GARY McGuire wants tougher penalties like on-the-spot $5000 fines or imprisonment slapped on animal rights activists caught trespassing on farm facilities, for endangering animal welfare standards and breaching biosecurity protocols.
Mr McGuire’s piggery on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Glasshouse Country Farms, has been subject to multiple breaches involving pro-vegan activists, requiring police intervention.
He said his facilities were broken into before Christmas where several pigs were stolen - with one eventually ending up in Melbourne - and local police subsequently charging two activists for trespass and stealing.
But last week, 68 animal rights activists dressed in black entered the farrowing house on his property in an early morning raid and staged a flour hour sit-in.
At the same time, about 40 other protesters gathered nearby chanting anti-livestock farming slogans and waving placards, in what he says was “retribution” and a publicity stunt timed to coincide with a screening in Brisbane the night before of a documentary sympathetic to their cause, to have meat consumption outlawed.
“We basically left them into the shed and went around and did whatever else we could until they left,” he said.
“About 40 of them also turned up at the gate with loud speakers and signs and that’s not too far from the shed.
“They were chanting at the staff, saying ‘there is no such thing as humane slaughter’ and ‘let the media in’ - the whole thing was a bit surreal.
“I don’t think it worried the animals too much, but the staff members were probably a bit upset by it all.
“They told us we could go and feed the animals and attend to them, but nobody really wanted to go inside the shed because they were filming everything we did.
“With 68 of them in the shed there was nearly as many activists as there were sows in there so not a lot of room to put the feed out, so we thought we would leave it until they were all gone.
“There were sows actually farrowing at the time.”
Mr McGuire said 13 police vehicles responded to the incident and 25 police officers, while a police negotiator tried to reach a compromise with the activists who refused to leave the farrowing house, unless television media - that had also gathered at the scene - were allowed inside to film.
Eventually many of the protesters left the shed voluntarily, to avoid facing any police charges – but about 25 arrests were eventually made on the day, Mr McGuire said.
However, the activists also lodged a complaint against his property’s animal husbandry practices which triggered an automatic government inspection by a veterinarian and biosecurity officer this week which, he said, ultimately confirmed there were no issues.
“They told me they were happy with everything and why wouldn’t they be?” he said.
“We’re good farmers and we’ve done nothing wrong.”
But Mr McGuire compared having his property over-taken by about 110 animal rights activists - including some who’d flown in from interstate locations like Victoria and Tasmania and caught the train from Brisbane - to a “home invasion”.
He said he and the business were also subject to threatening and derogatory messages in social media posts that erupted over the protest, where video images were also broadcast live across various online platforms like Facebook and still images published.
“I just had a quick look and decided I wouldn’t read anymore,” he said.
But while the gang-protest of more than 100 activists was billed as a non-violent form of direct action, Mr McGuire said he and his staff members felt intimidated and threatened.
He said they feared for their safety due to the extreme views held by the activists and were concerned about the welfare of pigs denied feed and water during the four hour siege.
He’s now been advised by police to employ a full-time temporary security guard and erect fences to protect the property and staff-members, in the wake of the recent protests.
But he said that was a difficult proposition to do at his own cost, at a time when the business was already losing $10,000 per week due to low pork prices and high feed costs.
“It was pretty much like a home invasion because the manager lives about forty metres away from the piggery and there’s another staff member who lives right to there and they attend to the pigs at night time,” he said.
“At the time it was a bit of shock; especially for the lady who opened the door to the farrowing shed.
“She’s worked in that shed for the past 12 years and for her to open the door at 7.30am in the morning to see 68 activists all dressed in black with masks on, it was pretty terrifying and it was a bit of shock and bewilderment at what was going on.
“After you sort of process it, it turns into a bit of anger too.”
But Mr McGuire said he feared the legal response to the unprecedented protest would be inadequate and urged greater protection for farmers and their workers caught up in trespass activities; in particular when video footage is taken covertly or via other means.
“We need tougher penalties for this type of activity against these people who put the animals in jeopardy and break biosecurity protocols,” he said.
“There should be on-the-spot fines of $5000 for anyone caught trespassing on a farm or a piggery and if they can’t pay the fine, then maybe they should be sent to jail for six months.
“There needs to be some kind of deterrent because currently there isn’t any real deterrent.”
Mr McGuire said his staff visited the piggery at night to tend to the animals but should not have to be confronted by “extremists”.
“Only last week in America a woman killed people at YouTube because they were not posting animal activist videos,” he said.
“We don’t really know what might happen next.
“Are they going to come back next time and open up all the pens and let the pigs out?
“If you have a look at some of the things that have been posted on Facebook, they are not particularly nice, like saying maybe I should be locked into a cage and sent to the abattoir for slaughter or things like that.
“All that plays on every one’s mind about what they can potentially do.”
RSPCA Australia was contacted for comment but did not respond before deadline.
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