After investigating the atrocious conditions of the illegal slaughterhouses in Sicily, a police unit became vegetarian.
In 2016, the story of a police unit from Messina, Sicily, that chose to become vegetarian was revealed in a few Italian newspapers. Corriere della Sera, in a long article, deepened the implications of this complex story. Some policemen during the interviews motivated their decision in this way: “Our choice was made because we’ve seen things that you wouldn’t see, much less understand for their outrageous absurdity,” they continued explaining. “Our job is to carry out checks in intensive farms, eradicate spoiled meat smuggling, in companies that produce profit selling their product in inhumane conditions: what we find every day on our tables might be a threat!”
In 2015 the unit seized hundreds of animals, from 20 clandestine slaughterhouses, trafficking in illegal medications from Eastern Europe, detected 250 cases of tuberculosis patients and 45 cases of human brucellosis in the Messina area, while curbing many other points of food fraud that could have seriously endangered the health of unsuspecting citizens.
The police team decided to become vegetarian, after defeating frauds and clandestine slaughterhouses of cattle in the Nebrodi Mountains.
The policemen were renamed “the Vegetarian Team”. Through the words of Deputy Assistant Commissioner Daniele Manganaro, at the time of the following statement he was 42 years old with two degrees and a second-level university master’s degree: “They gave us this nickname thinking to embarrass us, but we, we became vegetarian with good reason: the more illegality we discovered, the more, one after another, stopped eating meat “.
Seeing and finding themselves immersed in this atrocious reality of those who try to poison people for profit, the policemen, therefore, decided that they didn’t want to be complicit in any way in crimes against animals and fraud against their fellow citizens. They also wanted to be a megaphone for denouncing this illegal activity and to inform millions of Italians ignoring this side of the meat market, which besides animal suffering commits amoral frauds to the detriment of the health of citizens and consumers. Manganaro, who headed the Sant’Agata di Militello (Messina) police station, since 2014, added “As soon as I arrived, I realized that there was something strange in the municipalities of the Park under my responsibility: too many entrepreneurs reported loss and theft of livestock”. For this reason, the then assistant commissioner, trying to understand the nature of the complaints, had the idea of creating a team specialized in clandestine slaughtering, food adulteration, and fraud to obtain public funds.
You often don’t think that intensive farming, besides causing animal suffering, causes serious damage to human health, to the protection of the environment as well as to create illegal profits for mafia organizations, which use these revenues to feed other criminal activities in an endless chain. The instinct of deputy commissioner Manganaro led him to organize a team that for three days a week, after an organizational summit in the police station at midnight, wore high boots and technical mountain clothing to withstand the intense cold, and with off-road vehicles, climbed the mountains of the Nebrodi Park up to 1,800 meters high and then continued where the asphalted roads end and become paths. The team equipped with powerful torches inspected the territory: pastures, woods, and farms in search of escaped or sick animals, or worse even stolen from farms and locked in farmhouses converted into clandestine slaughterhouses, where they were brutally tortured and killed. Here, criminal rings also worked adulterated meat, potentially dangerous to health, ignoring any regulations in force.
The team formation had the fundamental support of the commissioner of Messina, Giuseppe Cucchiara, who at that time believed in the project from the beginning and added: “I only did my duty supporting them with men and means, and by dint of following their investigations I also became a vegetarian “.
The men of the “vegetarian team” made up of well-trained policemen, came from different backgrounds: some were locals from families used to dealing with animals. Others were experts of the Nebrodi Mountains, others specialists in medicines and therefore able to understand which were those used to adulterate the meat.
Cucchiara, an executive with a long history as an investigator, released the following statement to the press about their different skills: “Among my men, there were sons of farmers like Salvatore Mangione who know those woods and how to treat animals during checks; there were chemists like Tiziano Granata able to analyze the drugs we found and, then, other praiseworthy guys who spend nights in the cold to observe suspicious movements”.
