FORMER Cattle Council chief executive Margo Andrae has called out animal activists for intimidating staff by calling them murderers and deceiving their way into their office by posing as tradies.
Ms Andrae, who is now the CEO for Australian Pork Limited, delivered the impassioned message to Senate Estimates last week after receiving a question from Nationals Senator Susan McDonald.
“They have taken photos of my team celebrating International Women’s Day, put it on separate social medias and called them murderers – that is not acceptable,” Ms Andrae said.
“They are coming to our office, pretending to be a plumber to get access my office while they hide in toilets, god knows how long they had been in there.
“There are threats on social media, there are personal threats against myself and my team. My team have had to remove where they work on their social media accounts because of the attacks, every Australian Pork Limited social media account was attacked with messages-after-messages. My favourite was 86 calls to my personal mobile in an hour.”
Enough-is-enough and we need to be brave
APL’s latest interactions with the animal activist group, Farm Transparency Project, were in relation to footage it took of pigs being killed using CO2 stunning. Ms Andrae said the main problem was with their behaviour, not their ideology.
“People are allowed to have a voice, people are allowed their opinions, we don’t even mind what food choice – that is your choice,” she said.
“But in no way, do you have a right to violate people’s private space and their personal reputation when they are doing the right thing.”
Overwhelming response from industry
Speaking to Beef Central today, Ms Andrae said she had received an overwhelming response from the agricultural industry.
“This is how workers have been feeling for a long time and I think a lot of people were happy to see it called out,” she said.
“It is not fair what is happening to a lot of producers, they are just good people going above and beyond to their jobs.”
Ms Andrae was the CEO of the former Cattle Council of Australia when there was a series of farm invasions in 2019 and during previous controversies with live export. She said while she had been dealing with animal activists for years, her latest dealings came closest to home.
“During the calls for the live sheep ban, the cattle industry was supportive of live export and it became very nasty,” she said.
“I have been dealing with this for years, but I have never had people actually coming into my office and intimidating my staff.
“I have also never had the courage to call it out, because we were always worried about the outcome of doing that. This latest experience has been the final straw and I think enough-is-enough and we need to be brave.”
Industry not above criticism
While she had received calls from people in the agricultural industry, Ms Andrae said she had not received any calls from animal welfare groups.
Beef Central has contacted the RSPCA for its thoughts on APL’s experience and this article will be updated if a comment is provided.
Ms Andrae said the organisation had successfully worked with animal welfare groups in the past and it was not above criticism.
“If someone is doing the wrong thing, we will be the first to throw the book at them,” she said.
“We work closely with the RSPCA, that does not mean we agree with them on everything and they are very strict on us. But they meet us at the table and they work understanding what can and can’t be done.
“If you care about animal welfare, you should be supporting groups like this where the funding actually goes towards better outcomes.”
Ms Andrae said animal activists were not going away and it was important to call out unacceptable behaviour.
“Agriculture in general has moved into a phase where we don’t want to give the activists airtime and we hope they will go away,” she said.
“But I think they are not going away and their members are become more intrusive and there is more harassment.”
Industry needs to report illegal behaviour
Nationals Senator Susan McDonald said the industry needed to be on the front in dealing with some of the behaviour mentioned in Canberra.
“We need to come out strongly, we need to report it, we need to talk about because and we need to shut down this behaviour because it is illegal and it is not right,” Ms McDonald said.
“The vast majority of Australian are voting with their wallet, their buying pork and other Australian products because they know it is good for their families. But they are being overshadowed by these people who are doing nothing more than fundraising.
“I am hoping the activists look at discussions like this, think they might lose community support and find another way to operate.”
NFF calls for government condemnation
National Farmers’ Federation vice president David Jochinke said what had happened to the pork industry was unacceptable.
“The perpetrators of this campaign can’t just go around frightening people and breaking the law completely unchecked,” Mr Jochinke said.
“They are not genuine voices in the animal welfare discussion and simply seek to destroy the livelihoods of Australian farming families.
“We’d like to see a clear condemnation by the Government, and a public statement that it won’t engage with groups which employ these sorts of tactics.
“People who ignore the rights of others by harassing them at their place of work, shouldn’t have a right to be heard by policymakers.
“This Government should make that clear to help stem the problem.”