The French town of Calais has been no stranger to public disorder in recent years, with recurrent battles between police and migrants or striking ferry workers making headlines across the world.
But now the port town is facing a bizarre new threat, according to its council: an alliance of hunters and farmers seeking to take revenge on vegans bent on turning the largely carnivorous French off meat.
The risk of trouble was so great that the council decided to cancel a vegan festival due to be held in the town centre on September 8.
The move was the latest episode in an ongoing battle between vegan militants and butchers and other providers of meat in the north of France.
So far it has been radical non-meat eaters who have been on the offensive, vandalising several butchers’ shops in the region and elsewhere in recent months, prompting the French federation of butchers to issue a plea for police protection.
But now the Calais mayor's office said it had to ban the upcoming vegan event to "guarantee public safety" and to protect organisers and visitors from the "risk of an outbreak of public disorder."
It provided no details but said authorities had become aware of a "series of operations aimed at stirring up trouble.”
Farplace, the association that organised the festival, was more specific about where the threats were coming from. It claimed on the event’s Facebook page that town hall officials had told it that “hunters and farmers had come together to make very clear threats about what might happen if the event was held.”
The head of the butchers’ federation in the region, Laurent Rigaud, said that if the festival had gone ahead, “We were ready to organise a big barbecue (in Calais), along with hunters, farmers, and restaurateurs.”
He said about 400 people had said they would turn out for the meat-eating event, but insisted that they would have remained peaceful. “We wanted to… show that we are not the violent ones, but that there are extremists among the vegans,” he told Le Figaro newspaper.
The festival organisers are currently looking for another venue to rent “outside of Calais” to host the event. With just three per cent of the population vegetarian or vegan in France, the notion of dropping meat from the menu has been slow to catch on and even frowned upon in a country proud of its boeuf bourguignon and foie gras.
French butchers have been subject of some scrutiny in recent months following a spate of hard-hitting reports from abattoirs and battery farms revealing apparently inhumane conditions in which animals are being kept and killed.