The Expert Series Spring 2021: Veganism, Counter Terrorism Strategy and Policing

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» The Expert Series Spring 2021: Veganism, Counter Terrorism Strategy and Policing


In this spring 2021 edition of the Expert Series, RAC member, Dr Jeanette Rowley, presents a detailed insight into complaints made by vegans, and the context for vegans being dealt with under counter terrorism measures.

Neither veganism or vegans are referred to in official published government counter terrorism policy documents, but innocent, law-abiding vegans have been caught up in the language of terrorism and processed under counter terrorism policy. Being unjustifiably drawn into this area of criminal law is an affront to the moral integrity of individual vegans and is, without doubt, a significant cause of stress and anxiety for the individual vegans concerned. It is also a political issue that has the potential to threaten the status and growth of veganism.

The issue of some animal rights activism in the United Kingdom (UK) being considered as extremism or terrorism, and dealt with as such in the criminal justice system is discussed in historical literature.[1] This discussion must now be extended to examine the ways veganism features in the language of extremism and terrorism and must critically analyse the apparent growing trend of dealing with vegans under counter terrorism strategy and policy.

This article gives an insight into complaints made by vegans, and the context for vegans being dealt with under counter terrorism measures.

Vegan Experience of Counter Terrorism Strategy

In recent years, vegans in the workplace have complained to The Vegan Society that they have been accused of extremism, radicalisation, and terrorism, and in some cases, suspended from their employment pending investigations: following allegations of criminal activity at worst, or that which is contrary to counter terrorism measures at best. Vegans have been instructed not to speak about veganism in the workplace because colleagues and managers have claimed that veganism comes within the scope of the ‘Prevent’ counter terrorism strategy. Vegans in public facing roles, such as teachers, social workers and nurses, who are are required to attend counter terrorism training, have complained that the lecturer listed vegans as a group to watch out for because they may radicalise vulnerable people and can therefore be dealt with under counter extremism and terrorism measures. Professional vegans in the audience who have spoken out, have been singled out as problematic by their employers despite receiving apologies and admissions from the lecturers that including vegans as a group to watch out for was unfair and a mistake. Vegans have also been involved in investigations that resulted in them being excluded from participating in events because they started discussions about veganism and are likely to talk about veganism again.

It may seem entirely reasonable to assume that if a vegan is involved in an investigation under counter terrorism strategy, there must be good objective grounds, that the vegans concerned must have done something so bad, and the circumstances be so severe that there must be lawful grounds to consider them as coming within the definitions of ‘extremism’, ‘terrorism’, or  dealt with as ‘radicalisers’. Based on the complaints made to The Vegan Society, however, this is far from true. For example, ‘safeguarding’ complaints have been made against vegans by non-vegan colleagues, and parents of school pupils who object to discussions about veganism being held in front of their child. Non-vegan workplace colleagues have submitted complaints about ‘extremist’ vegans because they object to vegans defending their ethical orientation by referencing uncomfortable truths about animal exploitation and animal suffering.

In all the cases brought to the attention of The Vegan Society, the heavy-handed approach taken, in some education establishments, by employers and event organisers, has been entirely disproportional to the facts. This has been the cause of significant distress to the vegans concerned and represents a lack of knowledge regarding the practical implementation of counter-terrorism strategy.


Counter terrorism measures apply to political groups and individuals that engage in extremism and serious violent action in pursuit of a political, religious, or ideological cause. The United Kingdom’s counter terrorist strategy is set out in ‘Contest: The United Kingdom’s Strategy for Countering Terrorism 2018’. Before explaining the relevant aspects of ‘Contest 2018’, it will be helpful to understand the definitions of frequently used terms.

Definition of Terms


The statutory definition of terrorism is given in Section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2000.[2] Terrorism is defined as violent action that endangers a person’s life, serious violence against a person, serious damage to property, or that which creates a serious risk to public health and safety. Terrorism is serious violent action, or a threat that is designed to influence the government or intimidate the public to advance a political, religious or ideological cause.


Unlike ‘terrorism, there is no statutory definition of ‘extremism’.  However, the Counter Extremism Strategy 2015 explains that:

Extremism is the vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. We also regard calls for the death of members of our armed forces as extremist.[3]

Guidance explains that ‘non-violent extremism’ is extremism, as defined above, which is not accompanied by violence’.[4] Since ‘people can be drawn to right-wing terrorist ideology through the rhetoric and language of apparently non-violent right-wing extremist groups’,[5] counter extremism strategy also deals with the expression of ‘extreme’ ideas and opinions whilst not undermining the right to freedom of speech. [6]


