Why I Won’t Demonstrate Against Factory Farming

This Saturday, January 17 is the 5th annual „We’re fed up!“ demonstration in Berlin. Its organizers demand an „agricultural turnaround“ including putting an end to factory farming. Animal rights organizations are among those sponsoring the demonstration, and, as in past years, vegans will be among those marching. I won’t be there, precisely because I am vegan.

Why I’m not going

Demands

Saturday’s protest officially opposes factory farming, cheap meat, and antibiotics in animal farming. It does not mind the existence of animal farming, but rather its current methods. Not the fact that we buy dead bodies, but at what low prices we’re able to do so. These views hardly differ from those supporting the conventional meat industry. They reinforce the paradigm that animals are ours to reign over, that it is our right to imprison them and then debate the conditions of their captivity. They assume that when a whole turkey costs less than a cinema ticket, the problem is that the turkey is too cheap, not that we take lives to replace them with price tags in the first place. They claim that those who need our solidarity and concern are the underpaid farmers trying to make a living, not the animals whose lives they make a living with. They claim that they want to treat animals with „respect“—more space or daylight or air—but deny that the fundamental form of respect is acknowledging the right to continue life.

Participants

Some movements have historically gained from cooperating with kindred movements. In this vein, many animal rights activists advocate reaching out to other groups, such as those who oppose factory farming, and concentrating on our overlapping interests not the ways in which we differ. But to me, no group advocating better farm conditions is kindred. If you’re appalled only by cheap meat and unsustainable milk prices, then our struggles do not overlap. You campaign for animals’ right to be treated better, I against ours to treat them at all. I worry about lives, not livings. The demonstration’s sponsors include animal welfare organizations like the Deutscher Tierschutzbund or the Albert Schweitzer Foundation, but they also include farmers’ lobbies and major organic meat retailers, like Neuland. I’m not willing to dilute my beliefs or ally myself with those who make a living killing animals, regardless of what their farms look like.

I last participated in the „We’re fed up!“ demonstration three years ago. It was bizarre, and I was ashamed to be marching alongside the farm industry. The protest concluded with a speech, in which the representative of some farmers’ lobby urged for „better“ agricultural animal farming and more subsidies for organic farmers. Around me, „happy meat“-advocates cheered. A few meters behind me stood a woman with a sign promoting veganism, and I thought „What are we doing here?“ I won’t be thinking the same this year. I’ll be staying home.