Brigitte Gothière, founder and director of the L214 association, answers our questions in an exclusive interview.
Madame Gothière, thank you for agreeing to answer our questions in a long interview that we will broadcast in 2 parts.
We are going to talk together about the animal condition; the place of animals in our societies, the evolution of their rights, and more difficult subjects such as mistreatment. We will also discuss the concepts of "well-being" and "ethics", your relationship with elected officials and the various professional sectors. There is no lack of subjects when we are interested in our friends, the animals.
- But before tackling all these themes, could you give us a brief history of your association? Where was she born from? What is its vocation? How much you're ?
L214 was born from a common desire among several people, from an idea of justice. A justice that also extends to other animals with the desire to bring out the animal question by making it visible, in particular through filmed investigations. We have all read philosophers. We drew on a review called Les Cahiers antispécistes at the time. We therefore had a common basis for the exchange of ideas. We bumped into each other at the Animal Question Festival which takes place every year. This year again, at the beginning of August in the Marne. It is therefore this meeting of people that first gave birth to the Stop force-feeding movement and then, L214. The vocation is to make people recognize that, since animals are beings endowed with sensitivity, they are therefore not resources at our disposal but beings in their own right that we must stop considering as food. This sensitive character was recognized in the rural code part, precisely, the article L214 in 1976. We had acquired all the methodology with Stop force-feeding which we applied to L214; namely from very concrete examples to show the workings of a system which considers animals as resources, with force-feeding; a system taken to its extreme since we will knowingly make sick animals to feed on their organs. With Stop force-feeding , we had to learn more through studies, scientific documentaries, professional presses. Our first research was done in the field. We conducted filmed surveys. It is ultimately all this fairly meticulous work around each investigation that will give birth to the particularity of L214, having on one side, the proof by the image and on the other, all the documentary investigation that accompanies. We started with a handful of 5 or 6 volunteers. Today, we have 75 employees and 50,000 members and 2,000 volunteers and we are followed by more than a million people on social networks.
- Does your association's field of action stop at the French borders or do you have ramifications outside the country?
The activity of L214 remains in France but indeed, we have links with other associations with which we exchange very regularly. We are part, for example, of the “Open Wing Alliance” which is a coalition of associations which started with a campaign against cage farming of laying hens. We therefore carried out international actions with these associations. Especially since in France, we are well placed. Indeed, France is home to the head offices of major international economic players. So we were a key point especially in relation to all the campaigns that we lead to reduce cruelty to animals. Groups like Carrefour, Auchan, Danone among others. It is therefore interesting to get France on board in international campaigns. And then there are also political questions at European level. We will be in cooperation with other associations. For example, we are part of “Europgroup for animals”. Until now, we weren't very active at this level. But we are building up quickly. We have already carried out a few campaigns such as the one concerning amendment 171 at European level which proposes to ban plant products with names: milk, and the use of yoghurt pots for plant yoghurts. Thanks to this joint action, the amendment was withdrawn. At the moment, we are raising awareness at international level about the very large European subsidies that are issued to be able to advertise meat and milk. Another example of a campaign: “Let's talk about pork”. A campaign that aims to promote pork when we know that in France, 95% of pork comes from pigs that are raised in intensive breeding without any access to the outside.
- Are there movements similar to yours outside of France ?
So, our field of activity is indeed France, but with exchanges of campaigns and experiences with other organizations. Moreover, France is not at all isolated. There are organizations similar to ours all over the world and so we have learned a lot from others and their experiences. I am thinking of Mercy for Animals for example.
There were movements long before ours. I could quote PETA or again, Mercy for animals . PETA also uses film reports, organizes happenings to attract attention, carries out actions at political, business and educational level. These movements were really precursors by seizing all modern means such as social networks.
We do not pretend to say that we were pioneers and I would say that unfortunately no organization has the magic recipe to advance the animal question with great strides. But if one day one stands out, I think we will all adopt the same course of action!
- Since 2008, when L214 was created, would you say that the condition of animals has changed? For better or for worse.
