“I’m a campaigner at heart”: Interview with Viva! Founder Juliet Gellatley

By Jodi Truglio — February 25, 2013

Inspired by her connection to the animal kingdom, Juliet Gellatley founded Viva! in 1994, in the little village of Church Minshull with almost no money, a lot of determination and help from friends. Within two years of starting Viva! she relocated her offices to Brighton and then to Bristol, on the southwest coast of the UK. “I previously directed the Vegetarian Society which is more food focused and wanted to bang the drum more loudly on the reasons why the world needs to go vegan. I’m a campaigner at heart,” says Gellatley.

Recently Gellatley took some time out of her busy day to answer a few questions for Global Looking Glass Magazine.

Why Viva!?

Viva! is a vegetarian and vegan organisation which campaigns energetically to end the abuse of animals killed for food.  It is motivated by passion and backed by science.

The most powerful action any of us can take to end animal suffering, improve  our health, protect the environment and bring fairness to the world’s poor is to stop eating meat, dairy and fish.

Every year, one billion animals face the barbarity of slaughter in Britain, and a further 4.5 billion fish and 2.6 billion shellfish are killed for the UK. Most animals spend their short lives in misery, imprisoned in the squalor of factory farms. Many are fully conscious when they are killed by having their throats cut.

The human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage – deforestation, soil erosion, loss of fresh water, air and water pollution and climate change. At sea, fishing has brought all the world’s oceans to the point of collapse. Yet politicians still fail to act.

Millions of children in the developing world die from hunger – alongside fields of high-quality food, destined for the West’s farmed animals. The startling truth is that meat causes starvation.

The science is now overwhelming – vegetarians are healthier than meat eaters and are likely to live longer. Yet the food industry continues aggressively to promote animal products to our children, helping to destroy their health and threatening their future.

The great thing about Viva! is that you can empower people. With the simple decision to stop eating animals, anyone can cease to play a part in this destruction.

What made you become a veggie / vegan?

I’m vegan now but I was 15 years old when I decided to first become a vegetarian. It wasn’t the outcome of argument or debate, or the process of intellectual investigation, not to begin with at any rate. It was because of a look.

A student friend was working on an agricultural project and needed to visit a model farm. I joined him. My notions of stack yards, scattered straw and wandering animals disappeared instantly. There were no animals to be seen, only a collection of ugly, windowless, industrial buildings which could just as easily have been do-it-yourself stores or engineering workshops.

We started in the pig house. As soon as I walked through the door, in an atmosphere cloyingly warm and damp and laced with the smells of 100 defecating pigs, the first nagging unease began to gnaw at me. There were no cosy sties, no wallowing contentment, just row upon row of individual concrete stalls, each pig separated from its neighbours, unable to touch them despite being only centimetres away.

These pigs, I was informed, were the breeding stock, the pregnant sows who would provide two and a half litters of piglets every year, each litter frequently running to double figures. Ahead of each creature was nothing but iron bars to which were clipped feeding troughs. Beneath their feet was slatted metal through which most of their excreta would hopefully drop. However, when they urinated it splashed up from the floor, wetting the sides of the stall and the pigs’ legs and belly. They would eventually lie down in it. I noticed that any movement tended to result in a scrabble to maintain a firm footing.

The effect of their barren and sterile existence was obvious to see. Many of them exhibited a syndrome known as ‘stereotypic behaviour’, moving their heads backwards and forwards in an exact and constantly repeated motion, gnawing on their bars in a particular and regular way with the precision of a metronome.

For creatures with such a strong sense of community, active and sociable, the decision to imprison them in solitary and idle confinement denies them even a semblance of their natural existence. Such a policy reflects our greed and lack of compassion. Pigs have become a product; have been manipulated and specially bred to produce particular types of meat. Ones with especially long backs produce more bacon rashers; ones with sturdy hocks produce better hams. The dominance of money, the logic of efficiency, the adulation of profit are epitomized in the pig-breeding shed.

The final act in my disturbing drama came at the end of the rows of sow-stalls where a few separate, only slightly larger pens were set aside from the rest. In each one was a huge boar. The one nearest to me stood motionless, his huge head hanging low towards the barren floor. As I came level with him he raised his head and dragged himself slowly towards me on lame legs. With deliberation he looked straight at me, staring directly into my eyes.

It seemed to me that I saw in those sad, intelligent, penetrating eyes a plea, a question to which I had no answer: ‘Why are you doing this to me?’ Without embarrassment or shame I burst into tears, silent sobs shaking my body, and I kept repeating over and over: ‘I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.’ At that moment, I went vegetarian.

I didn’t know it at the time but it was that moment that led to me eventually forming Viva!.

What is the philosophy of Viva!?

Viva!’s philosophy is that animal slaughter for food has to end.

Eating meat, fish and dairy involves the inexcusable murder of our fellow creatures on an unimaginable scale. It causes untold suffering to the billions of animals that needlessly die; destroys our health and is killing our planet.

What about Viva!’s campaigns?

