The pandemic has forced us in various and different forms to stay more in the present, an act that brings with it greater attention to what surrounds us and that could lead back to a pivotal question of existence: what happens beyond what I see? What are the stories hidden behind the objects, the products that surround me and which I therefore chose? Today, one day before Easter, on Bloom as you are we want to talk about conscious consumption, labeling, sustainability, farms and of course animals, their right to live a happy existence. We were, for the most part, accustomed at an early age to seeing the eggs arrive from the refrigerated counter, the milk from the carton and then fortunately discover, thanks to school books, stories and a few trips to educational farms, what the real reality is. Behind everything we eat there is a process, there are possibilities, there are above all lives and also emotions. In everyday life, the perception of all this is always very far away. Comfortable and a little lazy, we benefit from the final product. But in the face of climate change, the pollution caused mainly by intensive farming, our lifestyle no longer sustainable for the planet we had to take a step back, stay in the present, and observe with responsibility the effects of our actions. We have had to realize that this can no longer work, that everything is interdependent and that our happiness is not separate from that of others, including animals. In this regard, I interviewed Viviana Vignola, Campaigns Manager of CIWF Italia (Compassion in World Farming) the only Italian non-profit association that works exclusively for the protection and welfare of animals raised for food. CIWF’s mission is to put an end to intensive farming, the greatest cause of cruelty to animals on the planet. At the same time, CIWF promotes farming practices that respect the welfare of animals, the environment and people. With Viviana we talked about all this and much more. Unity generates strength. Many voices that aim at a common goal can trigger a truly immense wave of change that can reshape the course of history.
There are many campaigns you are promoting for animal welfare. One of them is dedicated to labeling. How can we recognize the true origin of a product? And how much can this gesture affect the production chain?
It can have a huge impact and it is precisely for this reason that we must enable the consumer to know the origin of what he is buying. At the moment, the information on the labels of products of animal origin, therefore meats, cheeses and yogurt, is very often vague, misleading and can therefore create confusion or be misleading. Advertisements also tend to promote products of animal origin by showing us green pastures, but today there is no way to know if cows, for example, have seen grass throughout their lives. So the truth is that today the consumer is not really free to choose whether to favor a dairy product from cows reared on pasture rather than from cows always reared indoors. Precisely because of this lack of total transparency on what the farming method really is, we at CIWF Italia have launched a petition addressed to the Ministers of Health and Agricultural Policies in which we ask to start a process for the definition of a unique national labeling that specifies the farming method. At the moment this indication is only for eggs thanks to a European regulation EC 2295 of 2003 which allows you to know if the eggs you buy come from an organic farm, on the ground or in a cage. What I like to remember when I talk about this campaign is that we have not only limited ourselves to asking the policy to intervene on the labeling system but we have rolled up our sleeves to advance, with another partner organization, Legambiente, a proposal that concerns the specific pigs and dairy cows in order to distinguish the different farming methods. For example: for dairy cows it would be important to have labels that indicate whether a cow is raised on pasture or in free housing or in fixed housing because there are cows that unfortunately in their life are kept constantly tied. Finding the farming method on the label means knowing the welfare potential of that animal. It is this transparency that allows the consumer to become truly aware and send a clear message to the industry. Now that we have a Ministry for the ecological transition, we think it is important to understand that the transition to non-intensive farming cannot take place without giving support to virtuous breeders who already take care of the well-being of the animal and to those who want to work to improve. Clear labeling would also make it possible to enhance these realities. There is still a long way to go but we are very combative. For those who want more information on our site there is the labeling item where you can read all the passages of this campaign.
So today, since there are only regulated egg hens farms, does this mean that, for example, organic milk or ricotta may not be such?
All organic productions comply with European legislation and are certified accordingly. Our campaign is not aimed at organic but at all other products for which we do not have a unambiguous and clear national labeling system. On our web site you can download a Guide to Conscious Consumption where we give some indications on how to choose meat, fish, eggs, milk and cheeses from more animal-friendly farming systems.
This inevitably leads to very accurate information, to continually investigate and not to be passive consumers if we really want to protect the well-being of the animal, the environment and also ours as a result. Another campaign is Unsustainable on the basis of which you have brought six requests to the Italian government to stop building new intensive farms. What does it consist of and why, even knowing how harmful it is, do we continue to adopt this method?
