[Speech at the First Global PROUT Conference in Venezuela, “Building a Solidarity Economy based on Ethics and Ecology.” July 7th to 9th, 2011. Central Park, Room 1 – Caracas]
Sandra Castillo Castro: Hello, good morning. Thank you for coming. Luis and I would like to start our presentation with a little visualization exercise. We would like you all right now to imagine a subway car in the middle of rush hour, and the isolation, the heat, the distress and the anxiety that goes along with it. Waiting for your stop becomes unbearable. Suddenly the train stops at your station and with much difficulty you make your way through the others who are in the same state as you, and finally you manage to find the exit that leads to less dense air, where you can breathe, calmly. Once again you are back in your quiet and spacious reality.
Now imagine living constantly in this state of distress, with overcrowding and low light, with little or no water. Knowing that the train will never stop at any of the stations. Knowing that you will never be let off to move forward in your life.
You are now in the state of being, in the position in which millions of animals live in this moment, on farms for food, on fur farms, in laboratories for experimentation and in fishing nets. They do not have a station where they can get off, they do not know where the train is taking them, they just know that at some point it will be the time to meet their destiny, as our food, as the clothes we wear or as the makeup we use.
This reflection has led many people to become aware of the damage they are doing to the planet and to themselves. Each day the three “Rs” (reduce, reuse and recycle) are becoming more evident in the market. Consumers are pushing to reduce the number of animals used for the production of goods or for entertainment and to change the laws and rules that must be followed by industries. They are pushing for the abolishment of experimental techniques on animals and the use of animals as raw materials.
Although government agencies like the World Health Organization have established certain principles of how animals should be treated on farms and for laboratory research, they continue to treat animals as mere objects of production, admitting that they feel things, sure, but that they are useful for mankind and therefore should be treated as such. But how useful can it possibly be if the results of 90% of animal experiments cannot be extrapolated to humans? Or when 30% of all greenhouse gases come from livestock industries? Or when it takes 3.3 tons of food to feed the animals that are used to make one single mink coat?
The rationality of the individual, in this case the individual consumer, is one of the fundamental axioms on which economic theories are based. This has evolved over time, and now the consumer is much more conscious of the actions they take, the products used in their clothing and the food that they put on the table.
Consumers have become much more demanding, with social and animal ethics, and they don’t hesitate to put them into practice at the time of making their purchases. This has pushed companies to evolve so that they can be sure to satisfy these new needs and the new demands that are gradually transforming the market. The tendency is to seek balance between development of economic processes and conservation of the environment, since little by little it is being better understood that economic development based on environmental destruction leads to economic and social losses.
Luis Verdú Brito: Truly, economic development based on environmental destruction cannot produce any benefit. Generating profit is what has been taught to the economists at all the economic schools around the world. Profit does have to be made, but at what expense and by what means? Making profit by being cruel to animals? Making profit by destroying the environment? This is why it has always been known that our greatest economic asset is biodiversity. And even though this has always been known, we have always threatened biodiversity and attacked it and now we’re realizing that we are pushing it to its limit. For this reason, as my colleague Sandra has already mentioned, the market, the people, us, as individuals, are all pressuring for change. Right now, this pressure might be very tiny statistically, but it has grown with the passing of years and we hope that it keeps growing.
Today we have a wide market of over 6 billion people who are seeking to meet their needs from products, products that are derived from animal cruelty, products that are derived from threats to our biodiversity. But a market has emerged that seeks an ethical treatment of animals, a market has emerged that seeks to preserve biodiversity, a market has been born that is environmentally conscious. This market is now about 400 million vegetarians around the world. These 400 million vegetarians represent about 8% of the world population, 8% that is now committed conscious consumerism, the proper use of our natural resources. But it does not stop here, 8% are vegetarian, but out of all consumers, there are 33% who say that they read labels to figure out if the product is free or not from animal cruelty, to see if the product is recyclable, not only if it is recyclable, but if it is also recycled. This is 33% of consumers who are increasingly committed to the ethical treatment of animals and the conservation of our environment.
Apart from the pressure that has been going on slowly through the market, there is also corporate responsibility which has been generating pressure at the level of supply, from the other side of the market. Within this corporate responsibility we can notice a trend towards the ethical treatment of animals when we see standards like the ISO 26000. The ISO 26000 is a standard that seeks to mediate or regulate, everything that is related to corporate social responsibility. This corporate responsibility, or the social responsibility of corporations, is not only linked to their workers, nor is it only linked to their employees and their suppliers, this corporate responsibility is also linked to the environment, and it is also linked to animal ethics.
This is why, during the eighth meeting for the development of the ISO 26000, held in 2010 in Denmark, animal welfare was the subject that received the most support from the participating countries, that it be included explicitly in the declaration. In addition, under the heading of the principles of social responsibility, animal welfare is considered part of ethical conduct. Through this policy we can become aware that there is a trend that has taken a step forward to grant ethical treatment to our animals, that has taken a step forward in defense of our biodiversity and that has taken a step forward in the conservation of our environment.
