Farmed Animals In Italy: A Look At The Last Decade
While we often look at issues in the U.S. and Europe in our Faunalytics library, it’s rare to get an in-depth look at the agricultural landscape of a particular country. In this report, Essere Animali examined the numbers of animals raised and slaughtered in Italy over the past ten years, from 2010-2019. The report, which gathered the latest data on the subject, shows the changes that have taken place in the Italian animal farming sector and offers a snapshot of how eating habits have changed in our country.
Compared to the first ten years of 2000, Italians appear to be consuming less meat (-7%), with a preference for white meat and fishes, considered a healthier alternative. On the other hand, the slaughter of rabbits (-30%), lambs (-49%) and horses (-70%) has decreased as a result of a growing sensitivity towards these species. Finally, the consumption of milk per capita has decreased from about 51 litres (13.5 gallons) annually to 44 litres (11.6 gallons) annually, a decrease of -15%. Milk in Italy is increasingly replaced by plant-based alternatives such as soy and oat drinks, which are now easy to find in every supermarket at affordable prices.
The increase in the consumption of white meat and fishes has resulted in a decrease in the slaughter of large animals, especially cows (-30%), sheep (-50%) and calves (-34%). However, this does not seem to apply to pigs: from 2010 to 2019, 2 million fewer pigs were slaughtered but consumption has not decreased. Unfortunately, this has also not improved conditions on farms, where the tendency to rear heavier pigs has taken hold: pigs grow up to 160kg (353lbs) and are often destined for cured meat products.
In Italy, half of all pigs are destined for the production of Parma ham, a brand that, although ostensibly a ‘premium’ product, makes use of intensively reared animals with an average density of 1,000 individuals per farm. In this regard, Essere Animali has disseminated 5 investigations conducted on pig farms, documenting mistreatment and abuse by companies supplying Parma ham.
But why do Italians prefer fishes and white meat to red meat? One important factor is the growing awareness of the risks associated with the consumption of red meat. In 2015, the IARC, the WHO body responsible for cancer research, classified red meat among the substances that are probably carcinogenic to humans, while numerous studies have highlighted the relationship between the consumption of this type of meat and an increase in cardiovascular diseases, the leading cause of death in Italy and much of the rest of the world. The increased interest in healthier alternatives is also reflected in the slight growth in organic farming, although this remains a niche market that accounts for only 1% of the total – with one real exception: cow farming (6.7%).
However, let us focus on the most significant figure, namely the increase in the consumption of birds and fishes. Chickens and turkeys have become the main source of protein on Italian tables, reaching almost 20 kg per capita per year (+10% compared to 2010). As a result, the number of chickens slaughtered is also increasing: 511 million chickens in 2019 alone – far more than the entire population of the European Union – with 99.8% being intensively reared. This increase is in line with global trends.
Even more relevant are the estimates for fishes: the report states that in 2017, consumption per capita exceeded 30 kg per year, +50% compared to 20 kg in 2010. This growth is reflected in the increase in imports from abroad, as our seas are no longer able to sustain the pace of industrial fishing. In 2019, imports of whole fish (not frozen) reached 187,000 tons (+42%) and fish fillets exceeded 130,000 tons (+19%). And, while the consumption of fish and white meat is often recommended by doctors as a healthier alternative to red meat, unfortunately, it is these species that pay the consequences.
Fish farming in Italy is characterized by overcrowding of the structures in which the animals are held captive, genetic selection to make fishes gain weight at a staggering rate, and the extensive administration of antibiotics, which poses a huge risk to human health and environmental pollution. Investigations by Essere Animali into the main fish farms in northern and central Italy in 2018 (the first in Europe) and in 2019, documented the cruelty inflicted on fish – sentient animals that feel pain, but for which we rarely manage to summon up a sense of empathy. Fishes raised for food consumption were forced to live in overcrowded cages and denied the opportunity to satisfy any of the ethological needs specific to their species. And, as in all intensive farms, bacterial diseases also occur on fish farms and are treated through the use of medicated feed, thus contributing to the dangerous phenomenon of antibiotic resistance.
Looking back on the past decade, there are signs that clearly show that Italian consumers are aware and informed about the uncomfortable truths of animal agriculture. The report shows some steep declines in some categories of animal product consumption, and concurrent rises in others. The key will be to feed those declines and stave off the increases. Young people will play a prominent role there, because they are more sensitive to these issues and certainly more inclined to change their habits, making space for a plant-based diet. For animal advocates in Italy, this report offers much to analyze, and act upon.