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June/July 2005
Compassion Conquering World Farming
The Satya Interview with Joyce D’Silva


Joyce D'Silva. Photo courtesy of CIWF

Sometimes the grass is greener on the other side. Considering the plight of farmed animals, the UK and the EU can be a source for inspiration with respect to combating some of the most egregious practices—veal crates, gestation crates, and battery cages. Many of these animal welfare victories are largely attributed to the hard-hitting pubic education campaigns and aggressive political lobbying of the UK based organization, Compassion in World Farming (CIWF). Founded in 1967, CIWF seeks to achieve the global abolition of factory farming.

CIWF worked with the World Organization of Animal Health (OIE) on the first-ever global standards on animal welfare in transport and slaughter, which were adopted this May. CIWF also recently hosted the Darwin to Dawkins Conference engaging worldwide discussion on animal sentience.

After reading Gandhi’s autobiography in 1971, Joyce D’Silva, had a personal awakening leading to veganism and a life dedicated to being a voice for farm animals. As Chief Executive of CIWF, she has been involved in many successful campaigns. Joyce D’Silva had a chance to talk with Sangamithra Iyer about welfare legislation in Europe, corporate outreach, her concerns about factory farming in the developing world, and offered an outsider’s perspective on farm animal campaigns in the U.S.

Can you tell our readers a little about Compassion in World Farming?
Compassion in World Farming was started in 1967 by Peter Roberts, a former dairy farmer. He and his wife had become very concerned about the growth of factory farming, which was really taking off in England at the time. None of the animal welfare groups seemed to be doing anything about it. Out of despair, he set up his own group specifically to campaign to get factory farming banned. He had a really rough time at first and everyone thought he was a freak—anti-farmer and all the rest.

Initially, it was hard for CIWF to talk to the government. But over time, because we were very clear that whatever we published was factually correct—not over the top stuff—and because we got so much support from the public, politicians started listening to us.

In 1985, Peter Roberts also took on a very famous court case against a veal crate farm which was owned by some monks, who, sadly, had built a chapel from the proceeds from the veal farm. Can you believe the law of the land was so poor at the time, we couldn’t prove cruelty even though the calves could never turn around throughout their whole lives? So we lost the case. But it was one of those things that just had so much publicity that it moved the whole thing on and in 1990, the government announced it was going to ban veal crates in the whole UK. That was the first big victory.

Is the European Union also banning veal crates now?
It is going to be illegal starting January 1, 2007. The EU has given quite a long phase-out. They always do. This also happened with sow gestation crates. We managed to get the British Parliament to start an eight-year phase-out in 1991, so they have been illegal here since 1999. But in the EU, they are not out until 2013. Battery cages are also meant to go in 2012.

Can you talk about the process of getting such animal welfare legislation passed?
The first thing we do is gather all the scientific evidence. We look at the published papers that show welfare problems with the animals; and we usually publish that as a report. Then we usually have campaign leaflets and lobbying briefings for members of parliament and government ministers. We have a video as well, showing what the system is like.

We also always produce something about the alternatives and show farms with functioning alternatives. We set up meetings. We have campaign launches. We get all our supporters to write to the politicians. And that really seems to work.

When we were debating gestation crates in the Westminster Parliament in 1991 at the time of the first Gulf War, several Parliament members stood up and said “I’ve had more letters from the people in my constituency on pigs than I have on the war!” [Laughs.] This is because we wrote to everyone saying that if you only write one letter this year, write this one. And they did! It’s the case of democracy actually working for once.
We also set up a coalition with about 30 animal welfare groups throughout the EU.

With these coalitions, are you also building alliances with other groups like environmentalists with respect to factory farming?
We have made links on specific issues where there is an obvious environmental link. Last year we launched an “Eat Less Meat” campaign. Although there are good vegetarian societies, lots of people will never get that far, but everyone can eat less. We produced a report and got a very famous environmentalist Jonathon Porritt, who used to work for Greenpeace and now heads up the government sustainable development commission, to write the forward. He advises Prince Charles on the environment, and it was so good to have a really well respected environmentalist saying that excessive meat consumption is one of the gravest threats facing humanity today. We got the campaign endorsed by Friends of the Earth, and we try to get consumer foodie groups to endorse it also.

