Editor’s note: It’s sad and ironic how easily contemporary youth movements like Extinction Rebellion/Animal Rebellion are being coopted by neoliberal capitalism and how easily they are made to believe that big business, big tech and big agriculture can save the world. As Kim Hill points out in this article, they obviously completely lost connection to any physical and biological reality.

By Kim Hill

On May 22, activist group Animal Rebellion blockaded four McDonalds distribution centres in the UK, demanding the chain transition to a fully plant-based menu by 2025.

Bill Gates thinks “all rich countries should move to 100% synthetic beef.”

Bill Gates invests in Beyond Meat, a manufacturer of synthetic meat products. Beyond Meat uses a DNA coding sequence from soybeans or peas to create a substance that looks and tastes like real beef.

Gates also owns 242,000 acres of farmland in the US, making him the largest private owner of farmland in the country. He uses the land to develop genetically modified crops (in partnership with Monsanto) and biofuels.

In February, Beyond Meat announced a strategic agreement with McDonalds, to supply the patty for McPlant, a plant-based synthetic meat burger, and explore other plant-based menu items, to replicate chicken, pork, and egg.

The Animal Rebellion protests were designed for media attention, using theatrical staging, colourful banners and elaborate costumes, prominently displaying McDonalds branding. Several protestors were dressed as the character Ronald McDonald.

The police showed little interest in the blockades, arresting very few people, and at one site, barely engaging with the protest at all. It seems McDonalds has no objection to the action, and likely sees it as good advertising for the total corporate takeover of the global food system, and transition to synthetic food for the entire population.

This action appears to have the effect of introducing synthetic meat and other genetically engineered foods to the broader population, to normalise these foods, and make them acceptable to the public. People are seen to be taking to the streets to demand the introduction of these foods, and the corporations are giving them what they want.

The protests were widely reported in local and international media, despite involving only 100 people, causing minimal disruption, and being of limited public interest. The media portrayal was overwhelmingly positive, even in the conservative press. This is in stark contrast to almost non-existent reporting of anti-lockdown protests a few weeks earlier, which attracted many thousands of people, had strong public support, and related to an issue that affects everyone.

Animal Rebellion spokesperson James Ozden said “The only sustainable and realistic way to feed ten billion people is with a plant-based food system. Organic, free-range and ‘sustainable’ animal-based options simply aren’t good enough.” But genetically engineered, additive-laden, lab-grown, pesticide-infused food-like substances produced in ways that cause pollution, soil degradation, extinction, exploitation of workers, plastic waste, chronic illness and corporate profits is absolutely good enough for these rebels, and is apparently sustainable and realistic.

While Animal Rebellion concerns itself with the wellbeing of animals, nowhere on its website is there any mention of:

    • Corporate control of the food system
    • The necessity of machinery, and synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers to maintain a completely plant-based food system
    • The harm caused to animals, humans, plants, soil and water by these chemicals and machines
    • The unsustainability of chemical and industrial farming
    • The fossil-fuel dependence of monocrop farming
    • The environmental harm of tilling and monocropping: soil degradation, salinity, desertification, water pollution, destruction of habitat for native animals, birds, and insects
    • The necessity of animals in natural and cultivated ecologies, to cycle nutrients
    • The takeover of farmland in many places around the world to supply McDonalds, to the detriment of local farmers, and traditional farming methods
    • The UK government’s net-zero emissions plan to convert farmland to biofuel production
    • Exploitation and under-payment of farmers and suppliers of McDonalds products
    • Destruction of local food cultures and local economies by fast food giants
    • Drive-thru takeout culture
    • The poor nutritional value of fast food and fake meat, and the many health problems that result
    • The nutritional limitations of a vegan diet, which would leave the majority of people with multiple chronic illnesses
    • Disposable packaging and litter
    • The possibility of humans, animals and plants all living together in (relative) peace and harmony, in a world without fast-food outlets, genetic engineering, multi-national corporations, global trade, and plastic packaging
    • The need for animals to regenerate soil that has been damaged by cropping

McDonalds is committed to ‘reducing emissions’, another favourite term used by corporations to greenwash their operations by investing in carbon offsets to make themselves sound like they are part of the solution, while continuing to exploit, profit, and destroy the planet. The corporate approach of emissions trading/net-zero/climate action is enthusiastically embraced by climate rebels.

On the same day as the McDonalds protests, a short film featuring Greta Thunberg was released, calling for a global transition to a plant-based food system. The film’s website calls on viewers to “urge some of the world’s largest restaurant chains, including McDonald’s, Domino’s, Subway, and Popeyes, to expand their global plant-based options.”

Yes, the proposed solution is to expand the business operations of multi-national corporations. The film is produced by an organisation called Mercy for Animals, which “works to eliminate the worst animal abuse and grow market share of plant- and cell-based foods.”

Mercy for Animals states: “Cell-based meat, which is animal meat grown by farming cells rather than by rearing and slaughtering animals, is fast-approaching the market and will transform the meat industry. These strides in the plant- and cell-based economy are too large to be ignored. The meat industry will adapt or perish and knows it. Meat industry giants Tyson and Cargill have both invested in cell-based meat technology, while Maple Leaf Foods has acquired plant-based food companies Lightlife and Field Roast.”

Animal Rebellion is just one more protest movement that has been captured by corporate interests, and used to market neoliberal reforms and greenwashed new products which cause more harm than good.

A movement that aims to be effective needs to see the big picture, address the root causes of climate change and animal exploitation, and have the goal to completely dismantle the corporate-controlled economic system. Another world is possible.