I would say yes anyway. Things have changed. It is not the revolution. We have not gone from a world that kills animals to eat them to a world that recognizes their sensitivity and considers them as cohabitants. So we are not at the end of the road. Nevertheless, ten years ago when we spoke of defending animals, we spoke of defending dogs and cats. And today, the issue of animals that are bred for consumption, including fish, is slowly entering the consciousness. Public debate happens at the political level, at the corporate level. We have not yet obtained a law to significantly set this back. Small victories such as vegetarian meals in canteens will allow a very, very slight decline, but the reality is still 3 million animals per day in land slaughterhouses, to which must be added an incalculable number of fish in fish farms, fishing boats. fishing, etc. The situation is changing at least in terms of mentalities. We hear more and more about flexitarian, that is, people who are aware of a number of problems. The animal condition issue from L214's point of view is that 99% of animals exploited by humans are raised for food consumption. So it's an overwhelming majority. So there is this awareness within society and we are happy to see that some people decide to initiate a change. Without forgetting that we are at the crossroads of a large number of environmental, health, social, medical and resource sharing issues. 70 billion animals are killed per year in the world for food and 1,000 billion per year for aquatic animals. For the latter, they are estimates given by English scientists belonging to the organization Fish count . But of course, it is not as easy to obtain a number as precise as for terrestrial animals. In France alone, 1 billion land animals are killed per year.
- You mentioned the term flexitarian earlier. I often have the impression that this is an overused term behind those who cannot give up meat consumption. A term that would ultimately give a good conscience. What do you think ?
I think we are all steeped in contradictions with civic ideas very often ahead of our consumer behavior. And I think everyone is trying to deal with their own contradictions with all of our cognitive biases. I see this flexitarianism as a step forward, but we know very well that all the progress that we can obtain involves individual behavior, without forgetting above all political decisions and suddenly collective decisions. If our society comes to recognize that animals are sentient beings and that eating them is in complete contradiction with our common morality which says that we should not mistreat and kill unnecessarily, then - there it will be enshrined in law. It will happen culturally and eating animals will become something totally incongruous or even forbidden. But today this is not the case. Consequently, everyone is forced to come to terms with their own self with which we do not always agree. So I see this more as a very strong signal of encouragement to say to oneself: yes I have realized, I am trying to move forward, I know that I have a long way to go but at least I have started. And then I tell myself that the people who have embarked on the issue of flexitarianism, it means that several times a week, they eat vegetarians or better, 100% vegetable and suddenly, they also discover a new way of eating. . Because most of us - well I don't remember the first time I ate meat at all, I had it noon and night at school and at home and so - there has a kind of habit and culture that strongly permeates us. And we know that changing habits and culture doesn't happen all at once. We did it with cell phones, which provide us with ease and services. In terms of food, we touch on the intimate, on childhood, and it is, therefore, much more complicated.
In addition, nowadays, we have to deal with the internet. The inter-profession of cattle breeders which uses the term flexitairen and which tells us: flexitarien, but yes, of course, eat meat and vegetables around. It's being flexitarian! we can therefore see that there are also commercial manipulations around this term. But I nevertheless think that among most people who testify to their flexitarianism, there is an awareness of both climate issues and the animal question. In the end, I would therefore take this as a small sign of hope that we must cling to. I like to make the comparison with a school in front of which you seek to make the cars slow down. You have several means of action. You can just warn by saying watch out, you have a school here. Please slow down because you could kill our children. Then everyone takes responsibility for slowing down or not. Or you can put up a sign or a speed camera, in which case more people will slow down. You can put a chicane. It's already a way of forcing people to slow down because you can't keep the same speed with or without a chicane. And finally, you have the option of making the street of this school pedestrian. And so somewhere, on the question of our relationship with animals, that's exactly it. Either we simply alert people to the animal condition just in the speech and everyone deals with it. Some will take it into account and others not at all. Or you try to make the path completely pedestrian and there no more animals are killed.
- In this specific case, if I follow your reasoning, that would mean outright prohibition. Does it seem realistic and achievable to you in France as elsewhere?
Yes. The death penalty has indeed been banned in a large number of countries. A lot of things have been banned. There are social rights that have evolved and fortunately since the dawn of time. I am thinking of women's rights among others. The evolution towards positive rights has also advanced this cause: the right to live, the right not to be badly treated, to be tortured. It can just be positive rights. We won't want for anything. Even if we have to fight against lobbies who want to pass the 100% vegetable for something sad, where we will all be subject to terrible deficiencies. We therefore also see that many received ideas around plants need to be deconstructed.
