Three members of activist group Animal Rising have launched a new project to create an “allyship” between vegans and farmers for a sustainable transformation of British farming.
Co-founded by Sarah Foy, Tom Gardener, and Kerri Waters, Vegans Support Farmers (VSF) backs a farmer-led transformation of the food system. The project will also fundraise to support the mental health of farmers. Suicide rates in the agricultural sector are particularly high, and the broken food system is to blame, says VSF.
“We realised that farmers and vegans have many more things in common than divide us – a need for a sustainable future for the next generation,” Waters told Plant Based News. “As vegans, we oppose injustice against all living beings, including farmers, because it is the right thing to do … It is time the movement matured to a level where we can have honest and humble conversations with farmers.”
The project aims to achieve three goals. First, a fair price for farmers from retailers. Second, for the government to boost home-grown produce and move away from importing cheap food. Third, to make farmers’ voices heard in policymaking above those of retailers and agribusinesses.
Finding common ground
Vegans and farmers are often pitted against each other in the news and on social media. Not only does promoting animal rights bring vegans into conflict with animal farmers, so too does supporting a shift to plant-based diets on environmental grounds.
English councils adopting motions to make make council catering plant-based, for example, have been interpreted as an attack on farmers.
Animal Rising received some backlash on social media after announcing the initiative, with many questioning its support of those perpetuating the very animal food system that veganism stands against. But VSF says it wants to help vegans and farmers move past unconstructive arguments. “We are unapologetically clear and honest that our vision of a just and sustainable food system is fully plant-based,” said Waters. “But if we are ever going to make any real changes it must be done with the involvement of farmers and the knowledge they carry.”
The idea for VSF came out of Animal Rising’s efforts to build relationships with the farming community. Animal Rising supported farmers at Save British Farming rallies in December 2021. In 2022, Animal Rising toured farms and animal auction houses to explain its blockades of Muller and Arla milk depots.
Over the past year, Animal Rising volunteers have been trained up to visit animal auction houses to help establish a dialogue with farmers.
“A just transition must take place in collaboration, not in defiance, of the community which needs to change otherwise the result will be resistance and individuals who suffer,” said Waters.
A broken system
Current farming practices are having a devastating effect on animals the environment. In the UK, the number of factory farms has risen by a quarter since 2011. Serious incidents of water pollution have been traced to such farms, which also feed animals on imported crops linked to deforestation in the Amazon.
The proliferation of intensive poultry farms has also helped to spread and make more deadly avian flu. Britain’s wild birds have been ravaged by the virus in the past few years.
The 2023 State of Nature Report found that nearly one in six species in the UK are at risk of extinction – and intensive farming is the main culprit. This is not just from animal agriculture itself, but also growing crops using pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. Growing feed for animals helps drive these harmful practices, and 40 percent of the UK’s most productive agricultural land is used to grow for this purpose. Increasingly in the UK, crops are farmed intensively to feed the biofuel industry.
But overlapping environmental, financial, and political crises are also hammering food production, says VSF. Imports of cheap food and the concentration of food production in the hands of large agribusinesses leave smaller farms struggling to compete. Costs for farmers have been rising due to the war in Ukraine, while Brexit and the fallout from Covid have led to labor shortages.
Extreme weather caused by the climate crisis is making matters worse. There have been warnings that vegetables such as potatoes and broccoli will be in short supply this Christmas due to a series of significant storms.
“Our goals are ones that we know both farmers and vegans can align with,” said Waters. “A fairer price for farmers, growing more food and importing less, and listening to farmers instead of corporations.”
VSF plans to attend 50 farming and vegan events across 2024 to discuss the crisis in British farming with as many people as possible. Though not all farmers want to engage with VSF or Animal Rising, Waters says the majority they speak to “appreciate” their support.
“[W]e stand the best chance of fixing our broken food system if we work together,” she said.