When a major supermarket chain that commands 25 percent of Australia’s retail meat sales helps to raise funds for an animal rights group with strong links to vegetarianism and veganism, debate is sure to follow.
Indeed five days of social media constroversy has raged since news emerged last week that Coles will sell shopping bags on behalf of Animals Australia in selected stores around the country.
The $1 shopping bags feature Animals Australia’s flying pig symbol and are designed to create awareness and raise funds for the group’s "Make It Possible" anti-factory farming campaign.
While the move has generated strong public support on social media for both organisations, it has also sparked a considerable backlash against the retailer from those in the rural sector.
Few names tend to set rural keyboards alight with more anger on social media than Animals Australia, with many commenters on the Coles shopping bag issue accusing the organisation of harbouring a strong anti-farming agenda, and pointing to its website www.whyveg.com as evidence of its true vegetarian and vegan motivations.
With hundreds of thousands of cattle starving in droughted-paddocks across northern Australia, and live export markets that previously provided an import destocking outlet now significantly diminished, many on social media have also pointed the finger of blame for an unfolding animal welfare crisis in northern Australia at Animals Australia based on its relentless efforts to shut down key export markets.
The National Farmers Federation sent a letter to Coles yesterday asking the retailer to “reconsider its position” in relation to Animals Australia shopping bag initiative.
“Given Animals Australia apparent aim to see animal agriculture stopped in this country, and their active support for a non-meat diet; we have to ask why Coles – who is a major supplier of fresh meat to Australian consumers, and a major customer of Australia’s meat producers – would ever consider entering into such an arrangement,” NFF chief executive officer Matt Linegar said in the letter.
“In fact, Coles’ support for an organisation that is blatantly anti-farming and proveganism is extremely concerning for the nation’s 130,000 farms, many of whom supply Coles.
“As one of our members, the Victorian Farmers’ Federation (VFF), wrote in a letter to Coles’ General Manager, Corporate Affairs, Robert Hadler last week on this issue: “to support Animals Australia in any way is to undermine all primary producers.
“It is extremely important that Coles note that Animals Australia is not an animal welfare group, as Coles has been purporting. They are a radical animal rights and activist group.
“As far as we are aware, they do not provide any on the ground assistance to support improving animal welfare: all funds that they raise are funneled back into campaigns that seek to attack the Australian agricultural sector and support their agenda."
'Not a PR campaign for Animals Australia: Coles
Coles told Beef Central that the inititive is linked specifically to its customer-led sow stall free pork and cage free egg initiatives, and is not designed to support any broader agenda held by Animals Australia.
“We are working with Animals Australia on a promotion to sell a limited number of shopping bags in selected stores,” Coles head of corporate communication Jon Church said.
“This is an ongoing relationship that is specifically related to Coles’ initiatives, not a PR campaign for Animals Australia.
“Our support for Animals Australia through the sale of shopping bags does not endorse any wider agenda the group may have.
“We believe in providing our customers with choice but we know they expect us to ensure that where that product choice involves an animal it is the best welfare offer possible.”
AA: 'We're not anti-farming"
Animals Australia communications manager Lisa Chalk said the Coles’ initiative was about awareness-raising first and foremost, not fundraising.
“The bags will sell for $1 which will cover our costs and any profit will be directed straight back into our Make it Possible campaign,” she said.
Ms Chalk said Coles’ support for the initiative provided a unique opportunity to remind people of the power of their choices to positively impact the treatment of animals.
“Make it Possible expresses a vision where all animals raised for food are provided with quality of life and protection from cruel treatment.
“This is a goal that most people, regardless of their personal philosophy about the use of animals, can agree with and one that has been broadly embraced by Australians from all walks of life since we launched the campaign last October.
“Coles has been a leader in the retail sector in implementing animal welfare improvements in their supply chains and we are delighted that they are helping to generate greater awareness of these issues.”
She rejected the view that Animals Australia has a vegetarian or vegan agenda.
