In our new roundtable blog series, we ask a handful of contributors to provide their points of view on complex topics or unsettled questions. We hope that this approach will help us to integrate and learn from multiple perspectives on animal advocacy.
We think there are many opportunities for effective animal advocacy in Brazil. The country’s relatively large population and high per capita meat availability make it a target for pursuing large-scale change. There are already Brazilian animal charities doing important work—as well as international organizations that operate in Brazil—yet the Brazilian animal advocacy movement is still relatively young. We think this moment is a great time for U.S.-based and international animal charities to develop a better understanding of the opportunities for (and barriers to) helping animals in Brazil.
For this roundtable post, we’ve asked some of the leaders of the Brazilian animal advocacy movement to share their insights regarding how individuals and charities can best support the growing movement. We’d like to thank the following people for contributing to this post:
- Lucas Alvarenga, Mercy For Animals
- Gustavo (Gus) Guadagnini, The Good Food Institute
- Ricardo Laurino and Cynthia Schuck, Sociedade Vegetariana Brasileira
- Vivian Mocellin, Animal Equality
Each of our contributors brings a unique perspective to the table. As the president of the Sociedade Vegetariana Brasileira (“Brazilian Vegetarian Society,” or SVB), Ricardo works to promote individual dietary change in Brazil through a variety of channels (including radio, YouTube, and writing). Cynthia brings her extensive scientific background to support SVB’s work. Lucas and Vivian work for international charities that operate at the intersection of effective altruism and animal advocacy, overseeing a variety of animal advocacy interventions in Brazil. Gus works to develop and promote Brazil’s plant-based food industry with The Good Food Institute.
Please feel free to discuss our contributors’ thoughts—and to share your own—in the comments!
Vice President for Brazil, Mercy For Animals
Lucas Alvarenga is Mercy For Animals’ vice president in Brazil. As a marketing professional, he was a serial entrepreneur in the digital arena until he began to dedicate his life to animals when MFA started working in Brazil in 2015. Before joining MFA, Lucas created initiatives such as the 21 Meatless Days Challenge, a vegan news website, and a large vegan festival in Rio de Janeiro.
The impact of working in Brazil
Brazil has been overlooked by international animal rights groups for too long, as the importance of working here is very clear. Brazil is:
- The second-largest beef producer in the world (only after the U.S.)
- The third-largest pork producer in the world (only after China and the U.S.)
- The second-largest chicken meat producer in the world (only after the U.S.)
- The home of two of the five biggest meat companies in the world (JBS and BRF)
- The fifth-highest meat consumer per capita in the world (not including fish)
MFA is one of the first international vegan groups to launch major efforts in Brazil, and has started building an important movement to help new activists understand the effective altruism mindset.
Animal product consumption continues to rise with economic growth, as more people enter the middle class. In a continent-size country with over 200 million people, this is pretty concerning. On the other hand, there are a lot of big opportunities; our culture has been extremely receptive to veganism, vegetarianism, and flexitarianism.
Brazil is also home to the largest rainforest in the world, where 91% of deforestation is due to livestock. As some of the greatest environmental issues (such as the water crisis and global warming) put pressure on our politicians, important opportunities might arise to help implement environmental solutions that are also ethical solutions—most likely through food policy work.
Particularly effective interventions in Brazil
The effective animal advocacy movement is still very young in Brazil, and the pragmatic work being done is still fairly new—for this reason there isn’t too much data on what has been done so far. However, we do have ideas about what might be some of the most promising work to continue over the coming years.
Vegan advocacy and investigations have both been great tools. A number of new vegan options and new vegan restaurants have appeared in the main cities over the past two or three years, and after our initial investigations, the biggest media outlets covered farmed animal cruelty for the first time.
Our corporate engagement efforts have seen clear and solid progress. Since we started our first campaigns, dozens of leading food companies in Brazil have committed to banning battery cages in their supply chains. In 2016, within just a few months of work, 11 companies went cage-free (including Burger King and McDonald’s). In 2017, we were directly involved in 49 commitments. We now have nearly 70 commitments with the promise of changing the lives of millions of chickens in Brazil in the coming years.
