Go Vegan World’s Right to Freedom of Expression

Newspaper headlines* today are carrying a story alleging that public transport operator Translink has said it is removing our Go Vegan World advertisements on its buses following criticism from Northern Ireland farmers.

We have not been contacted by Translink so we are unable to ascertain what their actions have been.

Go Vegan World’s Contract with Translink

We paid for a campaign to run on Translink buses between 30th December 2019 and 12th January 2020. Despite complaints from the Ulster Farmers’ Union demanding that the ads be removed, our campaign ran until the end of our contract with Translink who issued a statement to the effect that they could not remove our ads.

Free Overshow

However, we were given a verbal guarantee by Translink that our ads would stay on the buses as free overshow where possible. This is standard practice in advertising if the company has not filled the ads for the next advertising cycle. As the ads were still on the buses on 18th January, six days after the campaign had officially ended, it appears that Translink did not have a contract with another company to replace our ads, and we were into a period of overshow that should have run until a new contract started. Advertising periods are two weeks and so it is our understanding that a new contract could not have started until the 27th. It therefore appears that Translink removed our ads early due to complaints from the UFU. We are contacting Translink to ask them to confirm.

Removal of Go Vegan World ads

Following pressure from the UFU, Translink issued a subsequent statement to the effect that it was “sympathetic” to farmers in Northern Ireland. It then issued an updated statement on Saturday stating that the ads were in the process of being removed.

Translink has not contacted Go Vegan World.

Our Legal Right to Freedom of Expression

GVW has a legal right to freedom of expression and public bodies that sell advertising space must comply with human rights and equality laws. They must apply advertising policies in compliance with these rights. They cannot refuse ads or remove ads simply because some people object to the content. The UFU has told journalists they consider the ads to be misleading or inaccurate, but the ads simply state the facts. Baby calves are taken from their mothers and in many cases killed. When people pay for animal products there is a victim involved and so it is not purely a personal choice; there is someone else to consider. This is not anti-farming. The UFU attempt to frame it in that way reflects the fact that they have no answer to the factual statements in the ads. If they genuinely think it is acceptable to take baby calves from their mothers and kill living, feeling beings who value their lives, then they should have no fear of people being reminded that that’s what is involved in animal agriculture. Their attempt to silence us shows that they are in fact not comfortable with that truth.

What does it mean to be sympathetic to animal agriculture?

It is our view that Translink may have felt pressurised into issuing a statement to this effect. However, to be sympathetic to animal agriculture is to be sympathetic to the unnecessary exploitation and killing of defenceless animals for profit; sympathetic to one of the most significant causes of environmental disaster and the climate catastrophe; and sympathetic to an unsustainable as well as unethical way of earning a living, one that cannot continue and is, therefore, not in the best interests of farmers.

What are the Ulster Farmers’ Union Hiding?

If Translink have taken our ads down prematurely (during the period of free overshow), they have done so on foot of bullying by the Ulster Farmers’ Union. It begs the question why a body that claims to be proud of its work, would go to so much effort to have the facts of that work hidden from public view?

The Ulster Farmers’ Union have claimed that Go Vegan World ads “demonise” them and attempt to “isolate the farming community through misinformation”. Our campaign ads state simple facts. That farmers or their families feel uncomfortable about the facts pertaining to how they earn their living is surely an indication that they need to change and not that the facts should cease to be seen by members of the public.

Who are the Victims of Animal Agriculture?

On the one hand we could say that farmers are representing themselves as the victims when in fact farmers are not the victims here. One can’t help noticing that on almost every online article referring to the Ulster Farmers’ Union attempt to have Go Vegan World ads removed, there is another article showing the victims of animal agriculture from a pig farm in Northern Ireland that made headlines this week.

This is not an Anti-Farmer Campaign

On the other hand, most farmers who are engaged in animal agriculture have grown up in the same speciesist culture as the rest of us. They have been taught that animal products are necessary for human health and that it is acceptable for us to use other animals as if they are commodities or resources and not sentient beings. If the non-vegan public did not create a demand for animal products, farmers would stop farming animals. We will always need food, clothing and energy and we will always need farmers to produce those goods for us. There will be no shortage of work for farmers in a plant-based economy. Campaigners like Go Vegan World did not set out to harm anyone or take anyone’s livelihood from them. We are calling for a rapid and complete end to the use of other animals because our current model is immoral as well as unsustainable. There is enough scientific evidence for anyone to see that this transition must take place as soon as possible if we are to have a future.

* https://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/latest-news/dairy-takes-babies-from-their-mothers-vegans-and-farmers-turn-on-translink-over-advertising-row-1-9206321

* https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/news/farming-news/translink-removes-vegan-adverts-after-northern-ireland-farmers-outrage-38876341.html