With the permission of Parmigiano Reggiano or mozzarella, Grana Padano is the quintessential Italian cheese. One of the main hallmarks of the gastronomy of the transalpine country that has traditionally been related to high quality. And a product that is not lacking in the kitchen of an immense percentage of Italian homes, as well as in those of any other corner of the planet. In fact, it is the most consumed cheese with a designation of origin in the world.
That is why the research carried out by the organization Essere Animali, In collaboration with Eurogroup for Animals and within the framework of the campaign ‘No animals left behind ‘ acquires a capital relevance: in Italy, touching the Grana Padano are major words, since it implies questioning a food that represents like few other “Italian excellence”, in the words of those responsible for Essere Animali.
Cruelty, unhealthyness and death
In investigations carried out last July and this September, activists had access to one of the main farms producing this cheese. What they found left them speechless: dead calves scattered around the facilities, unsanitary conditions and extreme violence from the workers, who often beat the animals cruelly. The young, separated from their mothers shortly after birth – a procedure for which a rope tied to their forehead is used – are placed in tiny individual pens after being thrown in wheelbarrows and immobilized in an unnatural position, with one leg around the neck. .
The activists also witnessed the death of several calves, which suffocated when their heads were stuck in the manger in the corral. “These are incidents that surely constitute criminal animal negligence, since none of the workers intervened to free them,” they denounce. In the facilities they also found countless broken and rusty fences that pose a serious danger to animals.
For anyone who has had the slightest curiosity to know the origin of a food like cheese it is no surprise: females are systematically pregnant to produce milk. Once they give birth, the separation of mother and calf serves to facilitate the daily milking operations of thousands of cows, whose milk is thus destined entirely to the market or, in this case, to the production of Grana Padano. “There is evidence that calves separated from their mothers at birth show behavioral and developmental damage, while calves raised in a group environment benefit both in terms of sociability and well-being,” say those responsible for Essere. Animali.
Question of profitability
In a market that moves millions of euros a year, well-being is always in the background to what is truly important: profitability. Italian cheese production is the fourth largest in the world, with more than one million tons per year. On farms such as those documented by Essere Aninali, calves are raised in pens that are no wider than their own bodies. As a result of the shortage of space on the farms, many are housed in pairs, further reducing the space at their disposal. To this must be added the drama of being born male on one of these farms, since they are considered a by-product: unlike females, they cannot be reintegrated into the supply chain of dairy products and, therefore, generate fewer profits . With them, the mistreatment and cruelty is even more ruthless and cruel.
Hygiene conditions are equally critical. Surrounded by their own excrement, calves often fall ill, leading farm managers to over-medicate them with antibiotics. “There is nothing natural about the way these animals are fed: they are mainly given a mixture of powdered milk and water, substitutes for mother’s milk,” denounce Essere Animali activists. A bad diet that also has consequences. During the course of the investigation, several calves became seriously ill and suffered severe diarrhea: none of the sheds was cleaned by the workers, which caused a high presence of insects.
Sanitary deficiencies translate into a high mortality rate for animals. One of the videos recorded by the activists shows the birth of a calf inside a shed with a thick layer of excrement, as well as large pools of urine and rainwater. Subsequently, the calf died and its body remained in contact with the mother for a whole day.
Risk to consumers
Beyond the animal abuse, from Essere Animali they denounce the “evident sanitary deficiencies” that exist in this type of farms. According to the images recorded by the activists, there is a whole series of practices sustained over time “that indicate a general neglect in the management of the farm.” The videos and photographs reflect a serious state of neglect, especially in terms of hygiene. “The pens are filled with a thick layer of feces. The animals are extremely dirty, especially the teats of the cows that are sent to milk, which implies a high risk of bacterial contamination due to the highly unhealthy environment,” they specify.
Likewise, the farm itself is in a dilapidated state “due to structural defects or lack of maintenance,” say the activists. “In fact, when it rains, large pools of water form inside the sheds, forcing the animals to live with their legs submerged in water for several days.”
All this poses, for Essere Animali, “a serious potential risk to the health of consumers”, in addition to constituting a clear violation of the welfare requirements of farm animals, which prescribe the duty to house them in appropriate places and clean, as well as in conditions that are not harmful to your health. Legislation that, once again, is conspicuous by its absence in the production process of one of the most prestigious cheeses in Italy.