Radicalisation is defined in the Prevent Strategy (2011)[7] as ‘the process by which a person comes to support terrorism and forms of extremism leading to terrorism’. Statutory guidance refers to radicalisation as the process by which a person comes to support terrorism and extremist ideologies associated with terrorist groups.[8] A radicaliser is ‘an individual who encourages others to develop or adopt beliefs and views supportive of terrorism and forms of extremism leading to terrorism’.[9]


Safeguarding is also defined in the Prevent Strategy (2011) as ‘the process of protecting vulnerable people from being abused, drawn into crime including being radicalised into forms of extremism that lead to committing terrorist offences’.[10]

Contest: The UK’s Counter Terrorism Strategy

‘Contest’ is the name of the United Kingdom’s strategy for countering terrorism. Contest 2018 explains a four ‘P’ approach to dealing with the threat of terrorism: ‘Prevent’, ‘Pursue’, ‘Protect’ and ‘Prepare’. The ‘Prevent’ element of the strategy being more well-known as a sub-strategy of the wider counter terrorism approach.[11]

The objective of ‘Prevent’ is to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. It aims to ‘safeguard and support those vulnerable to radicalisation, to stop them from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism.’[12] ‘Prevent’ interventionist measures seek to deal with non-violent extremist ideas where they are used to legitimise serious violent criminal activity to stop people moving from holding extreme views and opinions to actively pursuing terrorist-related activity. To achieve this aim, Prevent seeks to identify individuals vulnerable to radicalisation, intervene through a multi-agency approach, rehabilitate, and strengthen safeguarding measures to ensure that ‘communities and families are not exploited or groomed into following a path of violent extremism’[13]. Overall, the Prevent strategy is intended to:

…deal with all kinds of terrorist threats to the UK. The most significant of these threats is currently from terrorist organisations in Syria and Iraq, and Al-Qaeda associated groups. But terrorists associated with the extreme right also pose a continued threat to our safety and security.

The Prevent Duty

In support of the overall objective - to prevent terrorism and safeguard all citizens- counter terrorism measures impose a formal duty on various pubic sector services to give ‘due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’.[14] This duty, commonly known as the ‘Prevent Duty’ applies to those working in public facing roles such as, for example, teachers, health and social care workers and police officers. Relevant authorities must show compliance by evidencing community partnerships and a collaborative multi-agency approach. Those with responsibilities are also under a duty to report anyone suspected of being involved in illegal terrorist activity to the police. Statutory guidance states that having ‘due regard’ means that relevant authorities ‘should place an appropriate amount of weight on the need to prevent people being drawn into terrorism when they consider all the other factors relevant to how they carry out their usual functions’,[15] the emphasis being on preventing radicalisation and supporting vulnerable individuals.

The Scope of ‘Prevent’

Because counter terrorism measures apply to political groups or individuals that promote or engage in serious violent action in pursuit of a political, religious, or ideological cause, the Prevent duty guidance refers to the need to safeguard individuals from any form of extremism ‘be that faith based, animal rights, environmental, far right, far left extremism or any new emerging trends.’[16]

Given the relationship between vegans and animal rights activism, the next section will explain the background to the inclusion of animal rights activism in counter terrorism measures. This will then be followed by a brief comment on counter terrorism measures and the inclusion of veganism as a possible ‘emerging trend’ of interest and monitored on account of the relationship between veganism and animal rights or environmental activism.

The Historical Inclusion of Animal Rights Activism

The inclusion of animal rights ‘extremism’ is justified in counter terrorism strategy on historical grounds because from around the 1980s, onwards a small number of animal rights activists held what were considered to be extreme ideas,[17] with some going on to pursue ‘illegal campaigns of fear, intimidation and violence.’[18] A former UK government considered some animal rights activism to be ‘part of a concerted campaign of extremism.’[19] Subsequently, some areas of law, particularly regarding harassment, public assembly, and trespass were strengthened, stronger powers were given to police and courts, and a National Extremism Tactical Unit was set up to deal specifically with animal rights extremism. In addition, it was made clear that ‘animal rights extremists’ committing serious, violent acts could be dealt with under legislation designed to deal with terrorism and that those engaged in such activity should not ‘be surprised to find themselves treated as terrorists’[20]:

Some of the activities of animal rights extremists are often considered to be acts of terrorism. During the passage of the Terrorism Act, which came into effect on 19 February 2001, it was made clear that the powers in the Act would cover all forms of terrorism, including serious violent acts carried out by animal rights extremists, by widening the definition of terrorism.[21]

The UK Government of the day supported the rights of all those who campaign for animal rights, to express their views and to campaign legally to bring about change, but made it very clear that nobody has the right to harass, threaten or physically attack those they oppose.[22] Under the UK’s counter terrorism strategy, it is reported that up to 2011, One hundred and thirty people have excluded from entering the UK on the grounds of unacceptable behaviour, some of those excluded include animal rights activists.[23]

Counter Terrorism Concern with Current Animal Rights Activism

By 2011, it was acknowledged that there are not many violent animal rights extremists, their ideas don’t attract much support, and rather than posing a terrorist threat they pose only potentially public order issues.[24] Further, neither Contest 2011, nor the Counter-Extremism Strategy 2015 mentions animal rights activism and make no references to animal rights extremism or animal rights terrorism. [25]However, animal rights activism makes an appearance in Contest 2018, HM Government now stating that:

Beyond the extreme right-wing threat, there are a number of other groups and individuals that carry out criminal acts to achieve political goals. They may be motivated by animal rights, the extreme left-wing or environmental issues. None of these groups are currently assessed as posing a national security threat, but there remains the possibility that may change, and that a counter-terrorism response could be required in the future.

