Shocking footage revealing the unacceptable conditions which pigs are subjected to on some intensive farms, was broadcast on prime-time Italian TV. But an alternative form of sustainable farming, which Slow Food promotes through its Slow Meat campaign and by working alongside farmers, does exist.
The report was part of an undercover night-time investigation by AnnoUno’s TV crew in one of the many intensive pig farms around the Po Valley. The images showed sows confined in gestation crates with no possibility of moving, kept in unacceptable hygiene conditions and forced to endure immeasurable suffering…
Back in the TV studio, Umberto Veronesi, the most renowned Italian oncologist, issued a terse warning: “What we have just seen are not animals, but reproductive machines part of a mutually-destructive game. If humanity wants to survive, it is inevitable for us to become vegetarian. Intensive farms are a ticking time bomb for the planet.” With these words, the debate between vegans, vegetarians, animal rights activists and carnivores kicked-off till late into the night, demonstrating that animal welfare and meat consumption are issues increasingly under the media and public opinion’s attention.
As we have often reiterated, current meat consumption rates are increasingly unsustainable: consumption in fact increased five-fold in the second half of the 20th century, with these rates set to double within 2050. At the same time, judging by the level of indignation expressed through social media or on Italian TV, it would seem that the number of vegetarians in Italy, which includes 4 million people (or 7% of the population), is set to quickly increase.
Slow Food continues to promote a different ‘recipe’, or approach, through the Slow Meat campaign, which both supports a different type of farming (sustainable, virtuous and respectful towards the welfare of animals) and encourages reducing the consumption of meat, but of better quality. Our campaign aims to fill the increasingly large divide between humans and the land and between humans and animals. As evidenced by Sergio Capaldo, founder of La Granda and coordinator of the Piedmontese Cattle Slow Food Presidium, during the show, “The problem is that there is no knowledge of the countryside: only 1.5% of the Italian population today currently farms land. This is an unsustainable figure, which leads to the dissemination of intensive farms with negative impacts on the environment, animal welfare and our health. We must choose higher quality meat and be willing to pay a higher price for it.”
“Higher price” has a precise meaning for us. It indicates meat from an animal farmed in a way that is respectful of its welfare, fed with high quality grass and forage and raised according to strict guidelines. Animals farmed this way must be paid for at higher prices, fairer prices. Meat from intensive farms, on the other hand, has revolutionized the consumption system, quickly becoming an ever-present food sold at low prices, while its costs (environmental, for instance) is unsustainable. Meat sold at particularly low prices is often masking cruel conditions in which the animals have been raised.
Once the wave of uproar caused by the report has faded after a couple of days, what matters is what we, as consumers, can do to change the meat industry, and there is in fact a lot that can be done. Every time we shop, we privilege one method of farming over another. We can buy low priced meat from intensive farms, such as those seen in the report, or we can spend a little more to support a different type of virtuous farming (in the case of pigs, we should privilege farms with large spaces possibly outdoor, who don’t practice mutilations and choose local breeds, higher quality feed and where the animal’s growth rate is spread over longer periods of time), that Slow Food and many other organizations are committed to promoting through their work.
Only once we give meat its proper value, paying a higher and fairer price for farmers, will we be able to expect stricter animal welfare laws. We must get used to the idea that a system where a kilo of cheap chicken costs less than a kilo of peppers, never rewards serious and conscientious farmers. Let’s learn to change our approach to meat, eating less of it, but of better quality: a fundamental step towards making a real change.
To view AnnoUno’s report on intensive farms, click here.
To learn more about what we mean by “virtuous farm” watch our video on the Kintoa Basque Pig Slow Food Presidium.