- In this noble fight that you lead to protect the integrity of animals, you have made yourself famous by broadcasting reports with often unbearable images reflecting a reality that is no less so. Do you think that shocking is ultimately the only way to make things happen?
Well listen, we started off by handing out leaflets that explained how animals were treated. And when we distributed them, people would tell us: ah, no, it's not possible. It must have happened in the United States or in the countries of the East 50 years ago but not here and now! From the moment we started showing the images of what was going on in France now, people started to realize the reality. So, we do not intend to shock. It is just the reality that is extremely shocking. We have taken very far what we can do to animals under the pretext of eating them. Between confinement in completely closed buildings as we can see with the chickens that are 22 per meter², tides of chickens that stretch as far as the eye can see. Between the mutilations of animals to force their cohabitation. It is no longer buildings that we adapt to animals but the reverse. Let's talk about the cutting of pig tails, the grinding of the teeth and then, for our little gustatory comfort, live castration. We also have the case of cutting the beaks for laying hens in order to make them fit in cages. Even in organic farms, there are up to 3,000 hens that are raised at the same time when it would only take a few dozen individuals. So yes, the reality is super shocking. And again, I did not mention the slaughterhouses where there are very few people who can look at what is happening there. Emotion is therefore a powerful lever to get started. We must then confront this with reason. This is why I told you earlier that we use images which are a kind of summary with a format imposed on us by social networks. We therefore obtain very intense images for a few minutes. But besides that, we have complete files which explain step by step what the animals go through at each stage of their ordeal, from birth to slaughterhouse. Many stages in the life of animals are shocking, if not their entire life which is shocking.
- And precisely, do you manage to make the animal cause evolve in this way? We recently did an article on a sow farm in Finistère in which one of your reports shows unspeakable treatment inflicted on animals. A few years ago, you had already alerted to such acts and yet things continued. How do you explain that ?
Regarding this slaughterhouse located in Briec, we based ourselves on a report from the veterinary services which dated from 2016. We had not documented what was happening in this slaughterhouse before 2021. But in 2015/2016, we had shown a whole series of slaughterhouse investigations, I am thinking of Alès among others. Following these inquiries, the minister at the time, Mr Le Foll, had had enough and ordered an audit carried out by the state control services in all slaughterhouses for slaughter animals; namely 250 in the country, including that of Briec. They published all the reports. We retrieved these reports and compared some, including the Briec slaughterhouse, with our images. It was at this time that we noted that the infractions observed in 2016 had not been corrected by the State services until 2021. That is what has not changed. We have shown a whole series of slaughterhouse investigations. There was this audit. There was a commission of inquiry led by Olivier Falornie on the slaughterhouses which resulted in a damning report to which are added a hundred recommendations. He also tabled a bill which was adopted at first reading in the National Assembly. Bill subsequently abandoned in the Senate. In this bill, there was video control in slaughterhouses, permanent supervision by an agent of the veterinary services of the post where the animals are killed. All these proposals were not followed for lack of political courage of successive governments. They do not dare to oppose certain federations like the FNSEA which is a powerful majority agricultural union today because historically it is the one which has carried out all the reforms since the post-war period and which today, we have a productivist agriculture which clings to this productivist model. To be completely clear in my thoughts, the Minister of Agriculture is a puppet of the FNSEA. We saw it with the current minister, Julien de Normandie, concerning the artificial controversy that they have mounted around the canteens in Lyon where he tweets: “voila, eat meat, it is essential to grow well. Where does such a thing come from? It is based on no nutritional truth. Quite the contrary.
Besides that, there are things that we manage to develop well. For example, I think that it is thanks to these images that awareness was raised and that the debates were able to reach the National Assembly. We have also obtained permanent or temporary closures of a number of establishments. I can cite the Perrat chicken farm in Chaleins which closed following the images we were able to show. But I assure you it took a very long time. The first images were shown in 2013, they were banned, then we got in touch again with some workers who were working inside the site and that was in 2016 when we released the images publicly - because in 2013, we simply alerted the veterinary services - that the then minister of affairs was closing the establishment. We also closed a hatchery in Finistère.