The intensification began decades ago. The idea was that producing cheap food would help fight world hunger. It was thought that this system, based on the intensification of agricultural production, in particular livestock, was able to guarantee universal and democratic access to food, encouraging the consumption of meat and products of animal origin. But according to the latest UN report on global food security, nearly 690 million people on the planet suffered from hunger in 2019: 10 million more than the previous year and almost 60 million more than in five years. does. Only now are we realizing the impacts that intensive production and farming have and are causing. These are strongly negative impacts that fall on the environment, human health and animal welfare. It is a complex global system and today reversing the course is not easy. Our request is that they no longer be built and that the transition for those already existing towards more respectful ways of animal welfare be supported. Fortunately, it is a current topic on which we are discussing going beyond appearances. Often Made in Italy is perceived as a guarantee of quality but the reality is that in Italy, as well as in most industrialized countries, the most widespread type of farming is precisely the intensive one. This is why we started the Unsustainable campaign. It is necessary to know and realize that intensive farms are industrial warehouses that contain tens of thousands of animals all crowded together. The impact is significant not only in terms of suffering for the animals but also for the entire surrounding area. We therefore decided to collect the testimonies of citizens who “from below” have set up committees precisely to oppose this situation. We tell the misery, the destruction, the very serious impacts on health and the environment that the mega intensive farms entail. (More info here: https://www.ciwf.it/campagne/insostenibile-la-battaglia-dal-basso-contro-allevamenti-intensivi/)
What kind of stories emerge from these experiences and what results are you achieving through your commitment?
In 2018 with some citizens’ committees we managed to prevent the construction of four mega farms in the Po Delta. In 2020 we collected three stories: one in Emilia-Romagna, one in Veneto and one in the Marche. All tell of the inconveniences that intensive farming involves. It has caused health problems, the devaluation of the territory and a devastating impact on people’s quality of life. It also poses clear biosecurity risks. Let me give you another example of a recent case concerning the Municipality of Lozzo Atestino in the Euganean Hills, a beautiful area in itself. This citizens’ committee is struggling because a factory that started with a shed of 100,000 hens now has 800,000. We are therefore talking about 800.00 crammed hens. Now he would like to further expand these sheds by adding three to the four already existing to house 1 million 300,000 hens. Local citizens tell us that there are dusts, ammonia, processes such as pollination of plants are altered, neighboring crops are damaged because then ammonia and dust settle with the humidity of the night. This mega farm must also be illuminated. So it’s like having a stadium in the open countryside, an eyesore. The impact is not only aesthetic. They told us how the stench reaches the village where the children play and how it is disabling for social relationships. It is so strong that they must therefore live with the windows always closed. We sent several emails to our supporters asking for visibility on this story by asking them: “What if they opened one near your house?”. In addition to identification, what we must understand is that intensive farming is a detriment to everyone, it affects everyone, not just the citizens concerned. The environmental impact extends on a large scale beyond the territory in which it resides. What we work on as CIWF nationally and internationally is a systematic transition. Switching from intensive farming to regenerative farming.
What you are telling confirms even more strongly the concept of interdependence. Another burning issue concerning intensive farming is the use of cages. A terrible way that deprives the animal of all dignity and condemns it to a life of suffering alone. Twenty Italian associations have joined your European End the Cage Age campaign which is fighting to completely eliminate their use. Where are we and how long do we need to get out of this terrible tunnel?
End the Cage Age means we put an end to the age of cages. We hope to be the generation that will put an end to the use of cages on farms. It is a campaign that I have followed from the beginning and that is requiring immense efforts. CIWF has set up an organizing committee that presented the European Citizens’ Initiative at the European level. Subsequently, the campaign developed thanks to the joint work of 170 associations, of which twenty are Italian, coordinated internationally by CIWF. It is a coalition effort between animal rights, environmentalist and consumer rights associations. What we are asking for is an end to the use of any type of cage to raise animals for food purposes, so we are talking about hens, rabbits, calves, sows, quails, geese and ducks. We have achieved great things: to be heard, at least one million certified signatures must be collected throughout the European Union. We have collected about 1.4 million. Since this instrument, the European Citizens’ Initiative, was established, over 70 initiatives have been promoted but only six have managed to reach the required number of signatures. We are now in a crucial moment because we are awaiting the response from the European Commission. There are no guarantees of success. We must continue to put pressure on the European Commission, continue to influence it positively, so that the issue of cages on farms is taken into consideration and responded to with a concrete legislative act.