What has been the response of western governments to your Eat Less Meat campaign? I understand CIWF set targets for western governments and global food and farming bodies of at least a 15 percent reduction in meat consumption by 2020.
I can’t say what the response has been yet. We’ve got some individual politicians that are really interested, though we are really only going to get to the political part of the campaign in the next couple of months. Fifteen percent reduction means about one day a week without meat. Everyone we talk to thinks that’s a great idea, but it is too soon to say what the official response will be. Our report on Eat Less Meat has just been nominated for the short list for the Guild of Food Writers’ Award. We’re quite thrilled about that.

I wanted to talk about meat production worldwide. While there have been major advances in the EU and UK, globally factory farming is increasing. I was just looking at the latest trends published by the Worldwatch Institute, which showed that grain production, meat consumption, and hunger are all on the rise. I was wondering if you could talk about trends in the developing world and CIWF strategies to combat factory farming globally.
Quite a bit of what we are doing at the moment is research. Our three target countries are China, India, and Brazil. These are countries with big populations who seem to be going down the intensification route very quickly. [In the case of China,] how is farming developing? Who are the big players? What companies are investing in China? What supermarkets are going to China and other countries? We are trying to make links with people interested in animal welfare in these countries. Obviously between India and China you have most of the world’s population, but they have such different backgrounds culturally and religiously. They will have to be tackled in different ways. But getting the information first and then trying to make contacts and set things up is critical.

I was in China last October and I met the senior official in the ministry of commerce in Beijing. As a result we’ve got a whole conference on pig welfare in Beijing with him, the RSPCA, pig farmers and the pig slaughterers. At this stage when we are working to get things changed, two things [come to mind]. First of all, try to make good contacts with local campaigners, academics, and people we can support. But also a strategy of being opportunistic. In China, I didn’t know I was going to meet this chap, but [now we have a conference on pig welfare]. Just take any opportunity that comes your way: sponsoring an academic to write a book about animal welfare or animal rights philosophy which we are doing in China, or seeing if you can set up seminars at conferences. In some of these countries there are things you can’t do that campaigners have traditionally done in the west—going out in the streets with banners is too dangerous in some places. You can’t just take something that worked here and plunk it down somewhere else and presume it will work. You have to be culturally sensitive. You don’t want to be responsible for someone getting beaten up or imprisoned because they’ve gone on a protest.

[We are also involved in] a huge amount of awareness raising, getting our educational materials translated and used in schools. We are trying to get to every sect of society in a way that isn’t imperialist or threatening, but which makes people think about the welfare and the sentience of animals, and perhaps about their own diet and health, and the environment of course.

Have you noticed any trends of developed countries ‘outsourcing’ factory farming to developing countries and do you find this to be a big threat?
Absolutely! We already have American giants outsourcing to the EU. Smithfield set up in Poland a few years ago before it joined the EU. Certainly, all the main chicken breeding companies have offices in China—Aviagen and people like that.

In May, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) voted to adopt the first-ever global standards for animal welfare in transport and at slaughter. Can you tell us about this and your work with OIE?
The World Organization for Animal Health, the OIE, has been setting standards on veterinary matters, diseases, vaccinations, etc. Just a few years ago, it started developing global animal welfare standards, much to our surprise. It set up working parties on land and sea transport, slaughter for human consumption and slaughter for disease control. It got global experts—including some from the States—and they’ve produced these standards that we’ve commented on.

Obviously these standards aren’t ideal, but they are so much better than nothing. Now groups in the States or African countries or anywhere with poor or no rules on transport or slaughter can go to their governments and say “we’re not asking for anything radical but can you implement the OIE standards, after all, everyone voted for them?”

It will help to improve animal welfare globally. Over time, we would lobby to improve these standards and get really short maximum journey times and that kind of thing. It is a step that can really have long-term implications. Also we think if there is a dispute at the WTO, they may take the OIE standards as a benchmark. So it is really quite important that we’ve got these. [And now that they have been developed] in transport and slaughter, they are moving on to other areas of farming. So it will be interesting to see what happens.

