Patrycia Sato is the animal welfare coordinator at Fórum Animal. She spoke with ACE Research Intern Victoria Schindel on October 23, 2018. This is a summary of their conversation.
Can you describe the work that you do at Fórum Animal in Brazil?
I am the Animal Welfare Coordinator for Fórum Animal, which is a Brazilian NGO. We have many different campaigns, but my main responsibilities relate to our farmed animal campaigns. Right now we are focusing on battery cages for laying hens and on gestation crates for sows. We are also working on live exports, as Brazil exports a lot of beef cattle (especially to Turkey). We are taking civil action asking for a ban on live exports all over Brazil, and are currently waiting for the judges to make a decision. We also support Meatless Mondays.
More recently, we have been dealing with donkeys, especially in the northeast of Brazil. There are thousands of donkeys being abandoned when people don’t need them anymore for work, and there are also some slaughterhouses that are exporting donkey skins and meat to China. We also have a campaign against foie gras, toward which we intend to put more efforts in 2019. Sometimes we also work on issues such as rodeos, wild animal trafficking, and hunting. I probably focus about 80% of my time on farmed animals used for consumption, but that only makes up about one-third of the work that Fórum Animal does.
What are some of the victories and failures of the effective animal advocacy movement in Brazil? Why do you think these goals were, or were not, achieved?
Brazil is a hard place to do farmed animal advocacy because we are one of the largest producers of animals in the world so a lot of the producers have political power and influence. They don’t care about the environment and they don’t care about animal welfare, which makes it very difficult to make any changes to the ways animals are farmed. It’s much easier to work with cats and dogs because culturally, they are considered members of the family. The economic aspect is always used to justify using animals for food production.
Brazil is in a political and economic crisis at the moment, and the candidate most likely to be elected1 wants to legalize the hunting of wild animals and increase animal production. He’s also said that he wants to cease all activism in Brazil. So we are in a very tense moment right now.
In terms of victories, we have secured a lot of corporate commitments toward animal welfare policies—for instance, many companies are going cage-free and around 40% of pig producers are committing to banning gestation crates. However, not much has been done regarding legislation because it’s a fragile situation. Depending on the interests at stake, any changes to legislation could simply be revoked.
Can you explain the relationship between animal producers and politicians in Brazil?
A lot of producers are also politicians, so they only work for their own benefit. The person who holds the Minister for Agriculture role is usually a producer—right now, that person is a soy farmer, so he wants to expand animal agriculture so that he can sell more soy. They have a lot of power as politicians, and they have a lot of land and money. The northern area of Brazil is very tense because the producers are so powerful—if activists bother them, they are able to sentence them to death. Sometimes, depending on the region, we don’t feel safe fighting for animals.
This political influence has a huge impact on the work that we are able to do, particularly with beef cattle producers since they are the most powerful. For now, all we are doing is work on stopping live exports, but the majority of the producers are not interested in exporting live animals so it’s not like we are fighting against the whole industry. Whenever we try to promote a bill, there are many politicians trying to work against our propositions. For example, regarding the live exports, in Santos we managed to get a judge to approve a bill banning live exports, but then a few weeks later it was revoked. Changing legislation is very complicated.
What do you think are some of the most promising opportunities for animal advocacy in Brazil?
We are always trying to work on consumer awareness and to engage our supporters because we believe that education is key. Ten years ago we tried to work against live exports but it didn’t work because people didn’t know that we export live cattle, and they didn’t think that live exporting was wrong if it was good for the country economically. But now there are a lot of people in Brazil who are conscious of animal cruelty, especially cruelty against farmed animals. Our vegetarian and vegan community has grown a lot in the last few years, but I don’t think that people need to be vegetarian or vegan to support our cause. When we relate livestock production to animal cruelty, people usually support us. There are over 200 million people in Brazil so there are many people to engage with, which is a big opportunity.
Although we have had success with egg-laying hens and pigs, there’s still a lot to do—particularly for broiler chickens and cattle, both beef and dairy. I don’t think there are any NGOs working on this at the moment. For cattle, this might be because in Brazil we don’t confine cattle all year round like in the U.S. or Europe or Canada. It’s wrong, but there is a sense that they don’t suffer as much as in other countries. For dairy cattle, because they are not raised for meat, they might not be considered a priority for concern even though they are sent to slaughter. It’s also because of the power of the cattle producers—it’s a difficult thing to confront them to begin with.
The animal advocacy movement in Brazil is very new. It has been around for probably 30 years at most. The problems are huge in scale and there are not yet many people working on them. It’s only been in the last five years that we have started to work on farmed animal issues.
Do you think Brazilians are becoming more aware of farmed animal welfare?
Yes, they definitely are, and I think that’s due to the internet and social media. But there are also the dangers of fake news—of people sending videos and pictures and not accurately explaining what is going on. That causes a lot of incorrect perceptions. But whenever we use the internet to spread the truth, we get a good response. People are more worried now about what they are eating. This is because of animal ethics, but also because of human health and everything that goes into producing food.
How do you think the Brazilian public perceives animal advocacy? Are they more receptive to some issues than others?
People are much more welcoming to advocacy concerning companion animals like cats, dogs, and horses. We have a huge culture of meat eating, especially at social gatherings where we often have barbecues. People can be very reluctant to change something that is ingrained in their culture.
Is it an advantage or a disadvantage to be a Brazilian organization rather than an international organization working in Brazil?
It can be both. The advantage is that we are free to establish our own campaigns, whereas an international organization will need to communicate with their head office to decide on what they should be working on. We also have connections with politicians, some of whom are working with us. The main disadvantage is that, financially, international organizations can receive funding from all over the world, but we don’t have very much money to work with.
How receptive are corporations to improving animal welfare? What tactics are used to engage them?
The best example is from engaging with companies that use eggs. In the beginning, they are very open to dialogue because a lot of them don’t even know where the eggs come from. Most of them think that they are raised without cages. So it’s awareness work with them, and once we show them our proposals, a few will make commitments with relatively little effort from us. But most of them are very reluctant to do that right away. We always explain that the strategy is to show the producers that they can convert to cage-free systems. At the moment, more than 90% of our eggs are produced in caged systems—so it takes a little time for them to understand that it is a strategy and that cage-free eggs won’t be available for them right away. Even when the commitment is for the future, maybe 2025, many of them are insecure about making a public announcement. If a company is not willing to go cage-free after months (or up to a year), then we will use public campaigns. If it wasn’t for the public campaigns that we and other NGOs do, we wouldn’t have around 80 companies in Brazil committed to welfare improvements. For gestation crates, we have secured about four commitments to stop using them. The companies often need to feel that their public image will be compromised if they don’t commit.
Are you able to engage effectively with the media in Brazil?
I think the media could be more interested than they are at the moment. If something has a significant impact economically, or involves a huge company or a politician, the media is usually very willing to pay attention. Otherwise, they don’t really express any interest in what we have to say. There are a few journalists who are very concerned about sustainability, but they are the exception to the rule.
How has the public reacted to the scandals involving the meat industry and politicians? What implications have these scandals had for your work?
It has been beneficial for us because it showed that the industry is not transparent and that they are corrupt. We used that news as part of our social media strategy. But it has been a few months now, and it’s no longer on people’s minds as much. One major problem is the concentration of low-income communities here. There are a lot of very poor people, and the poorer you are, the less selective you are about what you eat. Meat and other animal products are very cheap in Brazil—so when you show most people welfare-certified eggs or meat which costs two or three times as much, people don’t even consider buying it. Vegetarian and vegan alternatives can also be too expensive for people to be able to buy, although it is a growing market. You can find them in the largest cities like São Paulo, but even in Rio it isn’t that easy to find vegetarian and vegan options in restaurants or in the supermarkets. Vegan options are considered a niche market which means the prices are substantially higher. It is something that really needs to be improved.
Since this conversation, this candidate has been elected President. See ACE’s blog post title “What impact will the election of Jair Bolsonaro have on effective animal advocacy in Brazi?” for more information.