ACU Presidency Member and FIAO Vice-President
First I would like to thank everyone here for coming, and especially the organizers for inviting us. I represent the Users Consumers Association and, in particular, its President, Giovanni Gavinato.
Before getting to my main subject, I'd like to give you some additional information on a question put to the Greenpeace representative today, during his speech about the genetic manipulation of seeds. He was asked to explain what consumer guarantees and safeguards we have at the moment on the origins of organic produce. In other words, can organic produce be polluted by GM items? At present we are using seeds and plants of absolutely natural origin, and it would be illegal to genetically manipulate them: this is laid down by European regulations on organic farming.
As I said, I'm also speaking as Vice-President of FIAO, the Italian Federation of Organic Farming, which covers 80% of all organic farming in Italy, is the only body of its kind, and is our link with the agriculture ministry. We at FIAO have already spoken out on this subject, and all the control bodies belong to FIAO. As well as GM foods, we would like to highlight another subject: the problem of ecosustainability of our planet, which for us also means the ecosustainability of world populations.
We are openly opposed to any biogenetic engineering activities, just as we have been to hybrids of the most important plants grown for human and animal food, whether motivated by economics or chemical colonialism (or biocolonialism, or agrocolonialism). Hybridised or GM seeds come in a special kit consisting of fertiliser, seed and herbicide together. They are three very expensive components, beyond the means of the Third World and its farmers. Going back to what Greenpeace talked about, there has been a substantial boycott in Italy against Nestlé, and the possibility of boycotting GM foods has been discussed, but boycotts are very difficult to manage. The key problem is always consumer conscience: by bringing about a clear stand by the final consumer, we bring about variations in a market. Obviously, when there are market variations, methods of production and also the final product can change.
Our choice is not an ethical one - this must be an individual matter - our aim is consumer protection, and vegetarian consumers must be protected like any others: it is their civil right. Our association considers product uses and production methods, and this is why we are always in favour of any environment friendly versions of products and technologies. It's not our job, then, to bring together just vegetarians - this is up to AVI - but all consumers, who we protect in every field. Consequently our association can be considered pro-vegetarian, but not actually vegetarian. We are focusing on ecosustainability, the future of the planet. The earth does not now have enough land to sustain the kind of protein consumption we have in the First World - 15-20% of the planet consumes 80-85% of its resources. An interesting piece of information from a video made by VSUK (Vegetarian Society of the United Kingdom): 85% of UK farmland is being used to feed animals, with only the remaining 15% of land feeding humans direct with food of vegetable origin. This is not a suitable model for the whole planet.
What I appreciate at this Congress is the ability to go beyond strictly vegetarian issues. It's a bit like what happened to us organic people when the question of regulations on animal breeding came up. We discussed at length whether we should participate in the debate, until we decided that it was worth it because any improvement, any reduction in meat consumption reduces animal suffering, any reduction in protein lightens the burden on animals. We must go beyond the fact that animals are killed to feed humans, and realise how animals are turned into factory machines with short, horribly distorted lives of slavery. Our discussions must be dealt with properly, as we have scientific tools to give information to the outside world, so with this Congress we can tell the outside world about vegetarianism in a serious way, which confers on us the role of communicating with the people of the world. This is an important innovation, and this definite change I feel in the air is the future of our planet. We therefore invite everyone to listen closely to the vegetarian world because it shows us a fundamental way to balance our planet, because if we do not change our choices as consumers then the system will not change, and we will continue to cut down forests to feed cattle for two years (as presently happens in Brazil), and our world will be destroyed by meat production. Let's go beyond meat, and talk about protein. The RDAs (Recommended Daily Allowances), which are produced by world health organisations, and not vegetarians, environmentalists or consumers, are perfectly clear: they are very close to Shelton's data (19 grammes), since the present figure is 27 grammes, 30% above the minimum considered necessary. By discussing the protein question, we can make an important contribution towards reducing animal suffering. Excessive consumption of protein is economically damaging, damaging to us healthwise, and a sign of barbarity. We in the First World must be moderate consumers for the sake of the balance of our planet. This concerns all consumers, not just vegetarians, and all proteins, not just vegetable ones. We don't have to replace proteins (for example increasing legume production to have them replace meat), because the problem is the balance of proteins in the daily diet, not the replacement of parts of our diet. This is the key element to develop in order to win our fight, and we already hold the scientific and legal tools to win.
As well as discussing vegetarianism at this Congress we are also looking at lifestyles: everything we have been discussing is aimed at global harmony of life, so we even look for example at materials for fabrics, polluting dyes: as well as vegetarianism, we need to concern ourselves with nature in general. Consequently I would like to invite all participating associations here at Congress to contact the Consumers' Association, which has various organisations in many countries of the world: we are looking for partners to build a worldwide boycott network against GMOs, as a boycott is our only way to success. On the other hand, we must also think about common battles, starting with civil law and going on from there. By using civil law to protect our rights - which does not increase public expenditure, and indeed frequently aids costcutting, for example in state catering facilities - I believe we can attract the attention of consumer groups, who are very strong in some countries and can lend significant support to the vegetarian movement.
- translations by Hugh Rees, Milan - commissioned by Associazione Vegetariana Italiana (AVI)