A court in northern France handed jail terms to two vegan activists on Monday for a string of attacks on butchers, shops and restaurants selling meat, after a trial lawyers said was the first of its kind in the country.
The court in the northern city of Lille handed the pair prison terms of 10 and six months over the attacks on businesses in the north of France from November 2018 to February 2019.
The couple, a 23-year-old youth worker named Cyrile and a 29-year-old employee at a kindergarten called Mathilde, were convicted of criminal damage after breaking windows and starting fires at butchers, fishmongers, restaurants and shops in the area.
They are likely to escape having to serve time behind bars under French law that allows jail sentences of less than two years to be converted into community-based service.
"We needed an example to be made of them so that these actions by small groups with extremist and profoundly violent ideas come to an end," the head of the local butchers' federation, Laurent Rigaud, said in a statement.
The activists are from a movement that describes itself as being "anti-speciesist", which rejects the idea of humans sitting at the top of the species hierarchy and consuming animals.
Two other accused, including a woman accused of complicity in the attacks, were given suspended jail terms of six months.
The court also ordered the payment of compensation to the victims, whose businesses suffered damage estimated at several million euros.
In the trial, Cyrile and Mathilde, who both had no previous criminal record, admitted taking part in nocturnal raids where they broke windows or scrawled slogans like "Stop Speciesism" and "Assassins" on businesses selling meat.
Last June, French butchers wrote to the interior ministry seeking increased protection after several businesses were vandalised across the country, often splashed with fake blood.
As eating and health habits change in traditionally carnivorous France, meat sales have been falling and the animal rights movement is increasingly active, led by campaigners including actress Brigitte Bardot.
But the CFBCT butchers' confederation, which represents 18,000 businesses, has been fighting back, notably backing a campaign to have the culture of the butcher in France inscribed as global heritage by UNESCO.
Butchers' shops selling a wide variety of meats and cuts are a mainstay of French shopping streets throughout the country with family-run businesses still managing to survive.