Home > Politics & social justice > Ethical eating: Animal Rights activist unearths Britain’s ugly secrets

Ethical eating: Animal Rights activist unearths Britain’s ugly secrets

Sue Thomas talks about how veganism can be used to raise awareness of animal welfare concerns in the UK.

Animal Rights activist Sue Thomas, 66, embraces a young fan.

“I was brought up on meat and dairy under the misconception that animals have their day and go to the slaughter house humanely. I never gave it a second thought.”

Sue Thomas gives me her take on farming ethics while dressed in a flamingo onesie, surrounded by food stalls at the vegan fair she set up six years ago.

Vegan-friendly ice-cream sold at a stall at Sue’s fair.

She changed her diet after watching videos of the treatment of cows in the British farming industry.

“Farming doesn’t consider the feelings of the animals. When cows are born, they are destined to die and it’s the same for pigs.”

For Sue, being vegan is more than just a dietary choice. It is about raising awareness of social issues.

Her motivation comes from her love of animals: “Animals cry and laugh, see our pain.”

She has been vegan for eleven years and rescuing animals is her hobby.

June, 89, enjoying a meal at the fair.

She uses social media to voice her concerns about animal welfare. Sharing videos and pictures online of abused animals online, she pleads that her followers join her in protest. Her passion is not always well received and she admits that she can be “a nag”. Unafraid of confrontation, she often approaches people in public to discuss animal cruelty.  In July, she scolded a person for leaving a dog in the front seat of a car during a shopping trip. More recently, she approached a woman who was wearing a bobble hat and informed her that her hat was made from an animal that was tortured and grilled.

Animal cruelty makes her angry, and she actively raises money to support charities that rescue and look after abused animals. She has donated over £7,500 to these organisations.

One animal rescue facility that Sue finds inspirational is the Hillside animal sanctuary in Norwich, which provides a safe home for over 2000 animals.

“I don’t want to be Mother Theresa but I would try to get young people involved in a project. We’ve got a wonderful field and I’d like to have all the animals we’ve rescued there.”

A cupcake stall at the fair.

Her concern for animal welfare is echoed by The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). A report showed that the RSPCA are notified of a new case of animal abuse every 30 seconds in England and Wales. In 2016, they investigated 10,540 complaints of animal cruelty in Wales resulting in 120 convictions. This is greater than figures from previous years.

These statistics are Sue’s motivation for her tireless campaign. She feels that the government neglects to prioritise animal rights, and that the public are unaware of the grim reality of British farming. Her mistrust is fuelled by scandals like the 2013 horse meat scandal where foods advertised as beef were found to contain horse meat.

“Mad cow disease” is a fatal condition which affects the brain of infected cows. An outbreak of the disease from 1986 to 2001 devastated the British farming industry. Humans can contract the illness by consuming produce from infected cattle and this resulted in the deaths of 156 people during the 1990s. The disease was largely spread by farmers feeding the remains of infected dead cattle to living cows . More than 4.4 million animals were destroyed to control the crisis which proved to be a long-lasting blemish on the reputation of the British farming industry. Rigorous testing has since been implemented to reduce the chances of infected meat entering the food chain. Despite this, some countries do not allow British citizens to donate blood as a direct result of the outbreak. In 2015, a cow in Wales was found to have the disease and the animal was destroyed without infected meat entering the food chain. Even so, this does little to quell the fears of the public.

Sue’s opinion of meat industry underwent a great transition following these scandals. Although she was brought up thinking that meat was a necessary component of a balanced diet, she now believes that she was deceived. Meat has been classified as a possible cause of cancer, according to a report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. She is worried that substances that were previously thought to be safe could actually be harmful.

Student Ruth Akindale sells soap at the fair.

The public are undermined and manipulated to believe lies told by people in power, according to Sue. Concerned about the health sector, she is particularly sceptical of the pharmaceutical industry. As a result, she does not receive vaccinations for influenza. Her wariness comes from her personal experiences of people suffering from worsening medical conditions after receiving medical treatment.

It is reasonable for Sue to have these worries. Studies have shown that there are 8.5 million annual hospital admissions in England and Wales. An estimated 5% of these patients experience preventable healthcare problems during their admission. Approximately 70,000 people die per year in British hospitals as a direct result of medical errors.

These statistics have spurred Sue to emphasise the health benefits of adopting a vegan lifestyle.

“All the big celebrities are doing it. Mike Tyson and Arnold Schwarzenegger are vegans now. They know it’s good.”

“My health has improved dramatically and I have so much energy. I never have to take a tablet and I can’t remember the last time I saw a doctor.”

Her improved quality of life is likely also due to fact that she neither smokes nor drinks.

Sue likes to look after herself and vulnerable people. She has concerns about homelessness in Cardiff and thinks that action needs to be taken to keep people off the streets. The Wallich homeless charity presented statistics showing that the number of people without housing in the city increased by 81% between 2014 and 2016.

Although she constantly seeks ways to make a difference in the community, she relaxes from time to time. When she is off the campaign trail, she walks her dogs around her house in Cosmeston, a village in south Wales.

Her conviction, commitment and determination have allowed her to make a tangible difference in the local area, supporting businesses with core values of ethical significance.

Sue’s advice to the public is simple.

“Go vegan. I did.”

Sue Thomas tells us about five different stalls that you will see at a vegan fair.