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Italy: An Interview with Marina Berati
Marina Berati - An engineer and software developer, she has been an animal activist for over 15 years. She coordinates the activities of the animal rights network “Agira Ora Network” and a non-profit publishing house for the publication of books and literature about animal rights and veganism. She is the author of pamphlets, educative material, articles on animal rights topics, and communication campaigns. She holds talks with the general public and in schools on the subjects of nutrition ecology, vegan lifestyle, and anti-vivisectionism.
23 November 2011
Marina Berati , activist, vegan... could we call it a life dedicated to animals? How long has this been for, Marina?
I’ve been an activist for about 15 years. I’ve been vegan for about 14, after 9 years of being vegetarian. I regret having taken so long to become vegan after the choice to be vegetarian. That’s why I now try to make everybody understand that if they decide to become vegetarian it is necessary to become vegan, because the reasons for doing so are the same. I hadn’t understood this immediately, I took too long to understand it, but now, fortunately, there is a lot of information available, thanks to the internet, which makes it hard to miss the facts. But to play my part, to make it so that others have to put less effort in to understand the reasons, I wrote, several years ago: “ An Open Letter to Vegetarians”: http://www.veganhome.it/vegetariani/lettera-aperta/
Vegans are constantly on the rise in the so-called “developed countries”, but the consumption of meat is also increasing in the poorest nations. Does this mean that the number of animals killed remains unchanged, has decreased, or has increased?
Rather than “developed” countries I would say “industrially developed”. In these countries the consumption of meat is extremely high, but the number of vegetarians and vegans is also on the rise, and therefore there is starting to be a shift in consumption. Unfortunately, however, the number of animals killed is nevertheless globally rising, above all due to the increase in consumption in “developing” countries where traditionally very little meat has been eaten. Here in Italy very little meat has always been eaten too; a diet based on the consumption of meat and other foods of animal origin at every meal is certainly not a traditional one- this bad habit only started some decades ago. The same thing is happening in developing countries; these populations are making the same mistakes that were made here 50-60 years ago. For the simple reason that meat is still considered the food of “the rich” and is therefore something that people desire.
What impact does the consumption of animal products have on the environment?
To give a comprehensive answer to this question, dozens of pages would be needed! In short, however, the concept is simple: it’s about extreme inefficiency of vegetable-animal transformation. To help you understand what this means, I’ll give you a brief introduction: everybody imagines that the production of food is something “natural”, as opposed to industry, and that it isn’t therefore something polluting or that causes environmental damage. This isn’t true however. The industry of food production is precisely that: an industry, like all the others. And like all of them, it uses raw materials and resources, it transforms them to obtain others, and in doing so it emits pollutants.
Therefore it’s a sector that has an impact on the environment. If the food produced is vegetable, it has a certain impact, if, however, “animal food” is produced – that is to say: meat, fish, dairy and eggs - it has a much greater environmental impact, for the same calories/protein and, in general, the “nourishment” that such food provides us with. “Much greater” does not mean double, or triple, which would in any case be a lot, but it means a higher order of magnitude, that is to say: 10 times as much, but it could be 8 or 15 according to which specific “impact” we consider. Why does this happen? The core of the matter is that farm animals are “inverted protein factories”. Yes indeed, because when it suits us animals are just machines without feelings and emotions, and so we can treat them as we like, kill them, torture them. But then we don’t want to admit that these “machines” pollute to excess in order to “work”. The reality is exactly the opposite: animals can’t be mistreated and killed, because they are not machines, but when exploited as such they pollute greatly.
They are inverted protein factories because they consume many more calories, obtained from vegetable fodder, than what they produce in the form of meat (meant also in the sense of “fish”), milk and eggs; as “machines” that convert vegetable protein into animal protein, they are completely inefficient. The conversion ratio from vegetable fodder for animals to “animal food” for humans is on average 15, which means that for every kg of meat obtained from an animal this animal has to eat 15 kg of purposely grown vegetable fodder. With an enormous waste of fertile soil, energy, water and chemicals, and with the emission of pollutants. As a matter of fact, the food serves to sustain the metabolism of the animals raised and, furthermore, the inedible tissues such as bone, cartilage and offal, and faeces have to be considered. If we ourselves eat half a kilo of food a day, of various types, we certainly don’t weigh half a kilo more a day. And such is the case with animals. Most of the food they eat serves to keep them alive, not to make them fat. And the rest of it is lost via manure.
