French butchers seek government protection from anti-meat ‘terrorism’

Rémy Gabalda, AFP | Butchers accuse activists of seeking to impose the "vegan way of life" on France.

French butchers have met with government officials to demand protection from “violent” vegan activists, marking the latest twist in a battle between France’s powerful meat industry and increasingly vocal animal-rights campaigners.


The CFBCT butchers' confederation asked police officials at the Interior Ministry on Tuesday to “end the impunity” enjoyed by hardline vegan activists, whom it blames for a campaign of violence and intimidation targeting meat vendors.

Several butcher shops were vandalised and sprayed with fake blood in the Hauts-de-France region of northern France in April, while the CFBCT said there were also precedents in the southern Occitanie region.

Meat vendors are not the only targets. Fishmongers have also reported attacks in northern France and a cheese shop in Lyon last year was spray-painted with the words “Milk = Murder” and “Milk = Rape”.

Police in the Paris region on Monday said another shop had been stoned overnight and spray-painted with the slogan “Stop speciesism”, a term used to refer to the exploitation of animals by humans.

“Obviously we don’t expect to have a gendarme guarding each store” said CFBCT head Jean-François Guihard after the talks, calling instead for closer surveillance of activist groups that adopt violent methods.

Changing menus

The ministry meeting comes a week after Guihard’s confederation penned a letter to the government calling for protection from vegan campaigners who "want to impose their lifestyle on the immense majority of people".

Lamenting the “excessive media exposure about the vegan way of life,” the letter claimed that the “physical, verbal, and moral intimidation” of butchers amounted to “none other than a form of terrorism.”

As in other Western countries, eating habits are fast changing in France, historically a meat-eating nation that likes its steaks saignant (“bloody”, or rare), and where vegetarian options were once hard to find on restaurant menus.

Perhaps because of that culture, vegetarianism and veganism have been slower to catch on than in other countries. But they are now increasingly mainstream, particularly in urban centres, coinciding with growing concern for environment protection and animal rights.

Alarmed by the resulting decline in sales, the meat industry has successfully lobbied President Emmanuel Macron’s government to thwart measures perceived to be anti-meat.

In April, French lawmakers adopted an amendment that banned the use of such terms as “steak”, “fillet” or “sausage” to refer to non-meat products. The next month, a proposal that would have required schools to introduce a vegetarian meal at least once a week was instead shelved.

Vegan campaigners were also disappointed when an agriculture and nutrition law, approved earlier this year, made no provision for two of Macron’s campaign pledges: to make CCTV obligatory in all French abattoirs and ban the sale of battery-cage eggs.

Butchers as victims

While most animal-rights groups condemn all forms of violence, frustration at the slow pace of change and the continuing influence of the meat lobby has prompted some activists to adopt increasingly aggressive tactics.

“First shops were targeted with graffiti and splattered with fake blood, now their windows are shattered and ransacked,” said Guihard. “It’s simply unacceptable.”

The head of the CFBCT confederation, which represents 18,000 businesses across the country, said two more attacks had taken place since last week’s letter, bringing to “at least 50 the number of shops targeted with graffiti or smashed windows”.

In March this year, a vegan cheesemaker was handed a seven-month suspended jail sentence for condoning terrorism after she posted a message on Facebook describing the death of a supermarket butcher in a terrorist attack as “justice”.

On Monday, four animal-rights activists and a photographer appeared before magistrates in Versailles for illegally entering an abattoir and attempting to halt its machines during a nighttime raid in which 70 people took part, some wearing balaclavas.

The activists belonged to animal-rights groups L214 and 269 Libération animale, both of which have distanced themselves from the attacks on butchers and other shops.

“We don’t encourage anyone to smash windows,” Ceylan Cirik, co-president of 269 Libération animale, told AFP, lamenting the fact that such attacks “overshadow the real problem of animal suffering, and allow butchers to portray themselves as victims.”

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning