"When animal husbandry saves our lives"

pulina nappini

I read (and reread in disbelief after the first reading) Barbara Nappini's contribution entitled "Enough animals as production machines" published on Green&Blue. Incredulous because, according to Dr. Nappini's arguments, I was in the wrong profession having dedicated myself all my life, as a professor of Zootechnics, to studying and transferring the knowledge of the science of breeding and animal production to students and breeders. For Dr. Nappini, I would not have made a mistake alone, but I would be in the company of around a million scholars and technologists who carry out this activity around the world, improving the living conditions of billions of animals, their breeders and providing humanity with 38% of proteins and 55% of the amino acids essential for life. Probably the model that Dr. Nappini has in mind is the one documented by Ermanno Olmi in the film "The Tree of Clogs", set in a cold, poor and hungry Po Valley, where the animals were subjected to the same, if not worse, deprivations as men and shared their miserable fate. I advise Dr. Nappini to see (or revisit if necessary) the scenes of the cows kept on chains (the good old days, right?) in the stables beneath the houses of the farmhouses (today on sale at exorbitant prices), also to dilute with their heat the rigors of winter, and to focus on the desperation of the widow Runc at the unfortunate diagnosis of the vet who advises her to slaughter their only cow. And yes, great times, the old days, if it weren't for the fact that for the majority of the inhabitants of that poor, peasant Italy, life was full of bitter cabbage. I am silent on the scene of the killing of the pig, because it speaks for itself, but Olmi presents it to us with the force of inevitability that is entirely cultural and not ideological. Then came Zootechnics, an agricultural and veterinary practice, which from the early 1900s began to improve the fortunes of both animals (better fed, better cared for and therefore better bred) and their breeders. The first traveling chairs were memorable, and then the exhibitions for the sale of improvers for milk and meat. We should remember with gratitude our industrial revolution of the 1950s which also became an agricultural revolution and began to guarantee sufficient food, meat, milk and eggs for an increasingly wider segment of the population. So much so that today, as is known, we have even gone so far as to complain about so much well-being.

Wellbeing that has made us grow taller (see the very close correlation between height at the draft and consumption of animal foods found up until the 1980s) and has lengthened the life expectancy of our compatriots. Human well-being which is also derived from Zootechnics, the science which was the first to also deal with the similar aspect for animals: Dr. Nappini knows that the cows of the Alpine areas which have spent the winter in stables (indoors, well protected from the frost and accustomed to mates: could it be a case of intensive breeding?) once taken to the mountain pastures do they show a high degree of stress, measured by the increase in hormones of the hypothalamic-adrenal axis and by the sudden drop in milk? Or does she miss the fact that, unlike considering animals as machines as she claims, farmers, even those in the reviled intensive farms, respect them to the point of risking their own lives to save that of their animals from fires and floods. In case you don't believe it, you could check from the news whether any farmer has risked as much to save a tractor or a barn from a fire.

It would take a long time to explain the benefits that animal sciences, like all other agricultural sciences, have brought to humanity, first of all with the increase in food availability without which medical sciences would have been disarmed and the others totally useless. .

We zootechnicians, scholars and technologists of animal sciences and production, are committed every day, with our feet firmly planted on the ground and our eyes turned to the future, to guarantee healthy, fair, sustainable and ethical food for as much humanity as possible. We hope that Slow Food can declare the same, whose good intentions we have no doubts about.

(Giuseppe Pulina in www.repubblica.it, 14 June 2024)