We are also particularly pleased with our food policy work among public institutions. In 2017 alone, eight public institutions in major cities committed to reducing their animal product consumption by 20%, which means almost 25 million vegan meals per year will replace animal-based meals once the commitments are fully implemented. This is perhaps our most cost-effective program in Brazil. We did not expect it to be, since this is the first time it’s being carried out on such a large scale in so many different cities at the same time. But we are confident we will execute it well and expand this program even more.
Barriers and challenges
We can list a few challenges ahead, especially because we are implementing a lot of major programs for the first time in the country—including food policy, investigations, vegan outreach, and corporate campaigns. But with the barriers also come opportunities. For example, this is the first time big companies in Brazil have had to deal with campaigns by vegan organizations. This gives us a little advantage, as we already know how such campaigns have progressed in other countries and we have learned from dealing with previous cases.
I believe the biggest challenges are still to come as we increase our investigations and begin legislative work. Brazil has a huge agriculture and livestock lobbying group called “Bancada Ruralista.” Considering that livestock represents quite a large portion of the Brazilian GDP and that the biggest meat companies are the biggest sponsors of political parties, we know that we’ll face pretty powerful opposition.
Advice for organizations looking to expand to Brazil
It’s important to know that Brazil is the size of a continent. Brazil is the fifth-largest country in the world and represents 48% of South America, which has 11 other countries. With over 200 million people in more than 20 states, much work remains to be done for farmed animals.
To start work in Brazil—as with starting work in any other country—it’s deeply important to understand the culture, to look for local and professional advice, and to understand which work has already been done by other organizations. This is all important for establishing priorities, key strategies, and goals. Most importantly, it helps you better understand all the risks.
In Brazil, I would particularly focus on the difference in the way Brazilians do business and close deals. Building solid relationships and great networking are almost always crucial to making good things happen among companies and public institutions.
What groups like ACE could do to help our work in Brazil
We definitely have a lack of research here, which leads us to base our approaches on other countries’ research. I believe the more the movement grows here with pragmatic-minded activists and organizations, the more quality research we will have.
This deficiency is not exclusive to Brazil. I believe it would be very helpful for the leading international organizations to have more data on farmed animals worldwide and more specific details on the countries where we could have the greatest impact. Detailed reports on the top 10 most important countries or regions to work in could help the organizations better set priorities and better plan their budgets and campaigns.
For Brazil specifically, it would be great to have a better analysis of overall veg-eating growth over the years, research for effective approaches to going and staying veg, and more stats on farmed and wild-caught fish and seafood consumption.
Managing Director for Brazil, The Good Food Institute
Gus lives and works in São Paulo, Brazil, and is focused on developing and promoting Brazil’s plant-based food industry. He has experience as a startup strategist and is involved in the Brazilian entrepreneurship community. Gus worked with the Whirlpool Corporation for seven years, and has a background in project management, product development, and marketing. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Business from Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo.
Much like the country itself, the opportunities for animal advocacy in Brazil are complex and diverse. The situation might seem difficult to tackle at first glance, but circumstances are actually quite favorable for the animal advocacy movement at the moment. To fully grasp the situation, it is necessary to understand a few key points:
Meat is deeply ingrained in Brazilian culture. It is not uncommon for people to have at least one type of animal-based protein every meal, every day. The most traditional dishes in the country are heavily packed with meat. Feijoada, a national dish eaten on Saturdays, is made with pork as well as beef and different types of sausages. On top of that, buying meat is seen as a sign of status and is related to the idea of masculinity, which is built into society.
On the other hand, the Brazilian meat industry is currently facing a serious crisis. The largest companies in the country were accused of corruption. These companies also failed to meet international sanitary standards, which led the U.S. and several countries in Europe to ban Brazilian meat and poultry. Even though the ban was eventually lifted, it took a financial toll on the companies in the country. For these and other reasons, these companies have started to consider plant-based products as a possible new stream of revenue.
The scandals also significantly affected the popularity of meat among consumers. Research shows that the population is more and more open to plant-based products, especially the ones that are healthy. This reflects an overall concern with life quality and longevity, and it affects the vegan product market. This market is expected to grow 40% in 2018.