Speaking of transport, can you tell us about the Stop the Bull Ship Campaign?
This is a particularly nasty aspect of the long distance animal transport trade because the EU actually pays to export live cattle to the Middle East—mostly to Lebanon. There is a subsidy per animal paid to the exporter if the animal is exported live out of the EU. Germany, France and Ireland are the main countries that do this. But others are coming in on it—Hungary, the Netherlands, Spain and so on. These poor cattle are trucked across Europe down to the sea. Then when they get to Lebanon, they are unloaded and taken into a holding area or [put into] trucks and taken across the country to other places. We filmed them being slaughtered. They put a chain around their hind legs and hang them up while they are alive, conscious and disoriented with their necks down over a drain in the floor. Then, they cut the throat without any stunning and the animal writhes around in agony and bleeds to death over the drain. It is just so unjustifiable. Everyone who lives in the EU and pays tax is paying for this trade.

What do you hope to achieve with this campaign?
We are hoping that when the EU parliament votes for their budget, they will decide not to vote for it. We’ve also got a written declaration going through parliament that has 84 signatures on it already showing the opinion of the parliament members. The UK will have the EU presidency from July to December—that means it will chair any meeting of trade ministers and agriculture ministers. We will try to persuade the new UK agriculture minister to do something about it on the ministerial level during the presidency. We are getting our supporters and our coalition partners to write as well.

Can you talk about CIWF’s concerns about genetically engineered meat?
[Genetically engineered meat] isn’t market ready here yet. I know cloned meat is not far away. If there is any meat from genetically engineered animals, it would have to go through some committee for approval set up by the government. We did get all the major food markets to say they won’t sell it, so there won’t be a market.

We have lobbied against patenting of genetically modified animals and even took a court case to the European patent office about the Oncomouse, the first animal to be genetically modified, and that patent was modified as a result.

We try to expose how horrible it is, but it is tough, because so many people do see animals as creatures to be exploited for profit. The sort of prevailing mindset in the scientific world is ‘can we do this?’ and not ‘should we be doing this?’

It’s interesting, because animal sentience just seems so obvious, and yet there is so much horrific exploitation.
I know! To you and me, we’ve kind of known it for years. It’s the trouble with science. One of the themes of our Darwin to Dawkins conference—addressed by scientists not just ethicists—was that while we are still a bit in the dark about animal cognition and consciousness, even if we don’t know all the answers, we should be acting as if the animals are sentient. And scientists were saying that science doesn’t have all the answers and we should go to things like common sense and compassion—strange words that scientists [usually] get a bit scared around. [Laughs.]

I was just reading about research geared toward injecting fish oils into cattle so beef will have Omega-3 fatty acids—taking something that’s bad for your heart and injecting something that is good.
I know! It is so sick. They’ll try anything to keep the meat market going. They are getting worried about people like us and the Eat Less Meat campaign [laughs].

CIWF has been fairly successful in corporate outreach. Can you talk about your work with McDonald’s?
We are mainly responsible for getting McDonald’s in the UK to use only free range eggs. It’s really interesting because in a couple of other European countries where there is a good animal welfare lobby, they started using free range eggs. But in the States, they are just giving the birds slightly larger battery cages. It is crazy.

One of the things on my to-do list is to contact McDonald’s to get further meetings going to see if we can get them to put their best standards forward globally.

As an outsider looking in, what advice do you have for U.S. advocates working towards the elimination of factory farms?
First, be really sure of your facts, because if you get a fact wrong, you lose your credibility. Don’t be afraid to go and talk to everybody about the issue. Just get the debate going, write letters to the local papers and phone-in on radio stations. Lobbying the companies direct and lobby the politicians. See if there can be some sort of federal law on farm animal welfare. Keep the campaign for farm animal welfare separate from vegetarian and vegan campaigns. Otherwise you are just dismissed before the door is open.

I think it’s important to get stuff into schools as well, so that the younger generation will hear the message. You also have to get the media on your side to reach the public. Forge good contacts with the media and really invest time in building up those contacts. And motivate your supporter base so they become as active as possible. Everyone can do something.

Things don’t happen overnight. The campaign here has been going for quite a while. I think America has just really got into farm animal campaigning over the last three years. I just noticed a big difference about a year and a half ago-—I went to a conference over there and suddenly everyone was talking about farm animals. I think groups like Compassion Over Killing are really successful, and other people realize that they can do it too. Now with Wayne Pacelle at the head of HSUS, I think there is real hope and he’s got Miyun Park and Paul Shapiro to work with him. So I’m more optimistic than I was, but it is not going to be easy.

To learn more about CIWF visit



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