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Toronto Pig Save 'bears witness' to animal suffering and seeks to inspire change

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Constructing Change speaks to people working in communities to be the change, to build projects, to make a difference.  The interviews and profiles are meant to share information about how to get involved to support and amplify the changemakers' work and/or to share how you can organize a similar project in your community.  The Constructing Change series is a collaboration between the Lynn Williams Activist Toolkit and Rabble Podcast Network.

For nearly seven years, Toronto Pig Save has been building a movement to create a non-violent vegan world and standing for animals in need and a planet in distress. You may have read about Anita Krajnc lately. In June 2015, she and others were bearing witness and gave water to pigs headed to the slaughterhouse. Because of this, she is currently in the midst of trial for "criminal mischief."

This trial calls attention to one part of the work Toronto Pig Save does. Activist Toolkit asked Anita over email about what the Save movement is trying to build, the vision and the future, while she prepared for yet another court appearance on October 3, 2016.

Activist Toolkit: What caused Toronto Pig Save to be created?  What is the Save Movement?

Anita Krajnc: Toronto Pig Save formed in late 2010, after I adopted a beagle named Mr. Bean and saw, on our morning walks, the transport trucks carrying sad and scared pigs to the downtown slaughterhouse in Toronto called Quality Meat Packers, which has since gone bankrupt. The Save Movement is a network of more than 60 Save groups around the world committed to holding vigils at slaughterhouses and bearing witness to suffering animals.

The Save Movement's mission is one, to create a non-violent vegan world; two, to nurture and help develop new activists and new Save groups at every slaughterhouse worldwide; and three, to promote a cultural shift towards the duty of everyone to bear witness to help animals in need and a planet in distress and to promote healthy living.

Bearing witness was defined by Leo Tolstoy, our movement's inspiration, as the duty to not look away from suffering creatures but to approach them and to try and help: "When the suffering of another creature causes you to feel pain, do not submit to the initial desire to flee from the suffering one, but on the contrary, come closer, as close as you can to him who suffers, and try to help."

We hold three vigils each week, all year, as part of an intensive community organizing approach to build our movement. At the vigils we bear witness by looking into the faces of pigs, cows, sheep, chickens and other animals. They are often covered in excrement and crammed in transport trucks. It's heartbreaking to see them staring at us through portholes with fearful and pleading eyes. By bearing witness we see individuals who want to live. Our "personal contact puts a face on the nameless numbers," to quote Dickens in Hard Times.  We use photos and videos and post these on social media to shine a spotlight on these sites of great injustice in the hopes of bringing about change.

Slaughterhouses may seem like the last place animal lovers want to be, but for us -- as for the Quakers, Greenpeace and similar groups -- bearing witness is about being present at the sites of greatest injustice. Our aim is to show the faces of the animal victims and to invite others to join the movement. Tolstoy defined love as giving "another your time and strength, even if it causes you bodily harm, even if you have to give your life to the object of your life." He, like Gandhi, promoted the idea that self-sacrifice and suffering are good and necessary to bring about social change.

AT: How is the animal rights movement growing?   In your view, how does it intersect with the other social justice movements in Canada?

Krajnc: The animal rights and vegan movements are growing fast as more people are become organizers and activists in groups like PETA, Direct Action Everywhere, Farm Animal Rights Movement and a host of other groups worldwide. In the Save Movement, for example, 18 new Save groups formed in the United Kingdom this year alone and by the end of the year, there will likely be close to 30 Saves there. We are in conversations with activists in Seattle, Austin and other places in the U.S. about forming groups there. In Ontario, a stream of local groups were set up this summer, including Hanover Turkey Save, Guelph Cow Save,and Arthur Rabbit and Chicken Save.

Social and animal justice issues are interconnected. By bearing witness to animals in need, we discover the unity of life, and the wisdom of Tolstoy's teachings, which tell us that when people "wish to harm other animals, they really do evil to themselves." The duty to bear witness also arises from the incredibly destructive environmental and health consequences of animal agriculture and consuming animal products.

By eating meat, dairy and eggs, we are eating the planet to death! Animal agriculture is among the most destructive industries on the planet. It is a leading cause of deforestation, species extinction, wetland loss, ocean dead zone, water use, drought, and water pollution.

Animal agriculture is a main contributor to GHG emissions. The conservative UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that animal agriculture accounts for 14.5 per cent of the global total of greenhouse gas emissions each year. This is more than the direct emissions from the transport sector: all the world's cars, trains, ships and airplanes combined.

Animal agriculture is the largest global source of methane and nitrous oxide -- two potent greenhouse gases -- and is a key source of carbon dioxide. Animal agriculture is the biggest source of methane. Methane arises from enteric fermentation -- a digestive process of ruminant cows, goats and sheep. Animal agriculture is a principal source of nitrous oxide from manure and fertilizers used in the production of animal feed. Carbon dioxide: Animal agriculture is a key driver of deforestation and carbon dioxide emissions as forests are cut down for grazing and formerly forest land is used to grow crops for animal feed.

