What’s happening at the animal sanctuary Sfattoria degli Ultimi near Rome is tragic and infuriating. It also encapsulates what it means to be an animal in our world: animals have no rights to their own lives because they’re categorised as objects. They have no more rights than our phones or handbags.
What’s happening at Sfattoria
Sfattoria (a play on the word for farm in Italian and signalling that it’s an anti-farm) is hosts over two hundred pigs and wild boar who were rescued from unimaginable circumstances. Each animal is microchipped, vaccinated, registered on the national pet registry and most important of all, healthy.
Unfortunately, the most recent outbreak of the African Swine Fever (ASF) virus has reached the location where Sfattoria is located. This means that the local regional government has the right to kill all swine in that area to prevent the spread of the disease in swine meant for making sausages, prosciutto, bacon and all those other food products. On 8 August 2022, the Lazio region notified Sfattoria all their animals would be executed except for two. All the animals are healthy.
Let’s pause here for a minute. The reality is, healthy animals will be executed to protect those animals who will be slaughtered to make food products we don’t need, but which we like to eat because that’s what we’re used to. The latter pigs are assets. Objectively and in the real world, that’s what they are. Nothing more and in legal systems all over the world, they’re only worth what they can provide us in terms of cash. They’re protected only with respect to what benefit they can provide to their owners. The former pigs are a hindrance to profit and they too are merely objects under the law. So, objects getting in the way of other objects which can make money, have zero value in our world.
Sfattoria is fighting this order and has submitted an application to the region’s highest court. A ruling is expected today, 11 August. Let’s hope.
UPDATE: the appeals court has rejected Sfattoria’s appeal. The animals will be executed. And there are people at the sanctuary who will defend the animals… imagine being the military personnel being sent in to execute the animals and also having to fight off your own countrymen. No one wins here. No one.
UPDATE 2: the appeals court has reconsidered and granted a stay of execution. There will be a hearing on 18 August, not mid-September as some may have heard.
UPDATE 3: this isn’t an update about Sfattoria. It’s about Progetto Cuori Liberi in the province of Pavia in Lombardy region where there’s currently a big outbreak of ASF. On 20 September 2023, 10 of their healthy pigs were executed. About 100 members of state police, local and regional police, firefighters and DIGOS, the special forces body which usually fights organised crime and drug trafficking, entered the sanctuary. Volunteers and peaceful/passive protesters were beaten, insulted, arrested, left to tend to themselves once injured and more depravity. There’s loads of videos online. And they’re strong images. You won’t see the pigs being executed. I’ve written another piece and dedicated it to these victims and what world we live in: Everyone you know is speciesist and objectifies animals. I link to Cuori Liberi and how to help them. This event marks a watershed. Keep an eye on this.
ASF is a zoonotic virus. It was first identified in East Africa in the early 1900s and traced to warthogs and a particular tick living in warthog burrows. There have been a variety of outbreaks over the years, but none in Europe since the mid-1990s. ASF is “often introduced into a herd after the feeding of uncooked/ undercooked contaminated pork products which are ingested by a pig [emphasis mine]. The virus is then easily spread between pigs by direct contact with an infected animal, its body fluids (nasal, oral, faeces, blood) or tissues (meat), or indirectly from contact with contaminated objects (fomites), such as vehicles, equipment, footwear or clothing.”
And once it’s out, ASF is extremely difficult to control. It is not, however and thus far, contagious to people. It is fatal to pigs and they suffer horribly.
As we talked about in Think Like a Vegan, zoonotic diseases proliferate when we commodify the wild world, live so close to “farmed” animals and farm animals on the scale we’re doing. Don’t think farming on smaller scale makes any difference. Many of the diseases we’re familiar with are zoonotic in nature and have been with us for centuries. For example: measles, tuberculosis, smallpox, all types of flu, malaria, and pertussis.
Reminders of foot & mouth disease in the UK
In 2001 in the UK, there was an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. This virus primarily affected cows. To control the virus, the UK government executed all cows and many sheep in the areas where they detected it. After execution, their bodies burned on massive pyres. It was horrific. I remember those images well. I won’t post photos here. I’ll leave it to you if you wish to search “foot and mouth fire” to see the haunting images.
Similarly to Sfattoria, many people lost their “pet” cows and sheep despite being healthy just because they were in the affected area. I remember seeing news reports of distraught people resigning themselves to losing their beloved animals and the farmers too who were losing everything. We can’t dismiss the significant human impacts of these events both for people losing their animals and for those doing the killing. None of those things are without horrible psychic consequences.
Despite living in a sanctuary and being classified as pets on the national pet registry, this may not save the pigs. It certainly didn’t help the cows in 2001. The odds are stacked against animals every time. This is the biggest tragedy of all because it’s constant and relentless betrayal of animals who come to trust us.
We can have all the laws about treating animals better. But if we continue to see animals as objects and classify them as such in our legal systems, those better treatment laws only marginally alleviate the suffering of animals who’ll be killed in any event.
For a discussion of this, listen to Episode Three of Think Like a Vegan: the Podcast, with the brilliant Prof Maneesha Deckha who discusses the necessity for a new legal classification for animals and extends Prof Gary Francione’s legal personhood argument.
We must challenge and dismantle our fundamental view of animals if we want transformative change.
I wasn’t vegan at the time of the foot and mouth crisis in the UK. It doesn’t matter I didn’t really eat beef then. I ate dairy products and didn’t realise how complicit I was in supporting a horrific industry. Animal agriculture continues to exist because there’s demand for it. It’s supported by governments and powerful interests, of course. It’s a massive industry.
But our own complicity is an unpleasant reality too. As long as we continue not being vegan, we’re complicit in senseless slaughter. Whether of sanctuary animals who are caught in the middle of a health crisis or those animals slated for slaughter for our tables (those numbers are in the billions each year, see our discussion in TLAV or here).
It’s an uncomfortable reality because it brings a mirror up to ourselves. It possibly makes us look at ourselves in an unpleasant light. My words here are not of condemnation for our moral character or elevating one group above another morally. Those are pointless and simplistic distractions. But I wish someone had reasoned with me in 2001 like this. I might have become vegan sooner.
Keep advocating for veganism in whatever way is possible for you.
Veganism really is for everyone.