Rural campaigners have called for government action after a goat farmer was 'targeted' by vegan activists encouraging malicious online reviews.
The Gourmet Goat Farmer, a farm shop near Avebury that specialises in goat meat, was the subject of a controversial post in the private Facebook group Vegan Wiltshire.
A screenshot from the page showed group admin Ian Somerville say: “Can we have some negative reviews on this place, please?
“There’s no way an animal farm should be able to enjoy a five-star rating.”
In response, the Countryside Alliance, which is campaigning for the government to clamp down on fake reviews that target legitimate businesses, has reiterated its calls for it to be made an offence.
While the government have pledged a 'crackdown' on fake reviews, campaigners fear that the new legislation only allows perpetrators to be punished if they are running a competing business.
Countryside Alliance director of external affairs, Mo Metcalf-Fisher, said: “Cases such as this show why soliciting targeted harassment of law-abiding business owners and employees through malicious fake reviews should be an offence.
"We cannot emphasise enough just how much damage it can do to business owners mentally. That is what the sensible changes to the Online Safety Bill that we campaigned for would have done.
"The government must listen to the small businesses that are being victimised, and protect their wellbeing and livelihoods from these cranks."
Speaking to South West Farmer, Gourmet Goat Farmer owner Laura Corbett said she was shocked by the post and claims to have had "sleepless nights" over the situation.
She said: “We’re third-generation farmers doing our best to modernise, we left dairy eight years ago and have a growing herd of goats.
“My heart is with the livestock… the UK has some of the highest welfare standards in the world and our animals have a free-range lifestyle where they are only housed in winter.
“We do conservation work and encourage wildlife, and the livestock has regenerative purposes which helps the whole lifecycle.”
But while Ian Somerville did not accuse the business of substandard practices, he believes free-range farmers have a responsibility to speak out against industrial farming methods.
He added: “I see posts from firms like GGF far too frequently in my feed and I don't encourage them.
“Those who bring sentient beings into this world for the sole purpose of using them until they're worn out and then killing them are not on my list of favourite people.
“This kind of farm makes out that their animals benefit from being farmed there. Although they don't generally mention the larger, industrial kind of farms, the implication is that those farms are somehow wrong.
“After all, if you set a standard and you shout about it, you must believe that those who don't measure up are substandard.”
In a post on Facebook, Ms Corbett invited any critics to come and see the farm’s techniques, but says she received no response.
She added that other farms in the area have been the victim of negative reviews and fears that any rural business could end up on a “target list.”