French butchers have issued a plea for police protection against vegans, whom they blame for a series of attacks designed to “spread terror” among meat-lovers.
The butchers say they are coming under “physical, verbal and moral” attack from vegans and animal rights groups in the land of the “steak frites”, and warn that animosity against their profession is being fuelled by heavy media exposure to the anti-meat cause.
They are asking for the interior minister, Gérard Collomb, to intervene.
Their request comes days after a rotisserie in Lille, northern France, was vandalised – the fourth such incident of its kind in a matter of weeks. In the Hauts-de-France of northern France, seven butchers and charcuteries were attacked and sprayed with false blood in April.
Several other similar incidents were reported in the southwestern Occitanie region, they said.
In a letter to the minister, Jean-François Guihard, president of the French federation of butchers and caterers said: “We are counting on your services and on the support of the entire government to stop as swiftly possible” such attacks.
The 18,000 butchers of France were “worried about media overexposure of the vegan way of life”, said the federation chief.
Butchers were “shocked” by a section of society that “wishes to impose its way of life, not to mention its ideology, on the vast majority” of meat-eating French people, he added.
Besides the rotisserie, animal welfare activists also targeted a butcher, a fishmonger and a restaurant selling meat dishes in Lille in May.
Each time they smashed windows and scrawled the words “No to speciesism” on the shopfront. Popular with animal rights advocates, the term “speciesism” suggests that mistreating non-human species is a form of discrimination akin to racism or sexism.
Martine Aubry, the mayor of Lille, has said the town hall intends to file a legal complain against persons unknown.
With only around three per cent of the population vegetarian or vegan in France, the notion of dropping meat from the menu has been slow to catch on and even frowned upon in a country proud of its boeuf bourguignon and foie gras.
But French butchers have hit the headlines in recent months following a spate of hard-hitting reportages in abattoirs and battery farms – several by the animal welfare group L214 – revealing the apparently inhumane conditions in which animals are being kept and killed.
The butchers’ federation pointed out that late March, a vegan activist had even hailed the murder of a butcher in a supermarket in Trèbes, near Carcassonne by an Islamist terrorist.
The activist posted a Facebook message saying she had no qualms over the killing of butcher Christian Medvès, one of four people killed by gunman Radouane Lakdim on 23 March. “So does it shock you that a murderer gets killed by a terrorist? Not me, I have zero compassion for him, there is justice in it,” she wrote.
The activist later received a seven-month suspended prison sentence for “condoning terrorism”.
“Faced with this escalation of violence, what will be the next stage?,” asked the federation.
The French butchers’ plea for help comes a month after Britain’s Countryside Alliance warned that attacks on small businesses by vegan activists were on the rise.
Death threats, stoked by social media and encouraged by international groups of activists, have caused butchers and farmers to “live in fear,” they warned.
French farmers and butchers have been fighting of late to improve the image of the meat industry.
In April, the French parliament passed a law making it illegal for vegetarian food producers to use “steak”, “merguez”, “bacon” or “sausage” – or any other meat-related expression – to describe food that is not partly or wholly composed of meat.
Even vegetarian products promising to have a “bacon taste” will be out of bounds. In what was seen as a victory for France’s powerful meat lobby, MPs vote the change on the grounds that customers were being misled.