Vegan celebrities like Joaquin Phoenix who speak out about animal agriculture have been accused of hurting livestock farmers’ mental health.
Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers Union (NFU), has accused Phoenix of ‘hurting’ the mental wellbeing of farmers as a result of his vegan advocacy.
‘Real life consequences’
Speaking at the union’s annual conference, Batters said celebrities ‘have to be careful’ as there are ‘real life consequences’ for farmers, and that the vegan debate is ‘doing enormous damage to the mental health of livestock farmers’.
She added: “[He should remember that] there are people at the end of this. There are small family farms and they get hurt too. It’s just about instilling this philosophy of being kind. We all need to think about our mental wellbeing in this world of social media. We just need to take a step back sometimes.
“It is very clear to me when I go out doing member meetings around the country…the thing that they want to talk about most is what they see as this feeling of worthlessness on the back of a sustained assault on meat as part of the diet.”
Joaquin Phoenix has been very publicly advocating for veganism in recent months: for example, he spoke out about the suffering caused by the dairy industry earlier this month while accepting his Best Actor Oscar for his role in Joker.
He said: “I think we’ve become very disconnected from the natural world. Many of us are guilty of an egocentric world view, and we believe that we’re the center of the universe. We go into the natural world and we plunder it for its resources.
“We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow and steal her baby, even though her cries of anguish are unmistakable. Then we take her milk that’s intended for her calf and we put it in our coffee and our cereal.”
Phoenix was attacked online by farmers, who branded the actor a ‘flog’, a ‘diva’ and ‘ignorant’ for his words. One farming expert described the Oscar speech as a ‘verbal assault’ and said it would affect the industry in an opinion piece titled Opinion: Don’t let Hollywood big mouths get you down published by agricultural outlet Farmers Weekly.
In the piece, executive editor Philip Clarke wrote: “Farming has come under verbal attack again – this time from Hollywood film star Joaquin Phoenix, who used his best actor award acceptance speech at this week’s Oscars to slag off the dairy sector.
“A well-known vegan, he spoke of the ‘unmistakable cries of anguish’ as baby calves are ‘stolen’ from their mothers after giving birth, leaving them to produce milk to ‘put in our coffee and our cereal’. The industry has faced sustained and unjustified criticism for months and this latest attack, in front of an audience of millions, is likely to have taken a further toll.”
— Bryn Davies (@tofar1) February 10, 2020
Some farmers appear to interpret Phoenix’s acknowledgment of animal suffering as a personal attack.
Clive Hamer, 45, a tenant farmer in the Elan Valley in west Wales, told The Times: “Celebrities have a platform to speak freely but farmers don’t. It’s almost like a vendetta against us. I don’t know why vegans want to vilify farmers quite so much. When celebrities talk about it, it puts us at a disadvantage.”
The NFU has a track record of trying to silence organizations that offer a perspective on livestock farming which isn’t positive, or which suggest an alternative to eating animals. The group causes a media furor last year, after releasing a statement attacking supermarket Tesco for advertising vegan sausages. According to the statement, the ad – which featured a young girl saying she didn’t want to eat animals – ‘demonized farmers’.
Earlier this year, it submitted a complaint to the BBC for airing a documentary series called Veganville – and called on its members to complain to the broadcaster. It described the program as a ‘promotional tool for a specific campaign representing only a tiny minority of people’.
A 2018 BBC documentary called The Dark Side of Dairy, which featured a dairy farmer break down in tears as he admitted that some mother cows cry for days when their calves are taken away, was branded ‘sensationalized and inaccurate’ by the organization.
‘Visible fear and distress of animals’
Dawn Carr, director of vegan corporate projects for vegan charity PETA, suggested that the health of animals within the farming community should be a cause for concern, alongside the mental health of farmers.
“We can’t turn a blind eye to the visible fear and distress shown by animals raised for their flesh, milk, and eggs,” she said.
“They have no choice, but farmers do: instead of sending sentient animals to slaughter, they can sow oats or soya beans or grow vegetables, grains, nuts or fruits instead, depending on the quality of their land.”