Animal Welfare at the Heart of Sustainability

25 Oct 2014

Small-scale farmers, experts, civil society and intergovernmental organizations came together on Thursday at the conference, “Animal Welfare: The Pleasure of Respecting Rights,” and highlighted the central role that animal welfare plays in sustainable development. The speakers of the conference, jointly organised by Slow Food, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the European Commission, each dicussed how better animal welfare can contribute to securing environmental and economic sustainability and promote social justice.


The current production of meat in fact has a big impact on the environment, from the emission of greenhouse gasses to the depletion of water resources, but also affects the livelihood of rural communities and the health of consumers around the globe. The conference was one of three events to take place during the Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre dedicated specifically to animal welfare and meat consumption, issues which are becoming increasingly central to the work of Slow Food and its members.


Piero Sardo, president of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity began proceedings by discussing the ethical implications of current methods of production,  “In forty years we will be ashamed of the way we have treated animals”, said Sardo, who underlined the importance of maintaining an open discussion and debate on the subject among producers and consumers alike.


For Andrea Gavinelli of the European Commission, animal welfare is a societal concern and it is important that it be included in the sustainability agenda. “The welfare of animals is not only about changing values, but about added value for all those involved”, concluded Gavinelli.


Daniela Battaglia of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations instead discussed the ways in which animal welfare is directly related to such fundamental rights as the right to food, biodiversity, sustenance, work and overall social justice. FAO data in fact indicates that up to 850 million people are currently malnourished and for many of these people, particularly in rural communities,  the welfare of their animals is inextricably linked with their own livelihood. “The food and the way we eat is not a private issue anymore, we have to take into consideration the effects on the global population, the environment and animals,” urged Battaglia.


Joe Maxwell of the Humane Society International, and a fourth generation farmer, spoke out against the ‘cheap meat’ industry, which in fact has a very high cost on the health of humans, animals and the planet itself. He also emphasized the need to protect animals and support small-scale farmers who are at risk of being pushed out by industrial productions.


David Pritchard, expert in animal welfare science and practice, explained how good animal welfare practices can increase productivity while reducing carbon costs. Even just a small investment for farmers, such as a short training course for those handling animals, can have long-lasting results in their activities and a big impact on their farms.


Two pig farmers also took to the stage to share their experiences and encourage producers to consider moving towards better welfare systems. Annechien ten Have-Mellema who runs a family operated pig farm in the Netherlands and is a member of the Expert Group on Altermatives to Surgical Castration of Pigs, brought her experience to the table and outlined her five guiding principles towards ending castration: people, pigs, planet, profit and pleasure. “Is animal welfare sustainable for farmers?” she asked and answered with a resounding “Yes!”.


Rubens Valentini, a pig farmer from Brazil, instead spoke about his own move from the use of gestation crates to group housing for sows and the way this benefits the animals as well as farmers themselves. “A more modern, efficient and respectful system is a win-win situation”, he argued. But how to convince producers and persuade those who do not want to be persuaded? “The argument, however logically and factually indisputable, has to resonate with the recipients. So let’s keep on telling our story, a good story, in an ever better way”, he concluded.


The conference was part of an on-going collaboration between Slow Food, the FAO and the European Commission who have been working together over the past two years to encourage a dialogue on animal welfare among small-scale farmers, consumers and institutions. 


Find out more about Slow Food’s work on animal welfare.


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