You can read on your site that Jane Goodall is also supporting your commitment by corroborating your claims with scientific data.
Yes we have had two fantastic assists in recent times: the help of 140 scientists, including ethologist, UN messenger of peace and PhD Jane Goodall, who have signed a letter remarking that cages are a rough form. cruelty to animals and explain which are the viable alternatives for farms.
It was very important to us. We often hear: “Ah but you care about animals but you don’t have scientific facts to support you.” This letter responds to these objections and gains further validity with someone of the caliber of Jane Goodall. The second assist was a letter from the companies. Another objection that is often made to us is that there are no economically viable alternatives and that we are only idealists. Instead, very large companies such as Ikea, Ferrero and Barilla have written a letter to the Commission in this regard, testifying that there are real and feasible alternatives to cages, taking the case of chicken breeding. Now we await the response from the EU Commission. We must continue to make our voices heard. We will mobilize with our supporters in the coming weeks. These are all steps during which we cannot relax.
The fact that there are so many associations, so many people who care about this issue gives immense hope. It is the collective, the unity that generates strength. In this regard, in all these years of the association’s life, have there been experiences of constructive and decisive change that have remained particularly impressed on you?
Yes. I would like to start with a reflection. Our association strongly believes that animals have the right to live a happy life, which is worth living. They have the right to express their natural behaviors. A hen in a cage cannot open its wings and this is against its nature. A sow raised in a cage cannot respond to what instinct tells her, that is to build a nest where she can give birth and take care of her puppies. It limits itself and does it through the bars of a cage. It is a continuous repression of natural behaviors. A campaign that I followed during the first period in CIWF asked supermarket chains in Italy to remove from their assortment the eggs produced by herds with caged hens. Conad was among those who still sold them. We launched a campaign by mobilizing our supporters, reaffirming to this company how much this meant promoting a form of extreme suffering. In 2018 Conad finally published a press release in which it announced that by 2019 it would eliminate from its assortment the eggs produced by hens raised in cages. It was a moment of great joy for us! We realized how much we can make a difference. When I was a student and I didn’t write petitions but I just signed them, I asked myself “Will it help?”. The answer is absolutely yes. You can really make a difference by joining forces. Another change lies in the fact that more people ask for information for an informed purchase, people willing to change their dietary lifestyle in order not to finance forms of cruelty such as intensive farming. Now it is being talked about more and more in the media and everyone knows what it is. For me this is an important signal because it means that more and more people consider animals as sentient beings and no longer as objects. A campaign we have against the transport of live animals says: “animals are not goods”. The gist is just that. Animals feel physical suffering but also anguish, fear. Our latest campaign involves an investigation into intensive salmon farming in Scotland. Also for this campaign we have had an important return from our supporters. The fish usually arouses less empathy but we must not forget that in intensive farming it also suffers, it is also a sentient being.
Our diet is having a disproportionate impact on the planet. We got caught up in greed and now we are paying the consequences. In addition to reviewing our lifestyles to have a more balanced diet in respect of everyone and everything, what can we do as citizens in our daily lives to break this vicious circle and give every living being the dignity and happiness it deserves?
Get informed and keep up to date. There are many associations working on these issues. It is also starting to talk about it at the level of large international organizations such as the UN. Please note that we launched a report with UNEP that we commissioned from the British research institute Chathan House. The report deals with the impact of the food system on biodiversity. Regarding conscious consumption, we have a slogan: Eat Less and Better. The central problem is that our food system is not sustainable. It causes suffering for millions of animals, it is not environmentally sustainable because it has a devastating impact. It also has a major impact on people’s health. Feeding patterns need to shift to diets containing multiple vegetables. We suggest to reduce the consumption of meat by at least 50% and for the remainder to privilege only products that come from non-intensive farms. So organic and outdoor farms. The revolution starts with us. We cannot think of stopping climate change just by using the car less and by cycling. Our global food system, the way we produce cheap food must change. Another action that can be done is to support our campaigns. A tweet thrown to a politician at the right time. The signatures of supporters are important because they give us the opportunity to be representatives of a part of civil society that is calling for change