Although it is an indisputable fact that veganism is growing, Brazilians still perceive a plant-based diet as elitist. Most plant-based alternatives to animal products are not price competitive when compared to their animal-based counterparts, contributing to the myth that a vegan diet is necessarily difficult to follow for the average person.
The difference in price stems from the lack of investment in plant-based research. Animal reproduction still gets the vast majority of investments destined for academic research and technological development, making the production of cruelty-free food products less efficient for producers—and, as a consequence, more expensive for consumers. These are just some of the many intricacies that make Brazil a unique country for animal advocacy. The scenario is promising: a massive territory with an increasingly receptive market, waiting for plant-based products to hit the shelves. From GFI’s perspective, the factor preventing the market from growing even more and a plant-based diet from becoming widespread is the technology gap. Once technology research starts being directed towards the development of better, more inexpensive plant-based animal products, veganism will become a nationwide phenomenon and will cease to be seen as niche.
Ricardo Laurino and Cynthia Schuck
Ricardo Laurino: President, Sociedade Vegetariana Brasileira
Ricardo is a long-time entrepreneur, and a business consultant. He has been vegan since 2003. He gives presentations through the “Momento Veg” and “Vegflix” channels on YouTube, and he co-founded and coordinates the International Animal Film Festival in Brazil. He is the author of “The Last Test,” launched in September 2013, which is a fictional work addressing the use of animals in research and the conflicts between activists and researchers. Ricardo was one of the 26 signatories of the Curitiba Declaration “On Animal Consciousness,” conceived by neuroscientist Philip Low and formalized in 2014.
Cynthia Schuck: Scientific Coordinator, Sociedade Vegetariana Brasileira
Cynthia has a PhD from Oxford University in Animal Cognition/Evolutionary Biology and two postdocs: one at Oxford, and another on the evolution of advanced cognition and the conditions for its emergence. She was the co-founder and scientific director of Origem Scientifica (2005–2017), a consulting company in the field of global health, sustainability, and data analysis in the life sciences.
Animal advocacy and veganism have both experienced rapid growth in Brazil in recent years. However, as in other countries, existing barriers to make veganism and animal protection the norm (rather than the exception) are still many—mostly of political, economic, and cultural nature.
In Brazil—one of the largest producers and exporters of meat in the world—the livestock sector benefits from several market distortions that make it possible to produce meat, dairy, and eggs at very low prices. This is only possible due to the existence of various subsidies, special credit lines, and the externalization of the environmental, social, and ethical costs of the sector. Legislative changes are hampered by the mighty political and lobbying force that animal agriculture still enjoys. Moreover, from a cultural perspective, there are still several myths associated with the adequacy of plant-based diets among ordinary citizens and the health community.
Although barriers are multiple, existing opportunities for effective action also abound. The Brazilian Vegetarian Society envisions and implements several strategies. Part of our work focuses on educational programs developed with scientific and technical rigor, and directed at institutions, professionals, and society. We offer regular courses and workshops for medical doctors and other health professionals. We believe that their education is one of the most important pathways for changing cultural biases against plant-based diets. We have also successfully worked with the Ministry of Health to ensure that the appropriateness of plant-based diets was highlighted in the official Dietary Guidelines for the Brazilian population. In addition, we develop and disseminate technical and scientific material on the many impacts of animal agriculture—this material is now used by other animal advocacy groups in Brazil, in universities, and as teaching material in other contexts as well. Having well-referenced and creditable material has been essential to many of our institutional achievements. Lastly, we have a media watchdog program which promptly acts to correct misconceptions and myths often propagated in the main press channels.
Because we believe in the gradual transformation of eating habits, we invest heavily in meat reduction programs. Our Meatless Monday campaign now reaches nearly 3 million students (approximately 8% of the entire Brazilian population aged 4–17 years), and is recognized as the largest Meatless Monday campaign in the world. This campaign is a gateway for the education of students about the negative effects of meat production in Brazil. We also have programs to include vegan options in restaurants, bars, and hotels. These programs seek to make the life of the vegan consumer easier, reduce recidivism rates, and help spread the concept of veganism. This is also the line of action of our certification program of vegan products, a rigorous program working closely with (and educating) the various actors of the production chain. This program now includes nearly 300 products in Brazil.
