Italy’s top cheeses ‘products of cruelty’: campaign

Two of Italy's most famous cheeses, Parmesan and Grana Padano, are being produced with milk from emaciated, sometimes lame cows kept permanently indoors, an animal welfare group said on Saturday.

Italy's top cheeses 'products of cruelty': campaign
Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) released film it said it had recently obtained from nine farms in Italy's Po valley exposing the “shocking” conditions endured by exhausted cows wallowing in their own excrement.

The charity is using the footage to launch #notonmypasta, a campaign aimed at pushing producers of the two cheeses to introduce welfare guidelines for their milk suppliers, who manage an estimated 500,000 dairy cattle for a business with annual sales of some five billion euros.

“What our investigators exposed was the misery of life in a factory farm,” said Emma Slawinski, CIWF's Director of Campaigns. “There were extremely underweight, overworked animals being treated like milk machines, suffering just so we can add a topping to our pasta.

“Parmesan and Grana Padano cheeses are marketed as 'high quality' when in fact the reality for the cows couldn't be further from the truth. It's time to put these animals back on the land where they belong.”

A spokesman for the consortium of producers of Parmigiano Reggiano confirmed that production specifications for the upmarket cheese did not cover animal welfare because “it is not something that has an impact, if not marginally, on the quality of the product.”

But he insisted producers cared about welfare standards and said the consortium was in the process of introducing a certification system designed to ensure minimum animal welfare standards are observed.


EXPLAINED: What is Denmark’s ‘cow spring break’ all about?

Organic farms in Denmark released cows from barns at 12pm on Sunday, with the animals roaming enthusiastically onto the fields as tens of thousands of spectators looked on.

EXPLAINED: What is Denmark's 'cow spring break' all about?
Photo: Jens Nørgaard Larsen/Ritzau Scanpix

The annual tradition of celebrating the end of cows’ winter enclosure took place at midday on Sunday, when cows were released on to the grass at 59 organic farms across the country.

The event gives the public an important chance to see agriculture at first-hand, said Per Kølster, chairperson of interest organisation Økologisk Landsforening (National Organic Association).

“This is about being open, trustworthy and about the good feeling that can come from seeing these wonderful animals when they jump around on the grass,” Kølster told Ritzau.

“The trust upon which organic is built can be seen with your own eyes,” he added.

Last year, over 200,000 people in Denmark went to see the release of the cows at farms around the country.

Kølster said his assessment was that just as many had turned out this year to see the event sometimes referred to as the ‘cows’ spring break’.

“Interest is actually huge. That’s down to the animals. And this is because their joy is so clear,” he said.

Photo: Jens Nørgaard Larsen/Ritzau Scanpix

The head of Økologisk Landsforening said he was in no doubt as to why the cows reacted as they did, running out on to the grass and jumping up and down to the delight of spectators.

“It can only be explained by one thing, and that’s excitement. They know that spring is coming. It’s just like a racing horse flying out of the traps,” he said.

“They only have one thing on their minds, and that’s to get out there and experience the grass. It’s very energetic,” he added.

Not everyone shares Kølster’s enthusiasm for the event. Local media TV2 Østjylland reported that vegans attended events in protest, while activist organisation Vegan Change was critical of what it likened to a 'Disneyfication' of agriculture.

“(Visitors) don’t see that cows walk around in cow dung for the rest of the year, or that they are damaged by all of the milk they are forced to produce. They don’t see calves and mothers being separated after 24 hours, or when cows are sent to the slaughter and are killed by a bolt pistol to the head and a knife to the throat,” Sophia Nox, a spokesperson for the group, told TV2 Østjylland.

Kølster told the media that it was the “clear democratic right” of vegans to demonstrate.

“The vegans’ project is very respectable. It’s fine for them to take a critical view of agriculture. But I can’t imagine farmers would show up to demonstrate at a day of celebration for vegans,” he said.

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