause to anything more than the Trumpian antics of Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro.   What they rarely reported was that 91% of Amazonian land deforested since 1970 has been used for livestock (sic) pasture or that Brazil is the world’s largest beef exporter.

Brazil is also the world’s second largest producer of soybeans on land that has previously been used for cattle ranching.  90% of that crop is exported worldwide as animal feed for cattle, pigs and chickens and a third of all British soy imports are for that purpose.  Your tofu and tempeh are not blameless in the Brazilian fires but meat and dairy consumption is many times worse, especially due to the inefficiency in feeding the soy to animals rather than to humans directly.  More at Vegan Sustainability.

Also, Brazilian beef is being used as a Brexit negotiating ploy.

Even though few media outlets linked the Amazon fires to meat and dairy consumption, a recent YouGov poll of more than 2,000 people showed that over half of the British public believe that reducing meat consumption should be prioritised as a key way to slow down climate change.  Reduction doesn’t mean elimination but at least this poll shows that people are making the link between meat and climate change even if Government ministers are less willing to advocate dietary change for the climate.  Sadly, the poll also found that 37% of the population is unwilling to cut their meat intake at all.  More from Edie.

Image: Amazon Fires seen from space. Credit: NASA Worldview.

National Food Strategy for England: have your say in the consultation

The government is developing a new national food strategy for England and is now consulting with individuals, organisations and businesses.  The strategy, which is due to be published in 2020, recognises that food production has a huge impact on the environment, human health and the economy.  It acknowledges that the growth of the human population poses huge risks to the food and water supply and that there are new risks posed by anti-microbial resistance. All of these factors would be improved by a move to a sustainable plant-based food production system and this is your opportunity to influence the strategy.

Please comment and say why we should move to a sustainable plant-based food system in the UK. The deadline is Friday, 25 October. Comments are welcome from individuals or vegan businesses.

The strategy will cover the entire food chain, from field to fork: the production, marketing, processing, sale and purchase of food (for consumption in the home and out of it), and the consumer practices, resources and institutions involved in these processes.

Requirements from the government

The government wants a food system that:

  • delivers safe, healthy, affordable food; regardless of where people live or how much they earn
  • is robust in the face of future shocks
  • restores and enhances the natural environment for the next generation in this country
  • is built upon a resilient, sustainable and humane agriculture sector
  • is a thriving contributor to our urban and rural economies, delivering well paid jobs and supporting innovative producers and manufacturers across the country
  • delivers all this in an efficient and cost effective way

Points you may wish to make

Comments should be 1000 words or fewer. You might like to choose from the following points or make your own comments:

  • The government has declared a climate emergency so now is the time to put this into action in this food strategy. Eating animal products has a huge environmental impact and it is clear that we will not be able to meet the Paris Agreement, and achieve net zero carbon emissions, unless as a nation we make a rapid move towards plant-based diets.
  • The recent IPCC report on land use (2019) says that we must change the way we produce food and manage land. Agriculture and forestry produces almost a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. With a growing population we cannot continue to use land in the same way and we are now very close to dangerous tipping points.  Meat and dairy consumption will have to be cut and there needs to be a major shift to healthy and sustainable plant-based diets such as grains, pulses, vegetables, nuts and seeds.  Plant-based foods require less land, less water, produce less pollution on land and in the sea, and produce far less greenhouse gases than animal-based foods.
  • Oxford University research (Poore et al, 2018) found that adopting a plant-based diet is the “single biggest thing” individuals can do for the planet and EAT-Lancet, the latest international, peer-reviewed project of its kind, said that planetary boundaries and human health require a move towards plant-based diets.
  • Fish consumption should be cut drastically in order to prevent the loss of ocean biodiversity, habitat degradation and to reduce pollution (WWF, 2015). Ocean fishing produces nearly half of all plastic debris in the oceans (Lebreton, 2018).  Fish farming isn’t the answer: farmed fish are treated with large amounts of pesticides and antibiotics to treat diseases, particularly sea lice, which are rife in such overcrowded conditions, further exacerbating the problem of antibiotic resistance in humans. The farms pollute the surrounding water with faeces and food waste, contaminating the water and producing methane, a potent greenhouse gas (Poore et al, 2018).  One alternative for areas currently dependent upon fish farming is the move to properly managed seaweed farming which is currently underexploited in Europe (Campbell et al, 2019).
  • Poor diet is now the number one cause of death and disability in the UK resulting in a rising burden of obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer (Newton et al, 2015). Wholefood plant-based foods are healthier than meat and dairy and reduce the risk of these diseases which cost society billions, relieving pressure on the NHS and care sector (Fraser, 2009).
  • There should be a rapid move from subsidies that support animal farming to subsidies for plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruit, pulses and grains. This would help farmers to move to plant-based farming and improve the availability of healthy plant-based foods throughout the country.
  • Plant-based foods, particularly those produced without the use of animal manures, cause less food-borne infections than animal-based foods such as chicken and eggs. The move to plant-based foods would reduce the incidence of these diseases and therefore relieve the pressure on health care systems.
  • Plant-based foods bring investment into urban and rural economies, e.g. Heather Mills’ “vegan northern powerhouse” is already bringing investment into the north east of England.
  • The move to a plant-based diet could be encouraged by implementing inclusive and sustainable policies for public sector institutions such as schools, hospitals and care homes to offer good vegan meals as standard on menus every day. Skills in cooking plant-based foods should be part of the school curriculum so that all children are able to create healthy and tasty meals.
  • Farmers should be supported financially and practically, in the move away from farming animals to producing sustainable plant crops or ecological restoration. The Vegan Society’s Grow Green campaign should be extended and widely promoted.