In this sense, the economic team of Anima Naturalis has identified certain global economic trends that we can put our hopes into, and that in fact, each of us as individuals can support in order to guide them towards a more ethical treatment of animals. The economic trends that we have identified are: cost reduction, market share, the elimination of deficits and the promotion of profitable activities. In regards to lower costs, we know that around the world all private companies are seeking to reduce their costs to increase profits. Essentially, the Anima Naturalis team has noticed that yes, it is possible to reduce costs through a more ethical treatment of animals and you can reduce costs through a greater respect for biodiversity. This cost reduction can be accomplished through two factors: first, the elimination of speculative intermediaries and the second factor is the elimination of animal testing.
In regards to the elimination of speculative intermediaries we are used to a supply chain that produces grain to feed livestock which is then used to feed humans. If we can manage to eliminate one of the links in this chain and use the grains to feed humans directly, we could make a major cost reduction and achieve lower food prices, which nowadays are so high. Thus we see that in the production of corn, for example, 70% is consumed by animals that are destined to be slaughtered, while only 30% is destined for human consumption. The most dramatic case occurs with the production of oats, where 95% is for livestock productions and only 5% for human consumption.
Soybean production: 80% goes to consumption by livestock and only 20% goes to human consumption. This data refers only to the grains that are used as food, for feeding, but if we were to add here all the other grains that are used in biofuels, we would see that these figures are much more dramatic, and that human beings are eating less and less.
In regards to animal testing that claims to lower costs, we point out that these tests are completely ineffective. Here we have a quote from the Director of the National Cancer Institute of the USA, Dr. Richard Klausner, who said that the history of cancer research has been the history of curing cancer in mice. We have cured cancer in mice for decades and it simply does not work in humans. Here, economic resources are being spent on experimenting with animals, but not only are financial resources being spent, the lives of these animals are being used for experiments that simply do not work at all and that have not worked for humans.
The second trend identified by the Anima Naturalis team is market share. In market share there are many factors, first of all, fairness. We are at a point of producing grains to feed animals, as we’ve already said, which will feed a few humans. The trend is to produce seeds so that many people are able to eat: this is true fairness. True fairness is when all humans have the opportunity to eat, not when many animals are being fed so that only a few humans can eat. The second factor of market share is the use of local resources.
Here we would like to talk about monocropping. Monocropping affects and threatens biodiversity. It razes jungles and forests to the ground to produce a single product. This trend is the proper, natural use of resources, the use of the earth according to the terms at which it provides us with its resources, without over-exploiting it, without destroying its biological diversity, by producing only what nature gives us without abusing its blessings. This is what we want to achieve through the use of local resources.
The third factor is a symbiotic process of supply. The trend that has been observed and that we can enhance is the endogenous production of goods, which will lead to a process of interregional exchange and solidarity that will ensure that the needs of individuals are met. We can see that supply does not have to come from one single region. If we diversify and produce products in different regions, through solidarity trade, we can meet the demands of all consumers.
The fourth factor is the expansion of the markets. The expansion of markets is precisely linked to the three previous factors. After achieving fairness, after achieving a better use of local resources and a symbiotic process of supply, we will achieve an expansion of the market that will grant the opportunities for a solidarity trading of goods, that gives access to small producers, small farmers, small and medium agricultural producers, to enter the market in order to provide agricultural products at a fair price free of intermediaries.
The third trend that the Anima Naturalis team observed is the elimination of deficits. It is well known that around the world there is an economic crisis, a crisis that has been felt in Europe, that has been felt in the U.S., and that has been felt here in Latin America. We can identify an example of how we can eliminate this deficit. Consider the subsidies for food production in the U.S.: 62% is given to meat and dairy production that can only feed a minority. If we could manage to eliminate some of these subsidies we would have millions and millions, tens of millions of dollars, that could be used for agricultural production that would not only could satisfy U.S. demand, but that could also meet the food demands of much of world.
The last trend that the Anima Naturalis team observed is the promotion of profitable activities. Among the profitable activities around the world, we have seen a growth in companies that are oriented towards ethical treatment. Why? Because the consumer is demanding it. Little by little, the consumer is realizing that you cannot destroy planet Earth because it is the only planet that we have and in this sense, companies are oriented towards growth through their ethical treatment of animals. In this sense the treatment of animals can be used as a national economic indicator. Here we can see that many things can be used as indicators: the number of wildlife centers, the number of domestic wildlife centers, the total number of animals used for experiments and laboratory tests, the level of genetic alterations produced by the water in industrial areas and the level of use of products that contain non-biodegradable substances. This is the economic trend and this is the trend that we as consumers need to empower. Thank you for your attention.
[Translated by Spencer Bailey] Panel 4 questions and answers.