One day, many thousands of years ago, probably in Iraq, or somewhere else in the Fertile Crescent, a man approached a wolf; one with a friendly nature, less aggressive than its companions. He began to spend time with it and feed it, separating it from the pack and controlling its reproduction by selecting only the most docile pups. In short, he began to domesticate it, initiating the extraordinary relationship between humans and dogs that has continued ever since.
It was through this initial approach, followed by further domestication and the use of animals by humans, that the story of humanity changed, and the unstoppable evolutionary phenomenon that we rush to call ‘progress’ began. Animal domestication enabled an immense leap in the history of civilization. It was also this initial interaction that led humans to assume responsibility for another species of mammal subordinated to their needs.
For centuries, useful animals were considered little more than objects to be kept alive and fed (it didn’t matter how or what), and then slaughtered. It was only through the gradual rise of the “ethical” factor in social relationships, dating back only a few decades, that human attention returned to animals. This modern sensitivity is expressed in many ways: in lifestyles that increasingly abandon or limit the consumption of meat, in laws that protect animal welfare and in the broader attention now paid to animals of all types, wild and domesticated.
From around the post-war period onwards, a new phenomenon developed in the relationship between humans and animals: The arrival of industrial capitalism in the agricultural world and the distortion of methods of cultivation, food processing and raising livestock. The phenomenon has seen no limit to the exploitation of animals. Many tend to ignore the fact that this tragedy is taking place, often on our own doorstep. An enormous contradiction has ensconced itself in our contemporary world: Millions of pets are pampered inside our houses, while just around the corner, but out of sight, millions of pigs, chickens, cows and lambs are forced into lives of incredible suffering.
If we do not demand the closure of these concentration-camp-like farms, if we do not connect the meat we eat to the terrible fates to which we condemn innumerable animals, how can we call ourselves animal lovers? If we want to talk about animal welfare, closing factory farms must be the first, inescapable demand. We must reject the inevitable laments of those supporting the industry – the predicable arguments about the economy, food security and free enterprise, Our reply is simple: Apart from the obvious obscenity of intensive animal farming, a farm of 400 dairy or beef cattle is madness from all perspectives, employing barely a dozen workers and consuming immense quantities of land, water, energy and medicines. Would it not be better to divide such an enormous herd between ten or 15 small farms, maybe in marginal areas, teaching small-scale farmers good cultural and environmental practices? The question is, do we want to pursue the apparent lowest cost or the fairest cost, with small and medium multifunctional farms that consume and waste less? Every argument about animal welfare must start from this precondition: close mega factory farms. Animals are not objects. The well being of a civilized society is equal to the welfare it guarantees animals. All animals.
This article is a preview from the Slow Food Almanac, to be released in October.
Animal Welfare and Meat Consumption: Our Surveys
Thinking about the welfare of the animals whose products we eat-what they eat, where they live, their living space and their overall living conditions-is now inevitable. Particularly for those who, like Slow Food, consider the quality of food from a holistic perspective: from how it tastes to its environmental or social impact to its cultural value. For this reason, we have recently launched two surveys to receive feedback from Slow Food members and Presidia producers and to try to understand where the movement stands on the subject.
The first survey, reserved for European Slow Food members and reaching around 60,000 people, will be an important way to understand meat consumption habits, show how aware consumers are of the problem and how willing they are to change their food purchases in favor of products that adhere to labeling schemes certifying high welfare standards. We will be asking members what they think Slow Food’s involvement in the issue should be, and the results will be used to help us to guide our future activities and projects on the topic.
The second survey is instead aimed at producers who belong to European Slow Food Presidia. What problems are farmers facing when it comes to implementing animal welfare legislation? What measures are in place on their farms for the health and well being of their animals? What positive aspects already exist and where do we need to improve? The results will guide our activities and help us identify how we can work together with the producers to improve animal welfare in Presidia.
The surveys follow on from Slow Food’s activities over the past year. We have started to take an active role on the issue by teaming up with animal protection organizations and institutions working on animal welfare, publishing a guide to meat consumption and bringing experts and farmers together to discuss the issue at conferences, reflecting the growing attention amongst politicians, European institutions, public opinion and consumers.
Jacopo Ghione and Anne Marie Matarrese
Animal welfare will be the topic of a conference at Cheese, on Friday, September 20 at 2 p.m., where the results of the survey will be discussed. Results will then be published on the Slow Food website.
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