Viva! campaigns for a vegetarian/vegan world because most farmed animals spend their short and miserable lives in the filth of factory farms and are killed with sickening barbarity. We expose this abuse by secretly going inside these shameful places and filming the suffering – publicising it with nationwide campaigns that bring about change. Billions of animals are also killed at sea causing immense suffering and the ecological collapse of the oceans.

Viva! monitors the latest research from all over the world on the environment and development issues and argues for change with hard science.  Viva! organises demonstrations and imaginative local campaigns to ensure the public know what’s happening in their area.

Viva! provides all the information and support necessary to help people change their diet because the best way to protect animals is to stop eating them.

How can veganism help end world hunger?

Breeding animals is an incredibly inefficient way to try and feed the world’s growing population. Yet after food rationing during the Second World War, intensive animal farming was actively encouraged as a way of ensuring our future “food security”.

Most meat in Western Europe is now produced in factory farms which, as the name implies, are production lines for animals. To meet the large demand for meat, billions of animals are kept in cramped, filthy conditions, often unable to move properly and not allowed fresh air or even natural light. Unable to feed outdoors naturally, they are fed grain, oil seeds, soya feed, fish meal and sometimes the remains of other animals. High quality land is used to grow grains and soya beans – land that could be used to grow crops for humans.

The grain fed to animals does not convert directly into meat to feed people. The vast majority is either excreted or used as “fuel” to keep the animal alive and functioning. For every 10 kilograms of soya protein fed to America’s cattle only one kilogram is converted to meat. Almost the entire population of India and China, nearly two billion people, could be fed on the protein consumed and largely wasted by the United States’ beef herd.

Because of the demand for animal feed, a Western meat-based diet uses four and a half times more land than is necessary for a vegan diet and two and a quarter times more than for a vegetarian diet.

How damaging is animal agriculture to the environment? 

Roughly how much money is spent toward animal agriculture each year?

Farmed animals are one of the main sources of gases that cause global warming. They top the list in making wildlife and plants extinct across the world – loss of biodiversity. And all because they are the main reason for deforestation – chopping down rainforests – where most of the world’s species live. Pesticides, hormones, drugs and chemicals used for livestock are the main cause of water pollution. The massive use of antibiotics in factory farms has helped to create superbugs. Their manure is a main source of acid rain. Feeding farmed animals takes up 70 per cent of all agricultural land. Many times more people could be fed on a plant-based diet. They consume much of the world’s dwindling fresh water. Their hooves and over-grazing are the main cause of spreading deserts. Agriculture is being intensified and animals are now 80% factory farmed. And on top of this, the world’s oceans are being devastated by overfishing. In short, eating meat, fish and dairy amounts to a diet of disaster!

What do you think is the biggest misunderstanding/misinterpretation about animal agriculture in the UK?

That farmed animals are needed to maintain the countryside!

What are some tips about creating a sustainable future?

Meat, fish and dairy production constitute the largest industry on Earth and maintaining this pillar of the economy and the functioning of a free market are both more important to governments than saving the planet or, it seems, us as a species.

Fortunately, the planet has remarkable powers of recovery. Forget politicians! We must persuade the food industry to invest in our and their future by providing a vast range of easy-to-prepare, healthy, energy-giving vegan foods that taste better than animal products. Two business incentives include the fact that global warming weather catastrophes are already very costly to the food industry; it is in their financial interest to help stop the damage. Secondly, when oil terminally declines, petroleum’s price will spike so high as to bring about the collapse of many parts of today’s economy. Livestock production is exceptionally inefficient and it has been predicted from within both the livestock and financial sectors that peak oil could bring about the collapse of the livestock sector within a few years. The food sector needs to replace animal products with better alternatives now.

As the world relies less and less on farmed animals, pressure on land will reduce; wildernesses be preserved; environmental and health catastrophes headed off and more jobs created in growing and producing safe, healthy foods. Part of the solution is veganic farming. Like organic farmers, veganic growers don’t use pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or genetically modified crops. But veganic farmers go one step further by avoiding slaughterhouse by-products and animal manure in favour of green manures, mulch, vegetable compost, crop rotation and other techniques that don’t involve the exploitation of animals.

Ultimately, the answer lies in you and me. Thank god, we as individuals don’t need government authority to do the one thing which dwarfs all other green actions – change our diet and stop eating meat, dairy and fish.

What has been your most memorable experience since starting your organization?

That’s a tough question. I don’t have one overriding memory as there are so many.

The most powerful was filming pigs being killed, that will haunt my heart forever. A happy memory was driving to the launch of a campaign in London, to end the trade in kangaroo meat.

The targeted supermarket called me asking us to halt the campaign because they were withdrawing all ‘exotic’ meats. We held the photocall but as cork-hatted Australians popping champagne!

Can you tell me a little about “The Vegetarians and Vegan Foundation,” what strides has it made toward campaigning about health and nutrition?

The VVF is now part of Viva! and is called Viva! Health. It has researched many topics all showing how eating animals harms our health; and conversely, how a wholefood vegan diet makes us more bouncy, energetic, disease free and fun!

