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Fears Smithfield animal rights protests will eat into business

‘It could get nasty’ – meat market traders’ concerns over possible return of Animal Rebellion protesters

11 October, 2019 — By Calum Fraser

Animal Rebellion protesters at Smithfield Market on Monday

MEAT traders fear animal rights activists who set up camp inside Smithfield Market will return.

Hundreds of protesters from Animal Rebellion, an off-shoot of the Extinction Rebellion group that is occupying parts of central London this week, shut down the main thoroughfare in the iconic meat market at the end of St John’s Street, Farringdon, on Monday night.

Scores of traders and butchers clad in blood-stained white overalls looked on in disbelief as the activists embraced each other in hour-long hugging sessions after holding a candle-lit vigil and parade for the hundreds of dead animals being processed that night.

Broadcaster Chris Packham joined the protest

Frank Drane, who has worked in the market for more than 20 years, said: “It’s had a massive effect. What worries me now is if they have done it once, what’s going to stop them doing it every year? Or at Christmas time?”

He added: “If some of the proper hard-cores come up from Westminster, then it could get nasty.

“If someone comes in here with a paintball gun and starts shooting our meat, they’re going to get a clump.

“There are so many independent traders, it’s their livelihood and so their mentality changes. If these butchers are getting confronted, they’re not going to hold back. But the Old Bill tell us that if we do something we’ll get nicked.

Smithfield Market meat trader Frank Drane

“The eco-activists know their rights, they have courses and camps that train them to push you so far. Some of the lads here, they’ll just clump you and worry about the consequences later.”

Animal Rebellion members held meetings with representatives from the Smithfield Market Tenants’ Association (SMTA) beforehand.

At first, they planned to shut down the market for more than a week but a spokesman said they decided not to do this as it might have a significant impact on traders’ welfare.

Long-standing customers of Europe’s oldest and largest meat market were warned about the protest and were given passes so they could access the market.

Meat trader Stevie Hall

Many traders were wary about speaking to the Tribune after they were warned by SMTA not to speak out about the protest. Several traders, who did not want to be named, said they were frustrated and felt that the campaigners had imposed their beliefs on them without being open to the opposing side.

But some traders empathised with the campaigners’ demands.

Butcher Stevie Hall, whose father and grandfather worked in the market, said: “A lot of people understand what they’re doing. Things have got to change for the kids and that.

“It’s hard to think too far into the future when you have bills to pay and a mortgage. This is people’s livelihood.”

The father-of-two added: “I try not to think about the animals. I am just a guy who is picking up meat and trying to make money for my family.”

The tents were packed up and the protesters moved out to join the main Extinction Rebellion group in Westminster on Tuesday.

Alex Lockwood, of Animal Rebellion, said: “The writing is on the wall for the animal agriculture industry. But we’re not at Smithfield to disrupt ordinary people from their work.

“We’re here to send a message to the government: this industry at the heart of the climate emergency has to be helped transition to a plant-based food system, with just processes in place to ensure workers can still feed their families, while properly tackling the climate catastrophe.”


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