WHILE the relationship between producer and consumer has never been more important, the divide between farmer and activist has grown wider in the past few weeks.
The tension between the two groups, who have been locking horns on social media for months, flared to a new level last week when Harvey dairy farmer Jason Parravicini and a couple of vegan activists from Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) came head to head outside his home.
Mr Parravicini said he hadn’t expected his actions that day to make it onto the news, as he was just trying to protect his family and property after the DxE members arrived outside his property, filming his calves and property.
He believes the footage was presented to make him look bad and ignored the “antics” the activists got up to prior to the clip.
“It doesn’t show anything that took place beforehand,” Mr Parravicini said.
“It doesn’t show me asking them numerous times to leave and stop videoing the front of my house, where there are young children – can you please move on?’.”
Mr Parravicini said he had spent 20 minutes trying to get them to leave before having to head up the road on his tractor to do a job.
He alleges the activists “swerved in front” of him several times with a camera out the window, so he stepped down from the tractor and confronted them.
“They don’t know where to draw the line,” he said.
“For 20 minutes I was verbally abused.
“There’s no footage showing what he did to provoke me – calling me a murderer.”
The footage shows that Mr Parravicini discharged a firearm into the air – away from the road.
He said he did not know the activists were still there filming when he used the gun.
“Every afternoon I go out and let off a few shots with the shotgun to scare the crows away from the calf feed,” he said.
“I didn’t even know they were there until after.”
Police said they would not press charges regarding the discharge of the firearm.
WA Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan said “over the past few months we have seen a number of incidents of vegan activism in WA: protests at a Northbridge restaurant and at the Muchea saleyards, the launch of the Aussie Farms website and last week, a confrontation with a farmer in Harvey”.
“People are entitled to be vegans and make their own choices about their diet,” Ms MacTiernan said.
“They are entitled to advocate for their lifestyle choice.
“But we reject the harassment of farmers going about their lawful business of producing food for Western Australians.
“For the vast majority of Western Australians animal products are an important part of their diet and their lifestyles.
“The actions of these protestors are counter-productive to their own cause.
“They need to ask themselves whether these actions actually improve animal welfare outcomes, or is this is just an exercise in self-righteousness?
“Actions like those we’ve seen over the past few weeks simply alienate the farming community and the general public and deflect away from genuine attempts to improve animal welfare while supporting livestock farmers.
“But we do put these activists on notice – where laws are broken, there will be consequences.”
Activists have been busy in the Harvey area in recent weeks according to livestock producers – since the Aussie Farms map was made available online, identifying locations where livestock and animals are farmed or slaughtered across Australia.
Brunswick cattle producer and livestock carrier Steven Italiano said activists showed up to protest a few weeks ago at the entrance of the Harvey Beef abattoir with placards and cameras.
“They were standing right in front of the truck,” Mr Italiano said.
“They climbed on the trailers and made accusations – calling me a murderer.”
Mr Italinano said being confronted by protestors was not new for livestock carriers but it was potentially dangerous when they get in the way of the truck and climb on the trailers.
“At the end of the day, humans have been eating animals for thousands of years,” Mr Italiano said.
“It’s hard making a living in primary production and we don’t need these sorts of things.”
Federal Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud called for calm from both sides of the divide before things got out of hand.
“I call for all to remain calm and respectful,” Mr Littleproud said.
“Farmers have a right to farm without being harassed.
“These people are just producing our food and should be left alone to do so.
“I’m genuinely concerned there will be an incident in which someone will be seriously hurt or worse.”
Mr Littleproud said the “differences between sections of the vegan and farm communities will not be solved with confrontation”.
“The activist section of the vegan community should make their case in the public debate and in the Parliament, not by intruding on farmers’ privacy, property and lives,” Mr Littleproud said.
The Nationals WA have called on the State government to do more amid the rising tensions.
Leader Mia Davies said farmers were increasingly on edge following the launch of the Aussie Farms “online attack map”.
Ms Davies said farmers had the right to feel safe in their homes and go about their lives and work without harassment or intimidation.
She said the State government needed to do more to dissuade the criminal activity of green groups and animal activists.
Last week State Labor MP Lisa Baker made the news for “telling Western Australians they should stop eating meat,” Ms Davies said.
“This is an extremely concerning development and potentially devastating for farming communities.”
Agricultural Region MLC Rick Mazza of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, condemned the “outlandish anti-meat comments” made by Ms Baker.
He said Ms Baker referred to a report blaming farmers for climate change, demanding livestock be replaced with plants and called on people to eat less meat, referring to a 2014 UK study finding high-meat eating men being higher producers of greenhouse gas emissions than vegan women.
“Farmers should not have to deal with this level of fear and anxiety while going about their lawful business and making a living,” Mr Mazza said.
The Nationals WA agriculture spokesman Colin de Grussa said he had tabled a petition, calling on the government to investigate tougher penalties for rural crime.
“The petition calls for review of legislation to protect landholders against theft or damage to livestock or property, trespassing and hunting or fishing on private land without permission,” Mr de Grussa said.
“The petition is a response to the deep sense of anger and frustration over crime in rural areas, which has now been exacerbated by animal activists.
“Primary producers are quite rightly concerned the disclosure of their location and details about their business would make them a target for animal rights activists, vandals and thieves.
“Farmers’ privacy, their right to farm and safety has been compromised and the risk that their properties, their families and livestock could become the target of extreme and dangerous activism activities is heightened.
“Stock and equipment theft and rural trespass are crimes of major concern to rural and isolated communities.”
Mr Littleproud reiterated his call for Aussie Farms to pull down its interactive farm map.
“I’m not sure if it contributed to this incident but it certainly will create more like it,” he said.
“I raised the issue of trespass with my State colleagues at the agriculture ministers’ meeting in Adelaide a fortnight ago and I again implore them to send a clear signal that trespass will result in charges and real penalties.
“The example in Caloundra Magistrates Court in Queensland last week where a serial farm invader got only a $200 fine for her third offence trespassing on farms and had no conviction recorded sends a terrible message in my opinion.”
Ms MacTiernan said there were significant penalties for trespass in WA – a year’s imprisonment and a $12,000 fine.
“These represent a very real deterrent,” she said.
“The Police Minister has assured me that any farmer that raises a complaint will have their matter acted upon.
“WA Police are ramping up their preparedness to respond quickly to this issue, with a meeting to be held with industry stakeholders – including WAFarmers, the Pastoralists and Graziers Association and the Kimberley-Pilbara Cattlemen’s Association in the near future.
“A key aim of this meeting will be to better prepare farmers and pastoralists on how to safely manage and report to police incidents involving trespassers or activists.
“In the meantime, we urge farmers to call the police and request their assistance to deal with people trespassing on their property.”
WAFarmers released a statement that it was becoming increasingly “concerned by the militant and provocative action of vegan- based activists trying to disrupt the daily lives of farmers”.
“The State’s livestock sector is being targeted by anti-agriculture activists,” WAFarmers said.
The organisation said it treated “any matter involving the safety of our members and their livestock extremely seriously”.
“WAFarmers’ advice to farmers caught in this situation is to not engage and if individuals are trespassing or acting suspiciously to call the police,” the statement said.
“It is clear that the activists are simply chasing media attention, the best way to respond is to down tools and break for smoko until they get bored and leave.”
Farm Weekly is part of the campaign to #protectourfarms and create new laws giving individuals rights to sue for privacy breaches to create more options to prosecute against trespass.
#protectourfarms, is also calling for Aussie Farms to be stripped of its charity status and for tougher farm trespass laws.