National Food Strategy art

Leave your comment with the government now

Animal Rebellion prepares for London rebellion from 7 October

Animal Rebellion is a mass volunteer movement demanding that the government end the destructive animal farming and fishing industries, and lead a transition to a just, sustainable plant-based food system, to minimise the risk of climate breakdown, halt mass extinction and avert social collapse. In solidarity with Extinction Rebellion, Animal Rebellion will mobilise thousands of animal advocates for a two-week rebellion in London, beginning Monday, 7 October 2019.

Kerri Waters from Manchester Animal Rebellion was at Hope Baptist Church in Hebden Bridge on Thursday, 19 September to give a presentation about Animal Rebellion, why it is necessary and what it hopes to achieve. An audience of about 18 listened as Kerri set out with alarming clarity the extent of the damage already done to the planet and the life it sustains. Kerri focused on the key contribution of animal agriculture and fishing to the climate emergency and to the sixth major extinction event in which we find ourselves.

Animal Rebellion meat art
Source: Animal Rebellion Manchester

It is depressing stuff, and we’ve all seen a lot of it already, but the worst effects of the harm that humans have done can be averted if governments act quickly. Extinction Rebellion and Animal Rebellion are calling for establishment of People’s Assemblies to consider the science and bring forward proposals on how respond.

From 7 October, Animal Rebellion will be at Smithfield Market, where it will stage a fun, theatrical event, setting up a fruit and veg market outside the world famous meat market. They will not the challenging the workers at Smithfield, whose livelihoods depend on those jobs. This is in line with Animal Rebellion’s philosophy of inclusivity, keen to engage with farmers and meat eaters and avoid blaming and shaming.

Practical ideas were discussed to help people aiming to to go London for any part of the protest. A WhatsApp group has been set up for people looking for help with transport or accommodation. Facebook groups and pages and the Animal Rebellion website provide useful information and discussion to aid and support  participation:

There is also the idea of holding an event in Hebden Bridge on Saturday, 12 October to draw attention to the action in London and explain its aims. An opportunity for those not able to get to London to make their own contribution to the effort. There are many ways to JOIN THE REBELLION!

Grouse shooting: how can you help?

On Saturday 10th August members of 3 Valley Vegans attended a rally in Bradford, the headquarters of Yorkshire Water, to urge the company to pull the plug on grouse shooting. Despite the rain it was an inspiring day. Why? Because the public are waking up to the horror that is grouse shooting.

An estimated 700,000 grouse are shot every year in Britain for ‘sport’. Grouse live on moorland and during a ‘shoot’ they are frightened by beaters who drive them towards men who shoot them. Many birds won’t be killed straight away and suffer a frightening and painful death. All so that very rich people (shoots often cost over a £5000 a day to participate in) can kill birds for fun.

Birds of prey and other animals such as badgers, stoats and weasels are also killed by snaring, poisoning and trapping. This is done by gamekeepers in order to reduce the number of young grouse killed before the shooting season starts.

Maintaining the moors for grouse shooting involves considerable environmental damage. Burning heather for instance alters the flow of water off the hills and contributes to flooding – something we know a lot about here in Calderdale.  Burning also dries out the peat on the moorland resulting in increased losses of carbon from the soil into the atmosphere; at a time when we need to be storing more carbon in the soil if we want to reduce the effects of climate change.

Some say that grouse shooting brings money into an area but the evidence is clear: driven grouse shooting is a burden on the public purse (Sheffield Hallam University and Cormack Economics).

Yorkshire Water is a large land owner and they lease out 13 different moorland areas for grouse shooting. The money you pay to Yorkshire Water goes to fund this slaughter.  Many people have contacted Yorkshire Water asking them to stop and demonstrations have taken place across the county.

So how can you help?

Myra and Elizabeth stopping grouse shooting
Myra and Elizabeth stopping grouse shooting