We also try to include vegetarianism and animal ethics into discussions about sustainability, public health, and food security, acting in various fora where this is possible. Additionally, we promote an annual event that brings together different actors from the movement to educate attendees, the local press, and promote much-needed networking. We also promote an annual film festival in several Brazilian cities, aimed at bringing transparency to the problems of animal use in various contexts. In 2017 we created the first graduate college degree in Brazil in vegan gastronomy. We are very proud of having achieved so much in various areas, but believe much more could be done. We are few, with few resources (in SVB, we rely on highly qualified professionals in various areas acting as volunteers), so funding is still a major constraint for further expansion.
In addition to the areas where SVB acts, we understand that it is extremely important for animal advocacy groups to support new and emerging technologies with the potential to disrupt and transform the market and make animal-free products mainstream. Investing in Brazilian companies with this potential, and/or creating the conditions for them to thrive, would also have a great impact—as it would help Brazilian entrepreneurs compete with the country’s meat sector, offering better price, taste, and convenience to the consumer.
Executive Director for Brazil, Animal Equality
Vivian Mocellin has a multidisciplinary background in Journalism, Cultural Anthropology and Art Critique. She started her career in public relations for the federal government, later becoming editor-in-chief of two art and culture magazines in Brazil. She served as Animal Equality’s corporate outreach manager for Brazil before becoming the executive director for Brazil in 2017. Vivian believes organized sociocultural movements can lead to long-term structural changes and social innovations. She is also an advocate for other causes such as feminism, the environment, indigenous rights, and land access, but she believes that animal issues are at the center of social justice at large and that they will be the force driving the next paradigm shift.
Effective opportunities for supporting the animal advocacy movement in Brazil
Even though Brazil is a leading producer, exporter, and consumer of meat, plant-based eating has been experiencing an exponential rise in popularity as Brazilians are rethinking their consumption and eating habits. A recent survey commissioned by the Brazilian Vegetarian Society showed a growth of 75% in vegetarianism in the country. In 2012, 8% of the Brazilian population identified as vegetarian; six years later this number is 14%. Another survey, commissioned by Greenpeace last year to inform their campaign “Less is More: Reducing Meat and Dairy,” showed that 73% of people feel poorly informed about how animals are treated in farms; 41% associate meat with deforestation and climate change; 63% want to reduce meat consumption, and the majority would follow a medical recommendation to do so. Furthermore, data released by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics last month (May 2018) shows that reduction in slaughter indicates that demand for meat is consistently decreasing in Brazil.
These studies indicate the great potential for investigations and creating a content and communications strategy that educates people not only on the cruel treatment of animals in farms but also the impact of the industry on their health and the environment. Besides these opportunities focusing on individual change initiatives, we firmly believe in promoting large-scale institutional change through the programs highlighted below.
Recent data suggests that participation in Meatless Mondays in Brazil is the largest in the world. In 2017, more than 47 million vegetarian meals were served through the initiative, which launched in the country in 2009. Recently, schools in four northeastern Brazilian cities agreed to go plant-based, and will serve an additional 23 million vegan meals per year as a result. Issued by the Ministry of Health in 2014, the Dietary Guidelines for the Brazilian Population recommend reducing consumption of animal products, stating that “a combination of a plentiful variety of foods of plant origin with small quantities of foods of animal origin results in nutritious, delicious and appropriate diets, which therefore are satisfying biologically, sensorially, and culturally.” In addition to this, a federal law, approved on May 17, 2018, has made mandatory the teaching of nutritional education in the curricula of primary and secondary schools.
It is also essential to develop corporate food policy initiatives encouraging companies to replace or eliminate animal products and/or increase plant-based options in their portfolios. The expansion of multinational processed food companies in Brazil is radically changing the eating habits of the population—especially in more remote areas, where fresh food is not readily accessible. Recent investigative reportage by The New York Times and their documentary “How Junk Food is Transforming Brazil” shows that as growth slows in wealthy countries, Western food companies are aggressively expanding in developing nations, contributing to obesity and health problems.