“Animals Australia does not have an 'anti farming' agenda as is evidenced by our primary campaigns,” she said.
“We are not asking for animals exported not to be killed, we are saying that they should be slaughtered here under Australian oversight.
“Similarly, we campaign against factory farming because our policy is that animals raised for food should also be provided with quality of life and protection from cruel treatment.
“As an animal protection organisation we are always going to identify for people that not eating animals is a legitimate choice, but our goal is to see animals raised for food treated humanely and protected from cruel treatment.”
Numerous comments critical of Coles’ move described Animals Australia as an extreme and radical group with a strong anti-farming agenda, and predicted that as the organisation succeeded in its push to make livestock production less viable Australia, consumers would have to accept food produced in foreign countries with lower welfare and health standards.
Supporters of the organisation rejected the view that AA is extreme or radical, and questioned why farmers opposed moves to improve the welfare of animals in a factory farming environment.
Thousands of comments have been posted to Coles’ Facebook page in recent days; below is a small sample of comments posted for and against, but to view all comments posted visit Coles FB page here
Selected comments from Coles' Facebook page:
Ann Britton Coles Fact that Coles is sponsoring Animals Australia with shopping bags for their "make it possible" campaign which is supposed to free animals from suffering in factory farms is just so downright hypocritical it is nearly laughable if it wasn't so serious. Animals Australia has given Australian Pork hell wanting them to stop sow stalls, which they had already moved to remove by 2014, 70pc of piggery's voluntarily went sow stall free before this move was put in place 2010.
Coles yes Coles imports pork from countries overseas that aren't sow stall free.
Animals Australia has nothing to do with #AW, their agenda is pushing their vegan wagon, they use the word speciest, look it up in the Urban Dictionary for true definition. Please do your voting for farmers with your feet & walk down down down to another shop other than Coles.
Aaron Cross Animals are here with us not for us.
Kerri V Bryant: Thank you Coles for taking the step to improve animal welfare standards – I'm rather shocked though about the amount of farmers voicing their disapproval for this. Seems to me, despite what they say, animals welfare isn't high on their list of priorities.
Kirsty Forshaw Very disappointing to hear coles are considering a promotion with animals Australia. There are plenty of great ways coles can show they support animal welfare AND farmers/pastoralists at the same time. What about a joint campaign "Coles and Australian farmers unite to support animal welfare" we care for animal welfare more than Animals australia and we are with animals everyday. I have lots of other ideas too. We can implement the better welfare practices. It would also show Coles are supporting rural australia in tough times – this will just ruin us. — at Nita Downs Station – Broome WA .
Clare: So glad to hear you're working with Animals Australia. Caring Australians want to know that animals raised for food in this country are treated kindly and not cruelly. I will be shopping at Coles!
Thomas Marsden Great to see ur selling animals oz bags! It's a good reminder for people to leave cage eggs and other nasties on the shelves. You're not only supporting those farmers who treat their animals properly but you are listening to your customers so thank you!
Erin Murray There is no such thing as "farmers who treat their animals properly". Treating animals properly would mean not farming them in the first place…
Elisha Seekamp Coles I am disappointed about your decision to financially assist Animals Australia by selling bags in your stores. I heard the interview with Coles marketing manager on ABC radio today and his argument was that Coles only supports the sow stall free pork campaign however clearly by financially assisting AA with the sale of bags they will use funds for all/any of their campaigns including their campaigns for humans to become vegans and stop the consumption of red meat. AA does not put one cent towards the welfare of animals except towards funding media campaigns and signing up more activitists. It would be different if you were supporting an organisation that actually cared about the welfare of animals and an organisation that put funding towards such welfare. AA is nowhere to be seen in the midst of the drought affected areas in Qld and the NT yet apparently they care about the welfare of cattle. I urge you to reconsider your relationship with Animals Australia and I also advise that I will no longer be shopping at Coles.
