Safeguard Animal Welfare

Animals should not pay the price of our food choices; beyond welfare, we owe animals respect.

Each year the welfare of millions of animals raised for their meat, milk and eggs for human consumption is often seriously compromised. The industrial approach, which has transformed the rearing of animals into “zootechnics,” the science of exploiting animal production, and the farmer into an “agricultural entrepreneur,” has transferred the industrial principles of economies of scale and mechanization to this sector.

We are increasingly exposed to the brutal reality of factory farming and its flagrant disregard for animal welfare. With more than 31 billion animals suffering the conditions of factory farming, we can find no ethical justification for funding a food system propped up by profit-driven suffering. Animals should not pay the price of our food choices; beyond welfare, we owe animals respect.

The current system poses a great threat to the livelihood of small-scale farmers who cannot keep up with the competition of big producers and the low prices of industrial meat production. Moreover, the relationship between farmers and their livestock, developed over thousands of years, has been thrown completely out of balance.

This transformation has had a drastic influence on the wellbeing of animals, which we know to be sentient beings, able to feel emotions, suffering, and stress. The conditions in which farmed animals are forced to live have serious repercussions: New diseases that can be transmitted to humans are developing, the overuse of antibiotics is leading to increased resistance among bacteria, and massive amounts of animal excrement are a source of pollution that affects the planet’s climate.

In general, Slow Food stresss that it is necessary to introduce measures that take animal welfare into consideration by supporting farmers who voluntarily choose to improve their standards beyond those required by national laws. Slow Food will furthermore strive for the full recognition of animal welfare as an element in future strategies on the sustainability of the food system.

At the EU level, Slow Food is convinced that greater coherence on food policies is needed and, in this respect, hopes that the Common Agricultural Policy measures on animal welfare will provide real support to farmers.

  • Discover here what does farmed animal welfare mean?

    Animal breeds

    Farming conditions must be adapted to the characteristics of the breed being reared. It makes no sense to raise a Friesian outdoors high up in the mountains, where a Grigio Alpina would thrive. Favoring local breeds, which have adapted to a specific geographic area over time, helps preserve biodiversity and demands farming practices that are more respectful of animal welfare.

    Diet

    Cattle, sheep and goats are herbivores. Pigs and poultry eat primarily plants and our food scraps. Though the extent depends on the latitude and terrain, outdoor grazing has always been an essential element of their food supply. In the past 60 years, the diet of livestock in factory farms has been based essentially on the provision of highenergy feed, made up of soy, corn and other grains, but also leftovers or waste from industrial processing, urea, corn silage, fillers and supplements. This is a way to cheaply and quickly fatten up animals destined for a market where all that counts is price. In fact, diet is a fundamental aspect of animal welfare. Just like people, animals should eat high-quality food, with a balanced diet suitable for their age, function, physical development and physiological state. Their diet should be based only on fresh forage, hay from meadows with a large number of different grasses and potentially a supplement of quality grains and legumes, as locally sourced as possible. This is an unavoidable precondition for the production of quality meat or milk. Slow Food opposes any form of force-feeding and excessive force.

    Reproduction

    Fertilization should take place naturally. Artificial insemination might be allowed in some cases, when it is not possible naturally, but transplanting embryos should always be avoided. Reproduction should take place on the farm (cow-calf line) and the calves should be weaned alongside their mothers (including using suckler cows). This is very important for their health and as well for the physical growth of the animal.

    Farm management

    For a good part of the year (depending on the place and climate), the farm should have external grazing areas with shelter for bad weather, so that the animals can feed on fresh forage and express the behavior typical of their species (running, jumping, scratching, rooting, playing, breeding, socializing etc.). The sheltered space available to the animals must be adequately large for the breed. The animals should not be stabled permanently in pens, but allowed to move freely outdoors or in stalls for an adequate amount of time during the year. The stall should have enough natural light and be well ventilated. Litters should be clean and made from straw or other natural material.

    Mutilations

    All mutilations should be avoided. Dehorning is admissible only when there are real problems in managing the herd, justifying in a detailed manner the benefits that dehorning and/or the cauterization of the horn bud will bring to the herd and the farmer. Painful operations on the animals must be carried out under anesthesia, and must be performed by competent technicians. The cauterization of the horn bud is only permitted when the calf is less than three weeks old, while castration is allowed in the first days or weeks of life, depending on the breed, but only when carried by authorized persons using local anesthetic.

    Veterinary care

    Sick or injured animals must be cared for under the supervision of veterinarians who are also specialized in alternative medicine, preferably using such therapies (phytotherapy, homeopathy, etc.) instead of conventional medicines obtained by chemical synthesis. Antibiotics and antiparasitics can be used only if absolutely necessary and never preventively or to boost growth. Withdrawal times should be double what is legally required. The use of substances to stimulate growth or production is not allowed.

    Transport and slaughter

    The slaughterhouse should be as small as possible (the ideal would be a farm having its own slaughtering facilities) and as close to the farm as possible. The animals should be transported to the slaughterhouse in a suitable vehicle and by trained staff. The instruments used should not cause suffering, stress or fear. The animals should be stunned before being killed.

    Relationship with the farmer

    Domesticated animals are used to the presence of humans, having developed a mutually beneficial relationship with them over thousands of years. In exchange for care, protection and nutrition, the animal gives its labor, milk and meat for people to eat and fertilizer for the fields. The animals used to live close to us, often sharing the same shelter. These days, this relationship has totally changed, but the animals’ need for a bond and a relationship of trust with the farmer is still the same. The farmer, in the end, has the same need, because the division of labor in large farms, the quest for increasingly high yields, not to mention the work in large industrial slaughterhouses, is creating alienation in the farm workers. Without a bond, there is no more “farming,” just an “industry” of “animal production.” This bond should grow stronger every day, thanks to the presence of a farmer who is caring for, feeding and dedicating attention to the animals.

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