If we used the land to cultivate vegetable foods with which to feed ourselves directly, instead of cultivating the vegetables to give them to the animals and then obtain “animal foods” from them, an amount of land, water, energy, and chemicals 10 times less would be needed. It is from this that the environmental impact problems stem; they all have their origin in this basic inefficiency, and all this leads to water shortages, deforestation, the greenhouse effect. A lot of data and information on this theme can be found on the website http://www.saicosamangi.info/
Does eating dairy and eggs cause the same animal suffering as eating meat?
Even more. It certainly leads to the death of the animals used, but the suffering caused by the farms for egg and milk production is even greater than that to which “meat” animals are subjected, because it lasts longer, uses even more bloodthirsty methods, and causes great pain to the animals on an emotional level, too.
To understand the situation, let’s take a look at how these farms work. For milk production, the cow must be impregnated and give birth to a calf every year. Cows don’t actually produce milk by magic, but because, like all mammals, they have to feed their young when they are born. What happens is that the calf is immediately taken away from his mother, with extreme suffering and pain for both of them. He is raised in a small box within which it is impossible to move, for 6 months, and is then slaughtered. On the other hand, it would be impossible to keep him for 20 or 30 years without him being “productive” (there wouldn’t even be the space on Earth!), hence these killings are something obligatory so the production of milk can take place. The cow stops producing milk after about 1 year, but in the meantime she has already been impregnated again and is therefore ready to give birth to another offspring, that is again taken away from her. After 4-5years (but now it has become just 2 or 3 in nowadays farms) of this life, the cow is so exploited that she can no longer manage to be productive enough. She is also sent to be slaughtered therefore. In many instances it is the case that these cows cannot even manage to stay on their feet. The problem of the “downed cows” is, sadly, well-known; animals suffering so much that they can’t manage to stand up, that are loaded onto the lorries bound to the slaughterhouse by pushes or with winches.
The case is analogous as far as egg production is concerned. It starts with the production of chicks destined to become egg-laying hens, that is: hens used to produce eggs sold for human consumption. Factories exist which are full of incubators in which the fertilized eggs are kept until they hatch (they are called “hatcheries”). At that point, if the chick is female, she will become an egg-laying hen; if he is male, he is useless, because he’s not the right breed to become a broiler chicken, used for meat (and if he was, he would be reared in horrendous sheds and killed at 6 weeks) and not being female he won’t produce eggs. He is therefore killed immediately, or minced alive, or suffocated in a bag together with thousands of his kind. Instead, the females have their beak cut so they can’t injure the other hens they share the cage with once they are adults, when due to the desperation of being constantly locked up they may become aggressive. They then pass the next two years in extremely tiny cages, without ever seeing the light of day, and are finally slaughtered.
To gain more of an insight into this theme I recommend watching the investigatory report: “ The horrors of egg production”: http://www.tvanimalista.info/video/allevamenti-macelli/produzione-uova-pulcini/
This is the explanation then of how milk production kills calves and cows and causes extreme psychological and physical suffering to both and how egg production chillingly kills male chicks and tortures the females for 2 years before they end up at the slaughterhouse. And this is why if you have decided to be vegetarian not to kill animals it is necessary to become vegan.
As far as the suffering of fish is concerned, it seems there is a general tendency to underestimate it; there are even those who consider themselves vegetarian because they don’t eat meat but continue to eat fish. And yet, the death of fish, which happens via suffocation, is amongst the most atrocious...
The death of fish is brought about in many ways: they are killed via suffocation, simply leaving them exposed to the air without the possibility of breathing; they are put on ice and de-blooded (putting them on ice serves only to immobilize them, not to stun them; they remain conscious); they are killed by a harpoon fired into the skull (tuna, for example, are stunned by electricity or by a blow to the head but most of the time they remain conscious) they are put in water and salt to die before being skinned and cut into pieces; they are immersed in water through which an electric current is passed; they are immersed in a mixture of water and ice until they die (a slow death). Many fish are sold still alive (85% of carp is sold alive) so it is therefore up to the “end-consumer” to kill them as they wish. Just because they cannot scream, and also because they are animals which are quite “distant” from us, certainly more distant than mammals, but also than birds, the suffering of fish is not considered, people don't understand that fish are sentient, like all other animals. But it is we humans who don't understand them, not they who are “worth less” than the others.