There are a few examples like these. And there are also some advances with companies. If I take the example of laying hens, in 2008, 80% were raised in cages in France. Today this figure has dropped to 36%. This decrease was made possible thanks to campaigns that we carried out alongside other associations for the defense of animals with the public, but we also addressed mass distribution, manufacturers, hotels and restaurants, producers. . We got the commitment that by 2025 they will no longer use or produce eggs from hens raised in battery cages. We can therefore hope to see the disappearance of battery laying hen farms in 2025. These are concrete examples. We carry out the same campaigns for chickens which are not in cages but which undergo genetic selections, breeding densities and slaughter conditions which are absolutely unacceptable and, moreover, which are criticized when the public is questioned. . We are getting public support in this area.
- In general, does that mean that the public authorities, which are the only ones able to change things at the end of the chain, do not care or little of your actions? Let me clarify my question a bit. We live in a society of images in which the emotions they aroused, as strong as they may have been, relapse as quickly as they burst our hearts. Have you noticed that these same public authorities rely on this ephemeral side of emotion to drag things along and not take measures that could perhaps go against economic interests?
In reality, the closer you are to your population, the easier it is to put the action into practice. A mayor does this much better than a deputy and even better than a minister. However, there are deputies and senators who take up the animal question within the hemicycle and even in their own parties while being completely isolated. I am thinking in particular of Eric Diard, deputy for the Republicans who is one of the few to carry the animal question within his party. If I take the example of the Briec slaughterhouse, when we asked all parliamentarians to obtain an audit of the slaughterhouses as was the case in 2016, 14 Les Républicains deputies voted in favor of a resolution asking this control. We have support in other political movements. I am thinking of Cédric Villani, Mathieu Orphelin or even Aurore Bergé. But we find, in general, the strongest support within France Insoumise or Les Verts who have programs on this issue much more advanced than the other parties. The animal question is transversal and I recognize that it is difficult to be carried especially in the large traditional parties. We're not going to lie to each other. But again, the lines are moving. And I want to stress that when we started with L214, the animal question was totally absent from the political debate. We had no answer. Subsequently, there were declarations of good intentions like: “Of course, the animal question is very important. Moreover, we are very mobilized and that is one of our priorities ”. It was just talk at the time. And then, in the year that has passed, we still had 4 bills, 3 of which were discussed. The bill from the Ecology Democracy Solidarity group, itself driven by the referendum on a shared initiative for animals which was propelled by Hugo Clément and three tech entrepreneurs and supported by a large number of associations such as L214. We had the animal abuse bill discussed in January at the National Assembly. It mainly concerns pets and we can regret that it has completely put aside the questions of hunting and breeding. We miss the subject a little because supposedly, it was divisive. But I have the impression that it is divisive only in the National Assembly because the citizens, them, are ready to advance the top. And then, we had the proposals made to the Senate by Esther Benbassa, on intensive breeding which was swept away by the Senate. Just like the proposal of France Insoumise on farm factories which was rejected in the Committee on Economic Affairs in the National Assembly.
But in any case, we feel that the animal question is more and more present and the political power will have to face it at one time or another.
Another example, in 2014, we show the images of chick crushing. 50 parliamentarians put questions to the government of the time. A fund is released for research and we are promised a ban on this practice by the end of 2021 at the same time as the Germans. I recognize that it is very long because the political weight of the sectors has a lot to do with it. I can take the example of cage farming for laying hens. In 2018, we have the Egalim food law in both chambers. An amendment proposes to ban cage farming of laying hens. Everybody is ready. Supermarkets at the time were already very involved. We had shown a lot of pictures. We have the support of personalities like Stéphane Bern or Sophie Marceau and polls indicate that 90% of the population is opposed to this practice. The legislator therefore has a boulevard in front of him to meet the citizen demand. However, a fallback amendment will be voted which will provide for the ban on building new battery farms. While he hadn't been building one for a while. We can therefore see that the discussions led by the politicians with the egg sector led to the vote on the existing one. They therefore took no political risk. Here is an example of the influence of the sectors which are bottom and bottom with the Ministry of Agriculture. In the end, the slightest advance is super controlled. Do you realize that we have only obtained the camera installation in 4 slaughterhouses in France quite simply because the industry has let it be known that there is no question of imposing this on them. Those responsible for this sector even used slaughterhouse workers to prevent the cameras. While they don't give a damn about the workers. In the end and to my great disappointment, nothing can prove that the same abuses in the slaughterhouses do not continue.
End of the first part. Find in a few days the second part of our exclusive interview with the founder of L214, Madame Brigitte Gothière.