Stuart Cameron Seems Animals Australia has lost a lot of credibility in accepting money from a corporation like Wesfarmers..The more meat and dairy foods they sell the more bags they might sell..the more money to AA – very hypocritical…
Michael Sutherland Warrick – you'll find a lot of us don't really care about what the ban on live exports is doing to the farmers who sell their animals. I don't feel a single ounce of sympathy for someone who knowingly sends their animals overseas, live, to make a buck from their suffering.
Blinky Bill I hope all the animal farmers go broke. I will keep my fingers crossed.
Sallie Rayner How is supporting better welfare for animals destroying the Australian livestock industry? Shouldn't better welfare be a good thing from the perspective of that industry? If it's not, the problem doesn't lie with Animals Australia.
Rebecca Long Sallie, no one has an issue with better animal welfare and I would think most of the farmer posters on here also do not agree with cage farming. But why they are up in arms is because AA want to end all animal farming entirely…… You know this but continue to try and shift the focus.
Adam Twigg Congratulations Coles on removing negative comments from your page to make it look like everyone loves your decisions. Very ethical company.Rae Motteram Consumers now realize exactly where their meat and eggs come from….the suffering of animals..!!! We are watching closely those huge supermarket chains and their stance of this… Thankyou if you are contemplating using the bags to further raise awareness….cheers…
Jenny Esots Coles should be commended for responding to their customers and wanting to give animals a better quality of life by moving towards being a major Australian supermarket that depends less on factory farmed products. But sadly, those with vested interests in cruel industries are trying hard to dissuade Coles from supporting the Make it Possible campaign.
Dale Stiller Coles you don't have a clue about animal welfare, This is only a cynical marketing ploy on your behalf. You are yet to realise that you are pandering to a noisy minority and may yet loose the majority of consumers.
Talia Hoysted Thanks Coles for your support of Animal Australia's Make It Possible Campaign. I am a vegan and do not support eating animal products at all but the reduction and eventual end of factory farming is a great start in reducing the suffering of billions of animals. You're doing a great job.
Heath Stewart Am I the only person to see the irony in Coles (and Woolworth in duopoly) screwing down prices on farmers to appease customers and shareholders causing farmers to factory farm as the only way to remain viable, then rather than support the producer to free range more and pass on the cost to the consumer, you call them unethical and support a well meaning but ridiculously idealistic organisation such as AA?
What's going to happen when you bankrupt the agricultural industry? Import meat from overseas?
Joanne Chambers I appreciate that you are not directly supporting the "other activities" conducted by Animals Australia, but unfortunately by providing ANY financial support to this organisation you are directly supporting ALL activities undertaken by them. It cannot be separated. We supply prime lamb to you, how about you work directly with us and other producers to show how high our animal welfare standards already are, and how hard we are always working to improve conditions?
Sheena O'Brien Have just heard Coles is thinking of selling bags to raise funds for Animals Australia. People if you want to eat meat, fruit, dairy and vegetables that are produced under clean safe methods please support Aussie farmers and not minority activist groups. We have great safe food.
Julie Freytag thank you for trying to end factory farming and supporting Make it Possible. It is heartwarming to know that even large companies are able to take the time to care and helps restore a little faith in business these days. Keep it up and please know this will keep your customers coming back! THANK YOU!
Steve Kolb Dear Coles, with all due respect, there is a big difference in consulting with various groups and directly raising money for an animal rights organisation, as distinct from one which is about animal welfare and undertakes work like the RSPCA does. If you can show me the animals fed or rehoused by Animals Australia, go right ahead. Money raised by Animals Australia is used against farmers, as with their anti lamb campaign. As a regular customer of Coles and as a shareholder, I along with many others, would like to loudly protest!
Shane Glancy Yes Coles as a shareholder and a farmer I would like to know why you are supporting a group that is against farming. As you are a part of Wesfarmers I think alot of you shareholers would like to know why you are doing this. I will not be shopping at coles anymore and I will be sharing this information to every farming group on facebook I can find.