Armed police on Victoria Embankment in Westminster, London. File picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP

Counter-terrorism police have been called in to help protect people working in the meat industry from increasingly extreme protests by militant vegans.

Farms, abattoirs and factories have been subjected to vandalism, and owners and staff sent death threats during an alarming increase in incidents. In one case, protesters accused Jewish workers at a kosher abattoir of being ‘Nazis’.

Police already have a long history of dealing with animal-rights activists who target those involved in the meat industry. But now officers are concentrating on vegans.

The vegan food industry has seen a rapid growth in popularity, with leading supermarkets now stocking vegan ranges. The market is estimated to be worth £443 million in Britain alone. But a minority of vegan campaigners want the UK to become a meat-free society and are going to extreme lengths to achieve their goal.

The National Pig Association and the British Poultry Council are among the organisations being advised by specialist police.

Leading food writer William Sitwell recently described the vitriol he faced after making a flippant comment about vegans.

‘There were threats to rape my wife, tie her up and cut off her genitals,’ he told this newspaper.

According to an investigation by Channel 4 Dispatches, Jewish workers were branded Nazis when members of vegan group SAVE began protesting outside kosher Kedassia abattoir in East London two years ago. Some broke in and daubed the walls of the abattoir with anti-Semitic slogans, according to the programme, and one protester yelled: ‘It’s a holocaust. You Nazis!’

SAVE admitted on Facebook it was responsible for daubing Holocaust images, initially suggesting the use of the term was justified, but it later apologised.

Vegan charity Viva!, which boasts £1 million in donations and counts Sir Paul McCartney and Joanna Lumley among its high-profile supporters, has also attracted controversy.

Last year, its exposé of squalid conditions at Somerset’s Lambrook Pig Farm caused its closure. Now a Warwickshire farmer claims he has been forced to turn his farm into ‘Fort Knox’ after the group held protests outside. Brian Hobill says a pig’s skull was left outside his family home at Hogwood Pig Farm in Oxhill.

‘There’s been harassment, intimidation, hate mail,’ said Mr Hobill, who has spent about £50,000 on heavy-duty security fencing. ‘They want every livestock producer put out of business – pigs, dairy sheep. I think we have better conditions than most nursing homes.’

Officials who investigated the farm found no breaches of animal welfare.

Mail On Sunday