Our most popular campaign is White Lies, which exposes the health impact of dairy. Off shoots of that campaign are Break Free, exploding the myth that cows’ milk is needed for bone health!

And One in Nine, explaining how breast cancer is linked to milk and meat consumption. We have also shown how diabetes type 2 can be reversed on a vegan diet; why we should not eat fish for omega 3 and many more important campaigns. I love working on the health side too, we have literally saved many human as well as animal lives.

What does the vegan life style mean to you?

It means being part of a positive force for world change; for ending the cruelties metered out to farmed animals on a daily basis.

Is it hard being vegan while living in the UK?

Not hard. You have to think more about your diet when you first change. Vegan food is widely available in supermarkets and health shops across Britain and all cities have restaurants with vegan options. London and Brighton are exceptionally vegan friendly.

What is one of the biggest misconceptions about veganism?

That it means deprivation. It means the opposite. A whole new array of foods opens up to you. The typical UK diet is spiraling downwards to burger and chips or pizza! A wholefood vegan diet guarantees more taste, more choices and more nutrients!

You have been pretty vocal about your campaign to end the sale of Kangaroo meat/leather. Can you tell me a little about this campaign? What else is kangaroo used for? How can consumers avoid buying a product that uses Kangaroo since as far as I am aware companies don’t label what animal the leather came from?

Yes, we have been very vocal! I launched ‘Save the Kangaroo’ in Britain in 1997. The slaughter of kangaroos is the world’s biggest massacre of terrestrial wildlife, carried out by a country with the world’s worst record for species extinction. We have harried and opposed the Australian killing industry for more than a decade with considerable success!

Shortly after Viva!’s launch in 1994, our attention (by my mum shopping in Tesco!) was drawn to a new ‘product’ in Tesco’s meat chillers. Nestled on its Styrofoam tray and wrapped in clingfilm, it was simply labelled ‘kangaroo steak’. We discovered that this so-called delicacy is the product of the greatest slaughter of land animals in history. Hunted down at night in the vast outback, with powerful four-track vehicles, the startled animals are mesmerised with search lights and shot – supposedly in the head.

We obtained video footage of a shooter in action. What was depicted was a cruel and barbaric blood bath. Animals were shot in the throat, their legs slashed open, a hook inserted and they were hauled on to the back of the vehicle, still gasping in agony. Large, still-conscious males were dragged up by their testicles. When females were shot, the first action of the killer was to search their pouches for babies. Having found one, he threw it to the ground and stamped on it, grinding his heel on the ‘joey’s’ head. He walked away, leaving it writhing. Obviously, there is no justification for this wildlife massacre and our research revealed the excuses offered by the Australian government were lies.

We were determined to stop this cruelty and targeted Tesco – persistently for two years. We printed special materials for their customers and put hundreds of local groups outside their stores to distribute it and supplied information to the media. The culmination was a double-page spread in the News of the World on kangaroo killing and Tesco dropped the trade four days later. That was 26 September 1997.

In 1998, I visited Australia and created a storm of controversy – doing about 50 media interviews and a press conference at Canberra’s Houses of Parliament – filmed live on national and regional TV news. I returned to the UK to reinvigorate the campaign – including, on 24 July 1998, a demonstration outside Sainsbury’s supermarket’s headquarters in London. Actress, Pam Ferris, cut up her Sainsbury’s loyalty card in front of Australian and British radio and TV cameras. It was followed the next day with 100 demonstrations in the UK outside Sainsbury’s stores and in Australia at restaurants that sold the meat.

Representatives of the killing industry came to the London demo, desperate to protect their markets. It did them no good because Sainsburys also dumped ‘roo meat and were followed by all the main supermarkets – 1,500 stores in all. It led to Juliet being presented with the Australian Wildlife Protection Council award for services to wildlife.

Despite the victory in Britain, Australia has been increasing its sales of kangaroo meat and leather all around the world. I returned to Australia in 2001 to reinvigorate the campaign and to forge bonds between Australian and European groups in order to widen the campaign to save the kangaroo.

In 2006, there was good news. After years of persuasion from Viva!, David Beckham finally said no to kangaroo leather. One of the most highly paid football stars in the world is now wearing cruelty-free synthetic boots! This story has made headlines around the world.

Football boots made out of kangaroo skin once again made the headlines in 2011 and 2012, after it was discovered that the large manufacturers were moving away from using it due to pressure from Viva! and other groups. However, it emerged that the big four (Adidas, Nike, Umbro and Puma) still all used kangaroo leather to some degree. The shoes tend to be labelled K leather.

This year, Adidas announced that they are phasing out the use of kangaroo leather by 98 per cent over the next 12 months! This is a major victory in our long running campaign and will save the lives of countless kangaroos and their baby joeys.

However, we cannot understand why Adidas will still use kangaroo leather in a small amount of their products. Either you’re an ethical company who cares about animals – or you’re not. Please write to them via  http://www.savethekangaroo.com/what_you_can_do/kickcrueltyout.shtml.

* Photos courtesy of Viva!

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