Emerging Trends: Veganism

The inclusion of ‘emerging trends’ in counter terrorism strategy can be regarded as appropriate if evidence shows that any emerging trends promote extremism, non-violent extremist views or serious violent activity that poses a threat to national security. There is, quite rightly, no evidence in published government guidance that counter extremism or counter terrorism measures need to be engaged in response to vegans or the growth of veganism. Further, as explained above, given the definition of terms, and that counter terrorism measures aim to seek out vulnerability to, and deal with the most serious of criminal intentions, it is difficult to see how vegans have become embroiled in the language of terrorism and processed according to safeguarding policies.

One interesting development is the publication of advisory guidance by Counter Terrorism Police (CTP) who ‘work to keep people safe from terrorism’.[26] One publication refers to ‘signs and symbols’, [27]and the other, ‘A Quick  Reference Guide’ entitled ‘Safeguarding Young People and Adults from Ideological Extremism,[28] gives information to help those subject to the statutory Prevent duty to ‘recognise when young people or adults may be vulnerable to extreme or violent ideologies’.[29] The guidance is disseminated across the multi-agency Prevent strategy network, and has been referred to in training sessions given by Prevent Awareness trainers.[30] The details of this guidance are as follows:

Counter Terrorism Signs and Symbols

The list of signs and symbols was published to help police and partners identify those associated with right-wing, left-wing, animal rights and environmental groups. This guide shows a range of signs and symbols of concern and includes the logos of many organisations with which vegans may be affiliated such as Peta, Animal Aid, Greenpeace, Extinction Rebellion. The guide also lists the vegan flag. The guidance accompanying the document states that ‘not all of the signs and symbols are of counter-terrorism interest, and membership of these groups does not indicate criminality. But emphasising ‘Action Counters Terrorism’, this guide goes on to give ‘quick and easy’ ways to report concerns.

The inclusion of a range of lawful organisations with no known links to terrorism is an issue taken up by The Guardian newspaper in a news report that includes comments from Peta, and Extinction Rebellion who ask, if signs and symbols on the list are not relevant to counter terrorism then why include them in a counter-terrorism document?[31] In response Dean Haydon, Senior National Coordinator for Counter Terrorism Policing, states that ‘[w]e need our CT officers, front line police colleagues and partners to be able to understand what organisations people may be affiliated with, and what their aims and activities – lawful or otherwise – are’.[32] Peta director, Elisa Allen, argues that the inclusion of signs and symbols associated with peaceful campaigning ‘appears to be a sinister attempt to quash legitimate campaigning organisations – something that is as dangerous as it is undemocratic’.[33]

Vegans in public facing professions who have attended Prevent awareness training have subsequently contacted The Vegan Society to complain about the inclusion of vegans as a category of concern, and vegans who have been in touch to complain about unfair treatment in various contexts, explain that this document has been referred to as evidence of the potential for vegan radicalisation and extremism.

Counter Terrorism, Veganism and the guide Safeguarding Young People and Adults from Ideological Extremism

The ‘quick reference guide ‘Safeguarding Young People and Adults from Ideological Extremism’, states that it was published for those involved with young people, adults, members of the public, managers, senior officers, and all those with safeguarding responsibilities at all levels of local authorities. It was published specifically to help identify when someone may be vulnerable to extreme or violent ideologies, by giving examples of behaviours to watch out for. The guide does not specifically mention veganism but does refer to many everyday behaviours of vegans and transitioning vegans.

