Last week activists from the vegan group ‘Project Calf’ posted a map giving the names and addresses of dairy farms in England and Wales. These days I’m not really surprised by anything I see on the internet, but the callousness and disregard for the safety and wellbeing of these farmers, their families and staff left me shocked and in disbelief. Since veganism evolved into a quasi religion, farmers have received threats, including death threats, farms have been attacked, restaurants have been targeted. ‘Project Calf’ does not advocate violence, but by publishing this map they make militant activism just so much more convenient. To me, that is like a gunshop owner who, of course, only sells his wares to people with a licence and up to nothing more sinister than target practice on a shooting range. Not his fault if that gun ends up in the hands of a criminal or the next school shooter.

And it looks like those at ‘Project Calf’ are very well aware of what the consequences of their actions could be. On Friday’s (February 1st) edition of the BBC’s Farming Today programme Anna Hill interviewed Jess, a spokeswoman for ‘Project Calf’, who refused to give her last name because her name wasn’t ‘relevant’. Jess, if you speak for an organisation or a group your full name is relevant because otherwise anyone could claim to speak for any organisation. Have you thought what you would do if some crank claiming to speak for ‘Project Calf’ called for militant action giving a date and a location? Why the BBC’s Farming Today agreed to withholding the last name is beyond me, but for Jess wanting to stay anonymous does suggest that she knows exactly how dangerous it could be if someone publishes your full name and where you live…

And the website confirms what this is actually about: ‘Let the farmers know their dirty business is everyone’s business!’ The means to do so: ‘Direct action exposing the atrocities of the dairy industry through citizen journalism, peaceful protesting and outreach. Email your obtained footage and photos to (…) for hit reports and so we can update our maps. You can also share them on your social media channels and blogs (…).

As surprising as it may sound, there are issues on which I do agree with ‘Project Calf’: I would never advocate for industrial farming, it’s not sustainable, bad for the environment and animals are not kept in species appropriate conditions. I wouldn’t have milk from a mega dairy nor meat or poultry from animals raised in confinement.

Advocate for organic and biodynamic agriculture!

‘24 male calves are killed in the UK dairy industry every hour’, says the ‘Project Calf’ website. Yes, because it does not make financial sense to raise the male calves. I haven’t met a dairy farmer yet who doesn’t hate having to do it! It could be different if we were willing to pay more for milk and dairy products. Industrial agriculture has led to animals being bred as to become the equivalent of a high performance athlete. Dairy cows have enormous udders, beef cattle are bred to put on weight in record time. But there are lots of breeds that can be either, dairy or beef cattle. The cows give less milk than a high performance Holstein, but the male calves can be raised to adulthood and sold as quality beef animals.

Vegans would like to put all livestock producers out of business. Have you ever considered that this would also mean the extermination of all domesticated animals, cattle, sheep, pigs, chicken…? I have heard vegans argue that cattle could just ‘roam the countryside’ and lead happy lives. Well, not until you introduce predators like wolves that kill them. There are states in India where Hindu zealots prevent the slaughter of cows. Instead the poor beasts now roam the streets and starve. Is that your idea of animal welfare? You could advocate for dual purpose cattle instead.

And on the subject of not having cattle at all… There is lots of marginal land in Britain which is unsuitable for arable farming or growing vegetables, but ideal for grazing. Permanent grassland that is grazed has enormous potential to sequester carbon and increase soil quality. Good soil is our one and only defence against climate change, healthy soil holds water, it is a means of flood prevention and it makes agriculture more drought proof. But this system needs cattle and sheep! If you care about the planet make sustainable agriculture work – by eating meat in moderate amounts from grass fed animals.

In the meantime: until you have understood the basic facts of farming and where food comes from, any harm done by zealous vegans to the farmers named on that map, harm done to their families or damage to property, it is on you, Jess, and whoever else hides behind ‘Project Calf’. Not having an imprint on a website that is registered in the Bahamas doesn’t change that.

Marianne Landzettel is a journalist writing and blogging about food, farming and agricultural policies in the UK, the US, continental Europe and South Asia. She worked for the BBC World Service and German Public Radio for close to 30 years.

Follow her on twitter at @M_Landzettel

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