IF animal rights activist Chris Delforce had his own way with lawmakers, Australia’s $1 billion per year pork industry would be terminated overnight.
The 77,000 plus Australian cattle farms that contributed more than $7 billion to the $13.4 billion gross value of Australia’s livestock slaughter in 2012-13 would also be short-circuited.
He would also pull the plug on poultry, lamb and mutton production which combined with beef and pork to generate $7.1 billion worth of export income last year.
The 23-year old ACT-based web designer has gained widespread notoriety in recent months for publicly releasing a steady stream of video footage - obtained through covert surveillance by trespassing on livestock facilities in the dead of night - on his Aussie Farms website.
His group has pledged to expose footage from 100 piggeries throughout Australia by the year’s end and have already hit 24 in NSW, Victoria, Queensland, SA and WA.
“The fact that the industry is so angry tells me that I must be doing something right,” Mr Delforce said.
“To me, and I think to most people, it’s a question of which crime is worse - animals being abused or someone jumping a fence to film it?
“If someone thinks that trespass is the worse act out of those two things, then I think there’s something wrong there.”
The civil disobedience movement escalated again this week when Aussie Farms released “damning footage” taken inside SA’s largest pork processing facility.
A media statement said the vision was taken in May, received anonymously and sent to the RSPCA in SA to seek prosecution for what Mr Delforce describes as “torture”.
However, the anti-livestock farming offensive has also attracted strong, ongoing criticism from industry groups.
It has also stirred heated reaction from State and federal lawmakers who are now proposing to introduce US-styled “ag-gag” laws throughout the nation.
In backing those laws to strengthen farmers’ rights as professional animal handlers, NSW Agriculture Minister Katrina Hodgkinson has described the animal rights activists as “akin to terrorists”.
Last month, Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce pledged to work in tandem with State Agriculture Ministers to prevent the “vigilante groups” from harassing farmers by taking the law into their own hands to gather video footage via escalating trespass.
But speaking to Fairfax Agricultural Media, Mr Delforce remained defiant in strongly defending his beliefs and the illegal activities underpinning his cause.
He said it was “no secret” he believes various livestock industries “don’t have a right to exist anymore” because they’re “barbaric, archaic, a waste of resources and so unjust”.
He believes meat consumption is “unnecessary” and it’s possible to reach a stage in the future where commercial meat production no longer exists.
“I think people will always want to eat meat – just like there will always be some people wanting to hurt other people, or do things that I might consider wrong,” he said.
“There are always black markets, but if we can stop it being a legalised thing that is culturally and socially acceptable, then that to me is a victory.”
Despite his altruistic goals, Mr Delforce admits he “can’t say exactly what the alternative is” for farming families and others reliant on livestock industries for survival.
But he said if we started to accept there’s something “inherently wrong” with the way animals are treated, then we’re more likely “as a nation or as a species” to consider alternatives.
Those alternatives include finding new ways to cultivate crops in areas previously thought to be unproductive or finding other ways people can make a living “that doesn’t involve having to exploit and kill animals”, he said.
Questions of legality and morality
The Aussie Farms campaign aims to expose not only extreme acts of animal cruelty outside of accepted regulations, but also unmask practices considered legal.
Mr Delforce said consumers had a right to see the production conditions behind the food they buy, and to judge the ethics of those practices for themselves, which justified activists’ trespassing on locked or unlocked buildings to film such activities.
“While I’m not encouraging people to break the law, I don’t think (trespass) is as bad as what the farmers are doing to these animals and also the fact is, the law can change,” he said.
“Martin Luther King says that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.
“At the time, the laws were supporting what he was doing and that was later changed so laws can change.
“Today, sow stalls are legal, one day in the future they might not be, but that change in legality doesn’t change how right or wrong they are - it doesn’t change the morality.
“There seems to be this idea that legality and morality are somehow, you know, forever connected and parallel but I don’t think that’s true.
“I think we need to have morality that’s independent of the current laws of the time because if those laws change then where does that put us?
“We need to have this universal understanding of what’s right and wrong that doesn’t change when the people in power decide that it’s now right and wrong.”
Mr Delforce said whether meat was produced in an intensive or free-range farming operation, the animals “still end up in the same slaughter house” and suffer the same horrific death.
Animal welfare or animal rights?
He stressed he wasn’t an animal welfare activist but was comfortable with the term, “animal rights activist”.
However, the media generally doesn’t understand the difference between animal welfare and animal rights, he said.
“I don’t think we can change the laws to prohibit animal agriculture without there first being a massive paradigm shift in how the public views it,” he said.
“The laws can come later – it’s more about people deciding not to support this industry and if that happens there will be no need for laws.”
Mr Delforce said all he was trying to do was save lives.
“There are benefits for humankind of moving away from a system of animal agriculture,” he said.
“I don’t agree with laws that make slightly different cages for the hens, or that sort of thing.
“They’re just small reforms that make people feel better about contributing to the killing of animals.
“I think it’s more important to tell people that animals have rights and one of those rights is to not be bred and killed for human consumption.”
Amid growing criticism, the Aussie Farms operations director says he’s perplexed by the growing wave of resistance he’s encountered to his efforts to expose livestock farming practices, via covert video footage.
“Somehow I’m the bad guy in the media; I’m the one who’s apparently terrorising farmers, these poor, poor farmers who are sending pigs to be killed in this horrific way,” he said.
“It’s just an absolute injustice and I don’t understand it; I don’t understand how it’s gotten to this point.”
Mr Delforce said he didn’t hate farmers because some of them, in their relations with other people, “are great people”.
But he said farmers have “just been born and raised into this system that tells them that it’s okay to do these things”.
“In some respects I’m trying to make farmers think about this and think, ‘Is it okay what we’re doing?’
“I want these farmers to question what they’re doing as well.”
Risks of violence
As the campaign escalates, with Aussie Farms pledging to expose more and more video footage, Mr Delforce fears a violent late night confrontation is inevitable that could result in tragedy.
He said that almost happened at Blantyre Farms near Young in NSW last year when the piggery owners “sent seven or eight men out to hunt activists in the middle of the night” and their car was also “destroyed”.
Mr Delforce asked what would have happened, if the activists were caught by the farmhands.
“There’s absolute genuine fear and I think at some point it’s going to happen, where a farmer is going to seriously injure or kill an activist,” he said.
“If you happen to be walking through your sheds because you heard a weird noise and you don’t know what it is, and suddenly there’s this dark figure standing there and you freak out, and you happen to have a gun and shoot him, maybe in that situation it’s not as black and white.
“But if you know there are activists in your property and in your sheds and you go in there with the intent to harm them, I think that’s entirely different to a spontaneous act of self defence.”
Mr Delforce said the trespassing activists were unarmed because “the whole point of animal activism is non-violence”.
“No-one’s going onto these farmers with guns or knives or anything like that; they’re not going anywhere near the homes of these farmers,” he said.
“They don’t want to run into these farmers at all - they just want to film what’s happening to the pigs.
“They don’t care what the farmers are doing and they don’t want to attack them because it goes against the idea of non-violence.
“We can’t promote a message of non-violence if we’re going around bashing up farmers.
“No activist has any interest in the homes or the personal lives of these farmers - they just want to show what happens inside these massive sheds.”