Every year the welfare of millions of animals raised for their meat, milk and eggs is seriously compromised. For years, Slow Food has stressed the need to introduce measures that take animal welfare into account, supporting farmers who choose to improve their standards beyond what is required by national laws. An issue dear to the Ppillow project, which presented some activities during the international event Cheese 2021: Consider the animals.
The industrial approach has transformed animal breeding into “zootechnics”, i.e. the science of exploiting animal production, and breeders into “agricultural entrepreneurs”. This is not just a lexical observation of style, but a change of substance that has had implications capable of upsetting the sense of the relationship with animals and even distorting it. This approach has transferred to this sector the industrial principles of economies of scale and mechanization. But running farms like assembly lines is inhumane and, moreover, expensive. A heavy bill that we all pay, not only in terms of animal welfare, but also in terms of disease, poor food quality, environmental damage and climate crisis.
The network of breeders belonging to the Slow Food Presidia projects has long been a protagonist of virtuous choices: the producers’ reference farms are small-scale, semi-extensive or extensive, organic or low input. They often preserve valuable native breeds. Other producers in the network still have to make a path of improvement, in search of new solutions more appropriate to guarantee the animals a dignified life.
“The current system – explains Jacopo Goracci, zootechnician of Tenuta di Paganico, during a conference at Cheese 2021 – represents a great threat to the livelihoods of small-scale farmers who cannot keep up with the competition of huge productions and low prices given by the economies of scale implemented in the livestock sector. In addition, the relationship between farmers and their livestock, developed over thousands of years, has been completely unbalanced”.
It is also from these assumptions that the Ppillow project was developed: funded by the European Union, it aims to build solutions to improve the welfare of poultry and pigs reared in organic and free-range farming systems with low environmental impact.
There are two peculiarities of the project. The first is the participatory approach, which involves all actors in the production chain from farmers to consumers (including breeders, hatcheries, suppliers, processors, retailers…), citizens, scientists and policy makers, to propose and study levers to improve welfare. The second the ability to provide a combination of practical solutions for welfare improvement that can be applied on a pan-European basis with specific adaptations depending on the target market.
Beyond easy slogans on animal welfare, therefore, there was no better stage for the project than Cheese 2021: Consider the animals, to organize some moments of deeper reflection on the topic.
One of the topics discussed in the conference “Before cold cuts, consider the animals” was the experimentation of on-farm slaughtering, a project of Tenuta di Paganico, where the director Jacopo Goracci participated in the work of Task 1 of the project, collaborating in various focus groups and NPGs. Thanks to a collaboration with the Faculty of Agriculture of Pisa and the support of the Tuscany Region, the farm has built an equipped trailer – built in Germany – to carry out on-farm slaughtering of Cinta Senese and crossbred pigs, bred by Tenuta di Paganico in a semi-extensive state. Thanks to a temporary authorization protocol agreed upon with the public health authorities, the stunning and hyugulation phases can be carried out on the farm, while the subsequent cycles of depilation, evisceration, division into halves and post-mortem hygiene control take place at the slaughterhouse. This operation allows the pigs to avoid the stress of transport and slaughtering operated by unknown operators, in a place not known to the animals and where, unfortunately, the respect of this crucial phase of life cannot be guaranteed, especially in subjects decidedly not inclined to handling and mechanization. The expected results obviously include an increase in the quality of the meat, which is then processed directly on the farm. An experience that Slow Food intends to spread further in its network so that more and more farmers can adopt it.
Animal Welfare in the Analysis of the Production Specifications of European GIs
The international event was also an opportunity to present Slow Food’s latest research on European geographical indications for cured meats: an analysis of the production specifications of 176 PDOs/PGIs in the pig supply chain. The main focus of the research, in fact, are the geographical indications that should protect and support traditional European food products, defend diversity and reward quality. A close look, however, focused mostly on product specifications, reveals many gray areas, and ultimately a discouraging picture when it comes to sustainability, animal welfare and consumer health.
“European regulations will be reviewed, and our hope is that the new specifications will be more rigorous on aspects related to how animals are raised and fed, if they are to focus on sustainability and quality and stand out in the global marketplace,” said Raffaella Ponzio, Slow Meat campaign coordinator. “Protecting a traditional product means guaranteeing the production conditions that have determined its reputation and identity. We must not forget that animal welfare and nutrition are as fundamental to giving salumi their identity and guaranteeing their sensory quality as the skills involved in their processing.