The Canadian director James Cameron's Avatar Foundation funded a study by Chatham House called "Livestock -- Climate Change's Forgotten Sector." The report shows how shifting towards a plant based diet is a necessary condition for averting catastrophic climate change.  There is an urgent need for a radical dietary shift. A dietary change is a necessary condition if global warming in not to exceed international targets set for 2050 (no more than a 2 C increase in temperature, though many say this political target would be ecologically devastating).

Sailesh Rao, the author of Carbon Yoga, asked the land-use scientists in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change "what would happen if the world went vegan." It would allow 40 per cent of the Earth to be reforested as land for grazing and feed crop would be returned to forested land. The reforested land could sequester significant amounts of carbon from the atmosphere.

It is our foremost duty to combat climate change and shift to a plant-based diet and to reforest the Earth if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change.

We are also eating ourselves to death! The World Health Organization (WHO) reported last year that bacon causes colorectal, pancreatic, prostate and stomach cancer. Processed meat such as bacon, hot dogs, sausages, and canned meat is classified as a Group One carcinogen alongside tobacco smoking, asbestos, diesel fuel and other contaminants. Every 50-gram portion of processed meat eaten daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by about 18 per cent (WHO used hundreds of epidemiological studies to make its evaluation)

Studies link consumption of animal products to obesity, diabetes, cancers, osteoporosis, there is an increased risk of heart disease. See our website www.iVegan.ca. We will be running another "Why love one, but eat the other?" subway ad campaign in the TTC in late October through late November. We have also launched a www.ClimateVegan.org poster ad campaign in the Toronto subway asking "Are we eating the planet to death?" 

Factory farming creates super bugs like MRSA (a bacteria, the acronym stands for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and introduces them into our food chain, thereby infecting our food and threatening our health. Cheap meat and factory farming are giving rise to these super bugs. A Guardian investigative report found a Danish pig farmer had almost every single hair infected by the new antibiotic resistant pig superbug MRSA. Factory farming is tampering with the food supply by introducing superbugs into our food chain.

The high level of antibiotic use on farms is fuelling an antibiotic drug resistance crisis. The level of use of antibiotics in factory farms is over-prescribed on an astronomical scale. Factory farming poses unacceptable risks to human health, the environment and other animals’ rights and welfare.  Factory farming and slaughterhouses are causing various water and food-borne illnesses like E Coli contamination and salmonella. In the Walkerton E. coli crisis in May 2000 in Walkerton, Ontario, feces from a factory farm contaminated the water and seven people died and 1000s fell ill, experiencing bloody diarrhea and gastrointestinal infections.

Individuals are killing themselves and others by eating animals. It's putting a strain on our health care system. The meat industry doesn't want the public to know. We need warning labels on packaging just like for tobacco. We share a duty to educate the public on the need to transition to a plant-based diet.

AT: What are some ways you are helping to build awareness about the inhumane conditions around the slaughter of animals for food? 

Krajnc: The VR headset is a 3D look inside a factory farm and slaughterhouse using groundbreaking footage from Animal Equality. The VR project shows the life of a pig from being born to going to slaughter. The footage illustrates the abject horror and cruelty the pigs are subjected to and the pain and fear they feel. 

With this incredibly effective footage, the user is really immersed in the experience. You see a mother pig confined in a crate. You feel like you can reach out and touch her and you want to free her. The last minutes show pigs about to die on the kill floor. You feel empathy and that you are next in line on the kill floor. You see the pig getting killed. The worst thing is the pig backing up and trying to get out of the enclosure. Pigs are just like us, they don't want to die. More than 90 per cent of the people watching the video say they will stop eating pig flesh or other animals and many are willing to try and go vegan. 

The Virtual Reality footage will be introduced to the court. The judge will be asked to watch the VR film and the VR will be available outside the Burlington courthouse from 7:30 a.m. onwards on October 3.

AT: Could you outline the charges brought against you?  Tell us about how much all of this has cost you in time and money as well. 

Krajnc: On a scorching hot day in June 2015, I gave water to thirsty pigs on board a transport truck headed for the slaughterhouse. In September 2015 I was charged with criminal mischief, interference with property -- the "property" presumably being the pigs. I had a series of pre-trials in 2015 and early 2016. My trial began August 23 and 24.

On October 3, when my trial resumes, I will be testifying along with Dr. David Jenkins, the inventor of the glycemic index and our expert witness on the health aspects of a vegan vs. meat, dairy and egg diet. There are further court dates on November 1 and 10 when Dr. Lori Marino, a cognitive behaviourist, will testify about who pigs are: their sentience, their individual personalities and their intelligence. Dr. Tony Weis, a geographer at the University of Western Ontario, will testify on the necessity to switch to a plant-based diet to address threats to Earth's life support systems: climate change, deforestation and water use and pollution.  

AT: How can people get involved in working with the Save Movement?  How can they support you during this trial as well? 

Anita Krajnc: We encourage everyone to bear witness. You can join our vigils by signing up for our weekly MailChimp newsletter at the bottom left of our website: www.TorontoPigSave.org If you live outside Toronto, please visit our www.TheSaveMovement.org website for a list of Save groups. You can contact us at [email protected] if you'd like to start a Save group at a slaughterhouse in your community.

There will be a vigil 9-10 am at the Burlington courthouse and a satellite vigil at the Fearman's "Pork" Inc. slaughterhouse all day. Please visit our events page on Facebook.  

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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