An animal rights protester being arrested in Melbourne. Picture: Ellen Smith/AAP
An animal rights protester being arrested in Melbourne. Picture: Ellen Smith/AAP

What vegan activists actually want

To commuters, they're a nuisance, a roadblock between home and work.

To farmers and workers at Australia's meat production businesses, they're a hindrance to Monday morning operations.

To Victoria's Public Order Response Team, they're a problem to be dealt with by force when all other means of reasoning fail.

To the Prime Minister, they're "un-Australian".

But the vegans who sat in the middle of Melbourne's busiest intersection for four hours and chained themselves to conveyor belts at abattoirs around the country had a goal and they achieved it. At least partly.

They wanted attention and they got it.

They wanted animal liberation - loud chants declared exactly that echoed outside Flinders Street Station this morning.

More specifically, they wanted exposure for a film they say highlights how Australia's consumption of animal products ignores a disturbing truth about where our food comes from.

This week marks one year since the release of the documentary Dominion, which uses drones and hidden cameras to expose "the dark underbelly of modern animal agriculture".

The film, narrated by Joaquin Phoenix, starts with a call to viewers to wake up.

 

A protester was handcuffed and taken away. Picture: Ellen Smith/AAP
A protester was handcuffed and taken away. Picture: Ellen Smith/AAP

"The picturesque family farm and the iconic loving farmer. A humane and painless end, a small price to pay for a life well-lived. An arrangement of mutual benefit," the narrator begins.

"Hidden by this narrative, out of sight, out of mind, they cease to be individuals, most known only as 'livestock'. Faceless units of production in a system of incomprehensible scale. Exempt from the cruelty laws that protect our companion animals."

The documentary questions the "morality and validity of humankind's dominion over the animal kingdom".

Posters for the film were plastered over rental vans parked in the middle of Flinders and Swanston streets this morning. As the vehicles were hooked up to tow trucks and protesters were handcuffed and marched away, officers pulled the posters down and tossed them in the bin.

 

Doctor of Paediatric Neuropsychology Helen Jeges was one of dozens of vegans in attendance.

She said the film, and the activists' message, was about "opening people's eyes to what they're really paying for".

"A lot of people don't know that if you buy eggs, male chicks are ground up alive," she told news.com.au.

Male chickens are shredded to death because they can't produce eggs and not suitable for chicken-meat production.

"Male chicks are considered an unwanted byproduct of egg production and are killed and disposed of shortly after birth," the RSPCA states.

"Once hatched, the newborn chicks pass down a production line to be sexed and sorted. Sick or weak female chicks and all male chicks are separated from the healthy female chicks and then killed."

The chicks are killed by either by quick maceration or carbon dioxide, but gassing is considered more cruel because it can take upto two minutes to die.

Dr Jeges told news.com.au: "A lot of people don't know that if you buy milk, (newborn) calves are sent to slaughter."

She said she became vegan after watching footage of what was happening in dairies.

"I was really naive," she said. "I thought cows just potted around giving milk. I later discovered that they were routinely impregnated - and their babies were taken away from them so that we could harvest their milk - and that if their babies were male they were sent straight to slaughter.

"I was a mother. I was breastfeeding my own child and that really didn't sit well with me."

The message is one every vegan on the planet agrees with. But the means of delivering it were grating among the community.

Catherine Carr, who founded the website gentlyvegan.com.au, said protesters went about it entirely the wrong way.

"I'm a passionate vegan, and I understand why someone wants to be an activist. I understand the extreme pain people go through when they first learn about how some animals are treated.

"But when I saw the protests I thought 'no'. The way to make people change is to support them."

Mrs Carr said "you can't tell people they must not eat meat".

"You have to help people, you have to help the industry, you have to help businesses. It's a process they have to go through themselves."

 

The last remaining protesters were dispersed from the middle of Melbourne’s busiest intersection. Picture: Ellen Smith/AAP
The last remaining protesters were dispersed from the middle of Melbourne’s busiest intersection. Picture: Ellen Smith/AAP

She mentioned the closure of a Gippsland cafe over the weekend that owners say was forced to shut up shop because of constant harrassment.

The Gippy Goat Cafe wrote on Facebook that staff were subjected to "nearby four months of constant harassment, vile statements and threats from the abusive vegan activists".

Mrs Carr said the result was not a win for animal activists.

"Wouldn't it have been so much better to have supported that business to make changes?"

Victoria Police arrested 38 people this morning. Many had to be lifted by their arms and legs into the back of waiting police cars.

After each arrest, supporters cheered. Minutes after the protesters dispersed from their first location, a second protest had begun outside the Sea Life Aquarium nearby.

Protests also took place in Queensland and NSW today. Others are expected over the next few days in what organisers constitutes the "biggest animal rights direct action the world has ever seen".

Continue the conversation: rohan.smith1@news.com.au | @ro_smith



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