With this research, Slow Food has reiterated the importance not only of using local and indigenous breeds, but also of production protocols that specifically include indications on how the animals are raised, with greater respect for their welfare; higher quality and locally sourced feed; and slaughtering close to the farm.
PIGLOW, una app per valutare il benessere animale
During the last day of the international event, a round table was held where about fifty breeders, technicians, representatives of institutions, discussed – also in the presence of the public – what animal welfare means. During the meeting, the Ppilow project and the PIGLOW pig welfare assessment app were officially presented.
“Animal welfare – explained Anna Zuliani, veterinarian of the Association Veterinarians Without Borders (VSF) and consultant of Slow Food for livestock projects and the Slow Meat campaign – cannot be evaluated as a given in itself, apart from the welfare of humans and the environmental context in which they are raised. The entire Ppilow project is in fact inspired by the principles of OneWelfare, which sees welfare as the result of an optimal relationship between these subjects.
The development of an app intends to contribute to the monitoring and therefore to the continuous improvement of animal welfare on the farm. These applications are obviously a tool, probably not yet perfect, but essential to give more awareness to farmers of their farm situation and a cue on possible improvements to be implemented. It is based not on the evaluation of breeding facilities but on the observation of animal-based indicators (lameness, ear and tail injuries, animal cleanliness, behavior, etc.).
Why download the app and do this analysis? To observe the animals, take a picture of the company’s situation, plan actions for improvement, have a greater awareness of the methods of welfare assessment (to align themselves with the controls carried out by the authorities and be able to interact with those responsible for checks), tell consumers about their commitment to animal welfare, who are increasingly interested in this topic.
The conference was also attended by the president of Federbio, Maria Grazia Mammuccini.
“We have signed a collaboration agreement with Slow Food on many issues on which our positions are close. One of these is zootechnics and animal welfare. It is essential – explained Maria Grazia Mammuccini – not only to monitor companies, but also to help them on the path towards a more conscious animal welfare. In fact, this welfare is not only related to how well the animals bred in a given farm are doing, but it also means disease prevention, a stronger bond with the land and respect for the planet in general.
Agricultural systems and animals are living systems, complex and highly integrated with the environment of cultivation and breeding. The illusion that we can force these cycles by simplifying these relationships on a large scale and ignoring the consequences, as if agriculture were an open-air factory, must end. There is a problem of environmental impact, spread of disease, quality of food, but also cruelty and inhumanity to animals that is intolerable. Concrete alternative models must be proposed. Climate change has made us violently aware of all this. We need to hold firm to the principles and values that make organic agriculture perceived as a modern agriculture that reconciles environmental and social sustainability with economic sustainability. We certainly need a lot of innovation, including technical innovation, but strongly anchored to the principles that are enshrined in European legislation, to maintain a clear distinction between certified organic products and those of conventional agriculture, starting from the genetics of plants and animals. This means to have soils no longer decertified by chemical agriculture, but rich in organic matter and alive because they are endowed with useful microorganisms, so as to develop agriculture and breeding in environments dense with biodiversity characterized by genetic variability suited to local conditions and to the new situations we have to face”.
“In this precise historical moment – said Marcello Volanti, veterinarian and Ecor NaturaSì consultant – animals are in a sort of economic sphere, they are part of a production system that no longer recognizes them. We must find the right balance between humans and animals, between humanity and the planet, in general, as well as between the needs of species and economic needs. Experience in the field is certainly fundamental and breeders – who are aware – know when their animals as well as their entire company are doing well”.
Slow Food will work for the full recognition of animal welfare as an element of future strategies on the sustainability of the food system,” concluded Raffaella Ponzio. “Already in the past Slow Food has participated in various campaigns, European and otherwise, such as End of Cage, which has collected one and a half million signatures for the ban on cages and is committed in the future to fighting on issues such as animal transport, as well as, at the level of association projects, in the preservation of animal biodiversity, the reduction of meat consumption and the enhancement of those who breed in a sustainable way with the Slow Meat campaign.
Read more at www.ppilow.eu