Farming leaders have questioned the need for a new meat free campaign that kicks off today, which denounces meat production on environmental, health and welfare grounds.
The fund-raising campaign for animal activist group Voiceless encourages Australians to give up meat for a full week, starting from today.
The campaign website states that Australians now consume 120kg of meat per person per annum, almost three times as much meat as the world average.
“Eating this much meat has come at a cost. It has created large scale and inhumane industrial farming of animals – factory farming.
“Two thirds of the world's meat now comes from factory farming and it is considered the number one cause of animal cruelty today.
“In Australia, it's predominantly chickens and pigs that are affected, however there are issues with other animals too.
“And it's not just the animals. Eating too much meat also has a major impact on our environment and your health."
The campaign calls for Australians to give up meat for a week and to ask friends and family to sponsor their efforts, with donations to go to Voiceless. It also encourages people to reduce their total meat consumption by 30pc in future.
NSW Farmers president Fiona Simson said that with farmers already meeting stringent national welfare standards, and recognising that safe food meant healthy and happy animals, the need for the meat-free campaign was questionable.
Ms Simson said that while the campaign might seem like a good way to raise the profile of groups such as Voiceless, it failed to take into account the people it affected the most.
She said there were 44,000 farming families in NSW whose livelihoods depended upon consumers eating the produce they worked hard to grow and this campaign lacked compassion for farmers – many of whom had recently experienced multiple natural disasters from bush fires to floods.
Ms Simson said farmers were committed to high animal welfare standards and many had been extremely distressed witnessing the deaths of their own livestock during recent natural disasters.
"I find the timing of such a campaign ill thought out and I encourage consumers to ignore the pleas of such groups and get behind our farmers who work extremely hard every day at growing the best for us to eat," she said.
"Animals in Australia are raised in extremely good conditions.
“Some 97 percent of NSW beef cattle are grass fed and live outdoors and Australia’s pork farmers were the first in the world to voluntarily agree to phase out sow stalls by 2017.
"I know many consumers including people living in metropolitan centres throughout NSW support our farmers and enjoy our produce. So I urge you all not to change your habits and not to make it a meat free week this week at all."
The Victorian Farmers Federation has also questioned the actions of animal activists after broken glass was left inside gumboots lined up outside a Mornington Peninsular egg-farmer’s shed during a recent raid on his farm.
“I knew they’d been in (to the shed) cause they’d jimmied the lock so they could get in to take footage and I had lots of smashed eggs ‘cause the birds went beserk,” the farmer told the VFF.
VFF Egg president Brian Ahmed said farmers faced a growing plague of rogue activists who broke into barns, destroying facilities and sabotaging equipment.
“It not only risks the health and safety of farmers, their families and workers, it also puts the very animals theses activists seek to protect at risk,” Mr Ahmed said.
During the 2010 Victorian election campaign, the coalition promised it would: “ensure that adequate legislation exists to protect all food producers from unreasonable attacks by extremist animal rights lobbyists.”
More than 300 delegates at last year’s VFF Conference called on the Victorian Government to pass legislation protecting farmers against the economic damage caused by animal activists.
In July last year the VFF wrote to Victorian Attorney General Robert Clark seeking State government support to protect food producers from malicious vandalism, something which has already been implemented in the United States.
Mr Clark wrote back in mid-September stating the government was “committed to ensuring adequate legislation exists to protect food producers from unlawful actions”.
The minister’s letter went on to state: “The Department of Justice, in consultation with DPI, is already considering existing legislation, including trespass provisions, for that purpose. I have asked that the department also consider the appropriateness of the United States legislation that you referred to in your letter”.
But as recently as last week the VFF was told by DPI that an advisory group was still being formed to examine the issue.
“It’s not good enough,” Mr Ahmed said. “We need action now.”
The US has adopted the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act that prohibits any person engaging in unlawful conduct that is "for the purpose of damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise.”
The US legislation has penalties of up to 20 years imprisonment for offences causing more than $1m in damages and restitution would be:
(1) For the reasonable cost of repeating any experimentation that was interrupted or invalidated as a result of the offense;
(2) For the loss of food production or farm income reasonably attributable to the offense; and
(3) For any other economic damage, including any losses or costs caused by economic disruption, resulting from the offense.
Sources: Meat Free Week, NSW Farmers, Victorian Farmers Federation