Legal advocacy and strategic litigation
There is excellent opportunity to invest in legal advocacy and litigation in Brazil, which is one of the most litigious places in the world (with over 100 million lawsuits in court and an increasing number of law agents well versed in animal rights).
The Brazilian Federal Constitution expressly prohibits cruelty to animals, and the Environmental Law, which complements it, imposes criminal liability on environmental crimes—including any act of abuse, mistreatment, injury, or mutilation of animals. This law can be used against corporations, and companies can be subject to fines and business restrictions—while their managers, directors, and advisors could be subject to individual criminal charges.
The Consumer Protection Law can also be used, as many companies declare a respect for the five freedoms established by the World Organisation for Animal Health but then hide the cruel treatment animals in their supply chain undergo from consumers. This could be considered misleading advertisement. Another interesting strategy, which Animal Equality is looking into, would be to work with the Brazilian Institute of Consumer Protection (IDEC) to discuss the mandatory disclosure of animal welfare details on product labels.
There is also federal decree establishing more than 30 definitions of abuse and mistreatment against animals, which includes keeping animals in unhygienic places that negatively impact their breathing, movement, ability to rest, or access to air or light. Though legally not as binding as a treaty, Unesco’s Universal Declaration of Animal Rights also constitutes a relevant legal source in the country and has already been invoked by some of the most prominent local courts.
Even though Brazil follows a civil law system where codified statutes predominate as the primary source of law, recent changes in the Civil Procedures Code gave precedents increased value, turning them into new sources of law in some instances. This is positive because we have had great judicial precedents, such as the decision from the Supreme Federal Court which outlawed Farra do Boi (Ox Festival) deeming it intrinsically cruel, and more recently, banning bullfights across the country. Unfortunately, the latter decision has been overturned by a political maneuver which introduced an amendment to the federal constitution declaring bullfights as a cultural manifestation protected by the law. A public attorney denounced this maneuver, claiming that this amendment is null and unconstitutional, and so bullfights are still illegal. The outcome of this appeal will be known in the next few months, but the favorable precedent is already being used by state courts to ban the bullfights in the state territories of their jurisdictions. There is also an emblematic decision that was issued in February of this year via an injunction which suspended the shipment of 27,000 live animals and placed a ban on live export throughout the national territory. In this decision, the judge expressly declared that animals are sentient beings with rights and affirmed that their protection is a legal duty. The decision was overturned, and an appeal was filed asking for the reestablishment of the ban. The case is expected to reach the Supreme Court soon as well.
At Animal Equality we firmly believe that putting animal issues at the heart of the political debate is an essential strategy for advancing the animal rights movement in Brazil.
While the country has been plagued in recent years by numerous corruption scandals exposing the links between politicians and meat-packing companies such as JBS and BRF, the population has grown aware of the unethical influence animal agriculture has on the government. Some progressive political parties also took note of the growth of the animals rights movement in the country and are actively looking for animal rights activists to run for their parties. The final list of candidates is yet to be published, but we have already mapped out and started engaging with potential allies who will help us to introduce bills and lobby for protective legislation to be approved.
We expect, for the first time, to see the formation of a small animalist caucus to oppose the powerful ruralist bench in Parliament. This will help to stop the government from dismantling protective environmental legislation, which affects animals directly and indirectly.
Interestingly, the corporate sector is also a potential, and powerful, ally—and it is constantly demanding that we present bills to turn their corporate welfare policies into law. With this, companies can have legal security for the adoption of their commitments and the assurance that all the competitors will need to follow the same regulations. For instance, companies that have already adopted cage-free commitments have declared that they will support our bill proposing banning cages for hens, and some are even willing to lobby the government for approval.
We also know that commercial interests play an essential role in lawmaking. For example, the bill banning animal testing (which is about to be approved) has been primarily driven by the European ban on importing products that have been tested in other markets.
Food policy, legal advocacy, and political outreach all present significant opportunities to advance institutional, large-scale, and long-lasting change for animals in Brazil. Despite many organizations and activists operating with small capacity in Brazil, organizations like Animal Equality are already active in all of these areas and see a lot of opportunities to lead initiatives which can help to redefine the context of animal protection in the country.