The guide refers to ‘Animal Rights Extremism’ as the ‘opposition to the status of animals as property aiming at violent means to end their use in scientific research and as food clothing and entertainment’. The guide states that this is threat because ‘[a]nimal rights activists are increasingly targeting a younger, more health conscious [sic] audience for recruitment. Graphic images of animals in distress can be emotionally persuasive.’ Listed behaviours to watch out for include:

  • looking at online material about animal welfare, and specifically the Save movement,
  • individuals taking part in protests against fox hunting,
  • adopting health conscious and environmentally sustainable lifestyles
  • expressing strong opposition to animal testing, fox hunting, zoos, the use of animals in circuses and wearing fur,
  • changes in behaviour such as no longer eating meat,
  • questioning others choice of products,
  • having stickers on personal possessions,
  • having embroidered patches on bags or clothing,
  • wearing animal welfare-themed t-shirts.[34]

These Counter Terrorism Policing guides are clearly very powerful, not to mention worrying. Those with safeguarding responsibilities can refer an individual of concern to the local authority Prevent programme. For example, a teacher or social worker can make a referral if, in their opinion, an individual is at risk of radicalisation. The Vegan Society has been made aware that professional vegans in public sector employment have been investigated and referred under the local authority Prevent programme by their non-vegan colleagues, simply for participating in peaceful environmental campaigning, or for talking about animal welfare and veganism.


Counter terrorism strategy aims to protect vulnerable people and prevent serious violent threats to national security. Veganism and vegans are not cited as problematic in counter terrorism policy, and prior to Context 2018 animal rights activists were thought to pose no more than, potentially, public order issues. However, Counter Terrorism Police have included vegans in published guidance for the purposes of Prevent awareness education and weaponised the everyday behaviours of law-abiding citizens.

Given that widespread dissemination of controversial Counter Terrorism Police guidance, the fact that a wide ranging variety of employees are required to attend Prevent training, and relevant bodies are required to put in place robust safeguarding polices, it is, perhaps, no surprise that vegans and transitioning vegans have been caught in the net of counter terrorism measures for pursuing or participating in what can safely be described as the normal everyday behaviours of many people who care, or grow to care about animal exploitation, animal suffering and the environment.

Having due regard to the need to prevent terrorism and being responsible for implementing robust safeguarding policies involves placing an appropriate amount of weight on the duty and exercising an amount of reason and discretion. The cases brought to the attention of The Vegan Society highlight failures in Counter Terrorism Police guidance and Prevent awareness training. There is little doubt that these failures have caused anxiety and stress endured by individual vegans who should never have been subject to or investigated under counter terrorism strategy.

These circumstances are relevant to a continuing discussion about framing terrorism, the definition of terms associated with, and the direction of counter terrorism strategy and policing.[35]

[10] P.108.

[11] Contest 2018 supersedes the former Prevent Strategy 2011.

[12] Contest 2018, p.10.

[13] Contest 2018, p.10.

[14] Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015. See schedule 6.

[17] See Parliamentary records: HC Deb 19 November 1984 vol 68 cc21-8

[18] Former Prime Minister, Rt Hon Tony Blair MP, and former Home Secretary, The Rt Hon David Blunkett MP, ‘Foreword’ to ‘Animal Welfare – Human Rights: Protecting People from Animal Rights Extremists’, Home Office, 2004.

[20] Animal Welfare – Human Rights: Protecting People from Animal Rights Extremists’, Home office, 2004, p.10.

[22] Animal Welfare – Human Rights: Protecting People from Animal Rights Extremists’, Home office, 2004.

[24] House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, ‘Roots of Violent Radicalisation Nineteenth Report of Session 2010–12’:

[25] HM Government, ‘CONTEST: The United Kingdom’s Strategy for Countering Terrorism, 2011’:; HM Government, ‘Counter-Extremism Strategy’ 2011.

[26] See the CT website: ‘Counter Terrorism Policing is a collaboration of UK police forces working with the UK intelligence community to help protect the public and our national security by preventing, deterring and investigating terrorist activity’:

[29] Counter Terrorism Police (South East), ‘Safeguarding Young People and Adults from Ideological Extremism: A Quick Reference Guide’ 2020: p. 2.

[31] Vikram Dodd ad Jamie Grierson, ‘Greenpeace Included With Neo-Nazis on UK Counter-Terror List’, The Guardian, January 17, 2020.

[32] Dean Haydon, Senior National Coordinator for Counter Terrorism Policing, on the use of the ‘signs and symbols’, ‘Our Focus is on Countering Terrorism, Not Lawful Protest’:

[33] Quoted in Vikram Dodd ad Jamie Grierson, ‘Greenpeace Included With Neo-Nazis on UK Counter-Terror List’, The Guardian, January 17, 2020. Due to controversy the guidance was recalled. See Commons discussion here:

[34] Counter Terrorism Police (South East), ‘Safeguarding Young People and Adults from Ideological Extremism: A Quick Reference Guide’ 2020:

[35] See multiple publications on this topic by Rachel Monaghan; John Hadley, ‘Animal Rights Extremism and the Terrorism Question’, Journal of Social Philosophy, 40(3): 363-378, (2009), and Kimberly E. McCoy, ‘Subverting Justice: An Indictment of the Animal Enterprise Act’, 14 Animal Law 53, (2007). On policing animal rights activists see Conor Woodman, ‘Spycops in Context: A Brief History of Political Policing in Britain’, (London: Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, 2018).


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