“Today, the majority of large animals on Planet Earth are domesticated farm animals that live and die as cogs in the wheels of industrial agriculture. The disappearance of wildlife is a calamity of unprecedented magnitude, but the plight of the planet’s majority population—the farm animals—is cause for equal concern. In recent years there is growing awareness of the conditions under which these animals live and die, and their fate may well turn out to be the greatest crime in human history.”
Yuval Noah Harari
Animals feel joy, pain, stress, and discomfort. Industrial farming systems, however, have stopped treating them as living creatures and instead transformed them into machines to produce milk, meat, and eggs.
They are shut by their hundreds or thousands in huge sheds, deprived of pasture and the ability to express their natural behaviors: Chickens cannot scratch in the dirt, pigs cannot root, roll in the mud, or play in the water, and cows cannot graze on grass.
The relationship between farmer and livestock, which evolved over millennia as animals were domesticated, has been completely overturned by the industrialization of agriculture, developed to satisfy the increasing demand for meat and milk around the world.
Intensive livestock farming not only pollutes the environment, consumes too much water and soil, and reduces plant and animal biodiversity; it also causes untold suffering to animals, forcing them to live short lives of misery and stress, and transforming them into a simple means of production whose only purpose is profit.
In order to change the system, we must produce and consume less meat and less milk, focusing instead on quality.
Respect for animal welfare is not just a legal requirement or an essential condition for obtaining quality meat and the best milk and cheeses. These foods cannot be called “fair” if their producers have not respected the welfare of their animals and taken care to give them a decent life.
Slow Food has included specific rules for animal welfare in the guidelines for Presidia. The key points are as follows:
- Ensure outdoor grazing for a good part of the year, and whenever the weather allows.
- Provide adequate, ample, and comfortable shelter, without cages.
- Provide only quality cereals and legumes to supplement grazing.
- Allow the young to stay with their mothers for as long as necessary.
- Avoid any kind of mutilation.
- Treat the animals with natural remedies (homeopathy and phytotherapy) and use antibiotics only when absolutely necessary (with withdrawal periods double those specified by law).
- Avoid long travel times to reach the slaughterhouse.
- Use practices in slaughtering that reduce pain and stress.
- Establish a strong relationship with the animals—the farmer should be a figure who is present multiple times a day, feeding them, caring for them, and looking after their welfare.
Working and living alongside cattle, pigs, goats, and other animals has been part of human culture for millennia, and this relationship has shaped our very existence. It is because of this history and the link that we have with domesticated animals that we must give them the best possible lives.