Furthermore, fishing, and to an even greater extent the fish farming, is the cause of extreme environmental devastation: seas are devastated, decimating fish populations and other marine animals, it pollutes, and habitats are destroyed. In short: eating fish means killing sentient beings and devastating the environment in exactly the same way as eating any other type of “meat”; it is certainly not less “serious”, anything but. And obviously, whoever eats fish is not vegetarian at all.
Being vegan also involves not using bee products: honey, propolis, royal jelly, beeswax. Can you explain to us, Marina, what using bee products means for the bees in terms of suffering?
For all these products bees are used, and it is practically impossible not to kill some of them during the collecting and use of their products. This is if we imagine the best case scenario, that is: for traditional products on a very small scale. For medium or large scale production the number of bees killed increases greatly, so it is even worse.
These products, therefore, whether they're traditionally produced or industrial, can certainly not be considered vegan and “cruelty free”. On the other hand, they're things for which there isn't a real need, that definitely aren't of everyday use; they're used every now and again because we're convinced they're “natural” or “do us good”, but once we understand this isn't so, it's really easy to avoid them, given that they certainly aren't used every day in any case. In place of honey we can use malt, in place of propolis and royal jelly we can use herbal products, and to produce wax bees definitely isn't essential.
And what about wool? Sheep need to be sheared; what's wrong with wearing their wool?
Sheep definitely don't “need” to be sheared; no animal, in nature, needs man – anything but. It would be really strange if an animal existed in nature that didn't know how to take care of itself. Apart from this, there's the fact that shearing is not a bloodless procedure: it is practised with no care for the animals, often with mechanical means that cause pain and wounds; many sheep feel the cold and get ill because they're exposed to bad weather after shearing carried out in mid-winter.
But the root problem, that always exists in any case, even if the animals were to be sheared without making them suffer, is that when there is raising of livestock there is always slaughter. ALWAYS. There do not, and cannot, exist farms in which animals are left to die a natural death. When they don't produce enough anymore, they are killed, full stop, and it couldn't be otherwise. Therefore, deluding yourself that since the aim of a given farm isn't meat production, and so the animals won't be killed, is pure illusion. Whether it's milk, eggs, wool, feathers, whatever the “product” obtained from the animals is, these animals will end up at the slaughterhouse, and buying the product condemns these animals to death. It is always thus.
Wool can be easily avoided; many other materials exist: chenille, which is made from cotton or synthetic materials; flannel; fleece, which keeps you warm and is very light. It can also be found as yarn so you can knit sweaters with it, just as you do with wool. The same goes for chenille. Then there exist all the synthetic fibres from which both heavy and light jumpers are made, a great variety of which are available in all shops.
Let's talk about vivisection. If I'm not mistaken there are still 5 types of cosmetic ingredient tests that animals are used in. Which are these?
There are still three areas (not five) in which, to this day, animals are used in cosmetic ingredients testing, where by the term “cosmetic” not only make-up is meant but also personal hygiene products (shampoo, creams, etc.): 1. repeated toxicity (including chronic toxicity); 2. reproductive toxicity (or teratogenesis); 3. toxicokinetics. These tests are very invasive and painful for the animals, apart from being completely useless, because we know very well that different species respond to chemicals in different ways.
The type of test referred to in 1 consists of administering to the laboratory animals –that can belong to various species: rodents, rabbits, dogs, cats, monkeys – relatively low doses of the substance being tested, for long periods of time; “chronic toxicity” tests are also included, which are carried out for the duration of the animals’ lifetimes. Type 2 measures the substance’s potential to create birth defects, therefore the chemical compound is administered to pregnant animals whose offspring are then examined to see if they’re healthy, if they have illnesses, deformities, or problems of any type. Type 3 tests serve to show how the substance reaches the cells and organs and causes possible biological damage. It is very clear therefore that these are actual, real, prolonged “poisonings” to which the animals are subjected, after which they are killed and examined.
