Dozens of animal rights activists were arrested as coordinated protests brought one of Australia’s biggest cities to a brief standstill Monday amid calls for sweeping changes to the country’s meat industry.
The biggest protest appears to have taken place in the Victoria capital of Melbourne, where more than 100 activists blocked a busy intersection in the center of the city, CNN affiliate Nine News Australia reported. Some were believed to have chained themselves to vehicles in the street, police said, with 38 people – including three teenagers – arrested.
“We want to show we’re regular people who have had enough, we are killing the planet and killing animals at rates that are just unacceptable,” one of the organizers, Christine Lee, told Nine News.
Australia’s beef industry is one of the country’s most lucrative businesses, accounting for almost 2% of GDP, according to trade group Meat and Livestock Australia. Cattle farming is one of the most significant contributors to rising greenhouse gas emissions on the planet, and consumption patterns across the globe have showed no sign of slowing down.
“Drastic times call for drastic measures so that is why we’re here today,” Lee said.
Victoria Police Superintendent David Clayton said the activists “caused considerable disruptions to thousands of people attempting to navigate through the CBD during peak hour.”
Elsewhere, nine people were arrested in New South Wales’ Southern Tablelands after chaining themselves to a conveyor in a slaughterhouse, police said.
Another group of activists entered a Queensland slaughterhouse early Monday and tried to take three sheep. A police spokesman said “the situation was resolved peacefully and without incident” and the sheep were later returned.
The coordinated action drew a swift rebuke from Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
“This is just another form of activism that I think runs against the national interest,” he said on a local radio talk show. “And the national interest is people being able to farm their own land.”
Morrison said the government would support agriculture workers in filing civil suits against protesters who harm their businesses.
“The Commonwealth is totally open to supporting them in a test case to show these green-collared criminals that you don’t get to pull the rug from under our Aussie farmers,” he said.