A group of activists known as Animal Rebellion blocked access to four McDonald’s distribution centres across Britain this weekend, with group spokesperson James Ozden accusing the fast food chain and wider meat and dairy industry of “destroying our planet”.
Animal Rebellion used vehicles and bamboo structures to prevent lorries from leaving depots in Hemel Hempstead, Basingstoke, Coventry and Heywood in Greater Manchester on Saturday.
The protestors locked themselves to weights holding down the bamboo structures, while others perched on these.
The activist group, part of the wider Extinction Rebellion movement, is demanding McDonald’s commit to becoming fully plant-based by 2025. They released this statement on Saturday explaining their actions:
“Animal Rebellion is currently blockading all four of McDonald’s distribution centres around the country, stopping trucks from entering or leaving. These centres supply over 1300 restaurants in the UK for a total of 3.8 million people served every day.
“We will stay here until we speak with the CEO of McDonald’s about their transition to a fully plant-based menu.
“McDonald’s is one of the most well-known symbols of the meat and dairy industry. They contribute to the deaths of billions of animals per year, fund the destruction of the Amazon and fuel meat and dairy production; one of the leading causes of the climate crisis. Yet they’re not our only target – we’re coming for the rest of the animal agriculture industry too. Join the Rebellion.”
While protests at the Coventry and Heywood sites ended voluntarily at 10am and 4am on Sunday, respectively, there were some arrests at the Basingstoke and Hemel Hempstead sites.
Hampshire Police said officers arrested eight people on suspicion of aggravated trespass in relation to the protest at an industrial estate off Houndmills Road in Basingstoke.
Chief inspector Matt Reeves said: “Everyone has the right to free speech and protest. However, officers will take necessary action against the few who deliberately choose to act outside the law.”
Separately, Hertfordshire Police said six people were arrested on suspicion of aggravated trespass, criminal damage and intimidating behaviour at Hemel Hempstead.
Police cleared the demonstrations at both Hemel Hempstead and Baskingstoke by 3am on Sunday morning.
Speaking to media about this weekend’s blockade of McDonald’s, James said around 100 people took part in the protests and claimed the action disrupted an estimated 1,900 lorries and nationwide supplies to the fast food chain’s 1,300 restaurants.
The action set out to highlight and criticise the animal agriculture industry for their part in the global climate crisis.
James said: “The meat and dairy industry is destroying our planet: causing huge amounts of rainforest deforestation, emitting immense quantities of greenhouse gases and killing billions of animals each year.
“The only sustainable and realistic way to feed 10 billion people is with a plant-based food system.
“Organic, free-range and ‘sustainable’ animal-based options simply aren’t good enough.”
Originally from Turkey, 35-year-old James Ozden is a maths tutor living in London. He has been at the forefront of the ‘Rebellion’, campaigning for change for the past two years, and has been arrested several times for his part in protests that have captured public attention.
He was first arrested on Horseferry Road during the October 2019 ‘Extinction Rebellion (XR)’ and charged with obstruction of the highway.
He was arrested again in July 2020 after dying the Trafalgar Square fountains red with Animal Rebellion and charged with criminal damage.
Four months later, James was arrested for a third time during the Stop the Presses blockade outside Rupert Murdoch’s printworks in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, for which he has been charged with obstruction of the highway.
James was one of 50 protestors that put up tall bamboo structures outside the gates to the plant where The Sun and The Times, the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and London Evening Standard were printed. Their action stopped three-and-half-million national newspapers from being distributed across the country.
While admitting to taking part in the protests, James has pleaded not guilty for all three charges.
James’ Stop the Presses trial at St Albans Magistrates’ Court recently concluded. He and five other defendants were found guilty of wilfully blocking the highway during their protest at a printing works.
District Judge Sally Fudge said they did not have a “reasonable excuse” for obstructing the highway on the 4 and 5 September.
The Judge noted that it had been a peaceful demonstration with no damage being caused and no abuse towards the police. She ruled all six defendants must pay prosecution costs, three were fined and three given a conditional discharge.
James Ozden was given a 12-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £150 and a statutory victim surcharge of £22.
James has previously said: “XR was the first time I felt like I was part of a group of people who cared about the planet as much as I did. It was the first time that I felt like my actions were proportional to the size of the crisis we’re facing.
“Being arrested, whilst not pleasant and something I would rather avoid, I felt was necessary to communicate the seriousness of the climate and ecological crises to friends, family, the public and the government.”
Following his Horseferry Road arrest, James told the court: “This was the first time I’ve been arrested. I’ve never dreamed of myself as being someone who breaks the law yet I truly felt I had no other choice to do my moral duty and try to protect others from serious harm, suffering and death.”
“We know from history that standing up against injustices, through acts of peaceful civil disobedience, is one of the most effective ways to move our society forward, just looking at the Civil Rights Movements or the Suffragettes. Would Martin Luther King be looked on as guilty, or a criminal, for standing up for his right to a good and equal life?” he added.
In his closing remarks to the court, James said: “To close, given that our fragile planet is suffering massive climate change that will soon, possibly within 10 years, culminate in massive loss of human and other animal life, I had to do all in my power to bring about the necessary changes to prevent this catastrophe. We must act now, otherwise we are facing mass starvation, war and societal collapse.
“Our house is on fire and it’s time to stop ignoring the alarms. Knowing this, I hope you will agree that what I did was a reasonable, proportionate and necessary response to the emergency situation that we are in.
“I appeal to everyone in this room to search their consciences and do everything in their power to ensure we leave our children a habitable planet.” I urge the court to find me not guilty. Thank you.”
You can read more about why James Ozden is taking action here.