For all the other types of test (skin irritation and abrasion, acute toxicity – which measures the effect of high doses of the substance given as a single dose, mutagenesis – which measures the ability of the test substance to make the organism’s cells mutate, etc.), the ban on conducting these tests in E.U. laboratories and selling products in Europe that contain substances tested on animals outside Europe has been in force in Europe since 2009, after a long battle. Instead, for the three areas cited above, the tests can only be conducted outside Europe (which, in a globalized sector such as this, is rather easy) but the products can be sold on the European market, therefore these tests actually continue to be carried out, and there is no way to stop them other than a total ban on sales.
Before March 2013, barring further postponements, all cosmetics with ingredients tested on animals should have been banned. In the meantime, how can we buy “cruelty-free”?
In 2013 the sale of products tested on animals in the three sectors cited above should be banned in Europe. If this was really to happen, in the space of a couple of years (the time required for a ban to come into effect and for the necessary controls to be implemented) we could finally stop worrying about which cosmetic brands adhere to the “cruelty-free” standard. “If”, however, is the key word, because this date is in serious danger of postponement, and if this happens everything could be delayed for many years. There is still a little time to do something to convince the European Union to confirm the complete ban on cosmetics with ingredients tested on animals before March 2013), so I ask you all to sign the online petition on this topic and to collect hard-copy signatures; all information can be found on the campaign page: “Cruelty-free cosmetics by 2013” – http://www.agireora/attivismo/petizioni-test-cosmetici-2013.html.
In the meantime, it is necessary to buy ONLY cosmetic products that respect the “cruelty-free” standard with the so-called “fixed cut-off date”, that is: a FIXED date after which the manufacturer assures us that no animal testing has been done by anyone, in any part of the world. Only in this way can we keep pushing towards the development of alternatives to animal testing and avoid an increase in vivisection. Which products are cruelty-free? The makes on this page of the website VIVO:
And what about medicines?
For medicines the matter is more complex, because no European restrictive directives, such as the one on cosmetics, exist and all medicines have to be tested on animals by law. This, from a scientific point of view, doesn’t mean that animal testing is necessary for the development of medicines. Anything but; animal testing, in this field as in the others, doesn’t serve any purpose, but is carried out solely due to the legal matter. What needs to be done, therefore, is modify legislation in this field too, introduce the obligation of using non-animal methods, developing them even more compared to those already in existence. In the meantime it’s important not to use medicines if they’re not necessary and instead use plant-based products for the “little ills” that afflict us; what’s more, with a vegan diet our general health is much better compared to that of the average omnivore and so there is also much less need for medicines.
When you really can’t avoid using them, for a more serious illness, you can choose to use the corresponding “generic medicine”, if it exists. What are “generic medicines”? To answer this, it must be stated that after a certain number of years (20, in Italy) from the time a medicine is put onto the market, the patent of this medicine expires, and anyone, any manufacturer, can start producing the same medicine, which will then be called “generic”. The generic medicine is identical to the “brand” one: it has to have the same active principle, present in the same dose, the same pharmaceutical form, the same means of administration, and the same indications.
The important aspect is that when a generic medicine is put onto the market it IS NOT re-tested on animals. For this reason, choosing to use a generic medicine instead of a NEW one, makes an enormous difference: in the first case, we are not increasing vivisection (and our mind is also more at ease because if a medicine is still on the market after 20 years it means it’s not that dangerous for human health); in the second case, we are giving money to the pharmaceutical industries for having developed new medicines tested on animals that have the same purpose as those already in existence.
Buying generic medicines is extremely easy: when you go to a pharmacy to buy a medicine you can ask the pharmacist: “Does a corresponding generic medicine exist?”. And they are obliged to tell you. The national health service clearly supports the use of generic medicines because this noticeably reduces state spending on public health.
To better understand this topic, I suggest reading this article: “Generic medicines and anti-vivisection” – http://www.novivisezione.org/info/generici.htm
Thank you for your time and patience Marina
Link: Vegan Home - - La casa dei vegan