Is Joaquin Phoenix causing British livestock farmers mental health issues? Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers Union (NFU) certainly thinks so. Her ire is also directed at other celebrities who use their platforms to promote a “plants are good, meat is bad” message.
Speaking at the NFU’s annual conference Batters said that he was demonising the UK’s meat producers. They were becoming concerned about the future loss of their livelihoods. The debate had become “very polarised” and she claimed that it was doing “enormous damage” to the mental health and wellbeing of livestock farmers.
“Celebrities have to be careful [because] there are real-life consequences for others … Joaquin Phoenix, he’s had a really challenging life, and you really feel for him and a lot of the things he was saying, but he has to remember there are people at the end of this, there are small family farms and they get hurt too,” said Ms Batters.
Is meat the new tobacco?
Veganism was not wrong, she said stressing that the debate had become too binary with meat being in danger of being the new tobacco.
She called for more kindness to be extended to farmers. “We just need to take a step back sometimes,” she said.
“It is very clear to me when I go out doing member meetings around the country” she pointed out that “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.”
The Vegan Society has responded to her comments by questioning whether vegans were really that influential. A spokesperson pointed out that 99% of the population are still eating animal products. “There might be a lot more meat reducers, but this is not an industry that has been threatened by veganism”.
PETA’s director of vegan corporate projects, Dawn Carr emphasized another perspective – that the health of animals should be considered too, not just 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,” said Carr.
“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.”
“Her milk that’s intended for her calf”
In his Oscars acceptance speech for Best Actor for his performance as the Joker, Phoenix said that no race, gender or species had rights over another.
“I think we’ve become very disconnected from the natural world,” he said. “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.”
Many farmers have of course acted with fury to his speech. It is, after all, a full-on assault on their raison d’être. Farmers are notoriously touchy around what they consider to be pro-vegan propaganda. The NFU criticised the BBC for pro-vegan bias in December for one of its videos advertising its Christmas programming. Farmers were also very vocal in their distaste for the BBC’s recent documentary Meat: a Threat to Our Planet? the very title of which would adversely trigger farmers.
In Wisconsin, America’s dairyland, dairy farms are closing at a dramatic rate. The mental health of dairy farmers has even become a political issue there.
Life is tough for farmers and it is likely to get even tougher.