Visitors to UK supermarkets are being confronted by a strange beast with the head of a horse and the body of a cow. “If You Wouldn't Eat a Horse, Why Eat a Cow? Go Vegan," the beast challenges, and the same messages are appearing on billboards across the country.
This campaign from animal activists PETA seeks to take advantage of the horsemeat scandal engulfing Europe. Traces of the meat have been found in products in 16 European countries and has panicked buyers.
6% of British people know someone who has turned vegetarian since the scandal broke in January, according to a consumer poll Monday. An Irish poll found 5% had refused to buy meat themselves. By contrast, health food stores have reported a 50% increase in sales of meat substitutes.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Ben Martin, campaigner at Animal Aid, told Metro. “Our ‘Go vegetarian’ month in March will urge people to quit meat as the only guarantee of avoiding contamination.”
Activists hope that new scrutiny of supply chains, with graphic films from abattoirs broadcast, will impact on consumers. “We have known about these industry practices for years but people turned a blind eye,” said Justin Kerswell, campaigns manager for vegan group Viva! “Now that people see their trust is abused, it forces them to question their habits.”
The following weeks will see undercover filming in slaughterhouses and public information campaigns as activists seize the moment. They are already seeing success with Viva! reporting a 50% increase in requests for vegan starter packs. Celebrity supporters are also weighing in, with singer Morrissey forcing all non-vegetarian vendors to shut down at a Los Angeles concert venue.
The campaign is supported by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), which reported Monday that Europeans consume 70% too much protein from animals and recommended they halve consumption.
UNEP's report author Mark Sutton, who invented the word ‘demitarian’, told Metro the supply chain is “unsustainable” and causes air pollution and climate change in addition to health problems. “I hope the governments of Europe will make this a really big issue in the next decade,” said Sutton, who also called for a “new cultural attitude from consumers. Meat could become like smoking.”