Joaquin Phoenix has been accused of causing mental health problems for British livestock farmers.
The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) president, Minette Batters claims that he and other celebritities who campaign for veganism are demonising the UK’s meat producers and causing “enormous damage” to their wellbeing.
Batters said farmers suffer stress and anxiety problems due to the fear of losing their jobs, income and family heritage.
When asked at the union’s conference who according to her was driving the view that meat was bad, she said: “A lot of people who seem to hit the red carpet at the Bafta awards.”
She added: “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.”
Her statement was criticised by vegan and animal rights organisations.
They say Batters is making wrong claims without evidence and ignoring the ethical problems caused by meat production.
“Veganism is something of an easy target at the moment, and I’m not sure that we are the cause of farmer’s problems,” said a spokesperson for the Vegan Society.
“There are many causes of mental health issues and stress in farming, and I haven’t seen evidence, a piece of research, showing that veganism is one of them.”
Veganism has become extremely popular in the UK, with supermarkets and restaurants introducing more meat-free products and meals.
Batters claims that animal products are these days put in the same category as tobacco.
The Vegan Society says that veganism does not threaten the meat industry.
The charity points out that the number of vegans in the UK was still only 600,000, and says: “The fact is 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.”
Dawn Carr, the director of vegan corporate projects at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta), said that animals are the ones that feel more stress and anxiety.
“We can’t turn a blind eye to the visible fear and distress shown by animals raised for their flesh, milk and eggs,” she said.
“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.”
Batters said that farmers were “human” too and called for kindness and understanding for them.
“It’s very polarised and it’s doing enormous damage to the mental health of livestock farmers,” she said.
“It’s just about instilling this philosophy and being kind and farmers need – we all need – to think that too … in this world of social media, we just need to take a step back sometimes,” she added.