Farm leaders vow to overcome vegan dairy shutdown

The UK dairy industry is taking steps to keep supply chains open and supermarket shelves filled to counter civil resistance action planned by vegan activists in September.

Plans are being drawn up by industry bodies to minimise disruption as Animal Rebellion pledges to “stop the supply of dairy in the UK” from 3-11 September.

Midlands dairy farmer and NFU dairy board chairman Michael Oakes said two years of disruption during the Covid pandemic had proven the resilience of dairy industry supply chains.

See also: What to do if you’re a victim of… vegan activist incursions

“We don’t know the scale of the action, but the dairy industry will be ready and will respond as needed,” he said.

Backlash risk

Mr Oakes suggested that any action by the protest group leading to milk being wasted at a time when households are struggling with rising food costs is likely to provoke a public backlash.

“We have seen similar groups gluing themselves to the road during fuel and net zero protests, and they have not endeared themselves to the public.

“At a time when households are having to make difficult choices between eating and heating, I think action that could result in food being wasted won’t sit well with the public.”

It is understood that the potential activity will target processors and retailers and will not involve direct action on dairy farms.

In preparedness, informal discussion have been held between industry stakeholders including the NFU, the AHDB, Dairy UK and retailers.

Mr Oakes said lessons had been learned from the pig industry and the direct action previously taken by activists against that sector, and that would inform the basis of advice issued to dairy farmers in the current situation.

Animal Rebellion is using social media to raise the profile of its cause but farmers are being warned against “stoking the fire” when publishing their own posts.

Farmer advice

Crisis communications consultant Amy Jackson, who has just completed a PhD on the public perception of dairy farming, advises farmers to use privacy settings on their social media channels to avoid their posts becoming a platform for activists.

“Be prepared. Protect or moderate your posts so that only those who you follow can comment, otherwise readers will see a whole rant by vegan activists in response. Just don’t elevate the debate,” she said.

Ms Jackson urged farmers to avoid confrontation, to be the “adult voice of reason” by staying calm and sharing facts about how UK dairy is different.

“Acknowledge there are strong feelings all round, but call for collaboration on climate change, not wasteful, destructive behaviour at a time when costs for consumers are spiralling.

 “You won’t engender support simply by attacking people.”

Farmers should also emphasise their connection to their cows in any content they post, she added. “People really value that connection and want to see cows enjoying life and responding positively to the care they receive from farmers.”

Dan Kidby, a co-founder of Animal Rebellion, said: “I don’t expect our actions will be popular, but I believe they are necessary to create a national conversation about how supporting farmers to transition to a plant-based food system is the key solution to the climate crisis.”

UK dairy industry statistics

  • British dairy cows emit just 2% of total UK greenhouse gas emissions
  • The carbon footprint of milk produced in the UK is a third lower than the global average
  • 99.3% of households in Great Britain have purchased a real dairy product in the past month
  • Milk is naturally rich in protein and provides seven essential vitamins, including vitamin B12 which is not naturally present in a vegan diet
  • The world would need 70% fewer dairy cows if they were as efficient as British cows
  • 35% of a person’s daily calcium requirement can come from just one 200ml glass of milk

 Source: AHDB

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