Farmers, butchers, and veterinarians, in some circumstances also commanders of the brigade and police commissioners, were involved in the investigations and blitzes. After investigating for a long time the background of a particularly thriving market, in Southern Italy, the team discovered how the clandestine slaughter of alleged stolen animals, or coming from illegal farms had created a million-dollar profit round for the clans. Animal abuse and organized crime were often sides of the same coin, a chain that continues to supply below-cost grocery stores and restaurants, which often sold adulterated meat to unsuspecting consumers.
The protocol included in the new anti-mafia code took its name from the work carried out by Giuseppe Antoci and it was conceived to counter criminal organizations operating not only in Sicily, illicit activities managed by criminal clans, such as clandestine slaughter, drug trafficking, possession of clandestine weapons, sale of adulterated food without the necessary health certifications. Books have also been written praising the admirable and meticulous work of the agents who continued their investigations even in their off-duty and free hours.
Becoming a vegetarian or vegan is often part of a personal journey, where each individual who desires it can arrive at this choice, at different moments in life, after particular experiences, or for various reasons. It can all happen in a moment or gradually. Most of the contemporary world population, since early childhood, has been told that is not possible to live without meat since this is considered a fundamental food for humans. But the police team’s choice to refrain from eating meat tells all of us another story, namely that in some cases meat can endanger people’s health and even can provide earnings for criminal organizations. The choice of these policemen was first of all for their health, they were not only moved by ethics, however, they had taken also into consideration various ethical principles. The decision was therefore the inevitable consequence of those who became aware that there are situations of animal abuse, without any consideration for the rules on welfare, and that without adequate laboratory analysis it’s difficult to be aware of food frauds that can seriously endanger the health of consumers.
They did this to offer honest local farmers the opportunity to obtain and boast the “Nebrody Sicily” quality mark, which also guarantees anti-mafia certification for companies. This story has shown, once again, how crimes of various kinds can be hidden behind the mistreatment of animals and how important it is to carry out strict checks in all the facilities where animals for food production are raised. Although greater control has been put in place on the territory of the Nebrodi Park to stop the expansion of criminal organizations and their illegal activities, the local mafia on 18 May 2016 ambushed the director of the park, Giuseppe Antoci. The Nebrodi Park had become an obstacle for the clans, but the mafia had not managed to intimidate those who ran it thanks to Antoci’s safeguards, on that occasion the assistant Granata and the deputy commissioner Manganaro.
For the police chief, his men highlighted a “clear example of courage and self-denial” as well as “exceptional professional skills and extraordinary sense of duty engaging regardless of danger, a firefight with some criminals, saving the life of the director of the ‘Nebrodi Park, made the subject of a Mafia-style attack”.
Two policemen of the Vegetarian Team who were part of the special unit, created precisely to counter the phenomenon of the agricultural mafia operating in the Nebrodi Park area, died within a day of each other. Both policemen were involved, albeit with different roles, in the events of May 18, 2016. Both the superintendent Rino Todaro and the assistant chief Tiziano Granata, were just over forty years old. Granata was Manganaro’s driver on the night of the ambush at Antoci. Todaro was among the first to intervene at the crime scene, as head of the judicial police section of the Sant’Agata di Militello police station. Granata, on March 1, 2018, was found lifeless in his house in Brolo due to cardiac arrest; while Todaro, the next day, was hospitalized in Messina following fulminant leukemia and lost his life the next day. The legal authorities have reacted to the deaths of the police witnesses Granata and Todaro. Following the two deaths, two investigations were started and the epilogue is identical for both proceedings: archiving, despite the doubts expressed by Ricciardello Lorena and Manganaro Daniele.
Police chief Franco Gabrielli after the attack on Giuseppe Antoci decided to promote the guards that saved the life of the former president of the Nebrodi Park for extraordinary merits. He promoted Sebastiano Proto, Salvatore Santostefano and also Tiziano Granata. The latter had arrived while the attackers were shooting at the armored car, Granata having disappeared due to sudden and suspicious death in 2018, received an advancement to memory. There was also an advancement of rank for Daniele Manganaro, who was later transferred from the leadership of the Tarquinia police station, in the Viterbo area, to that of Carrara.
The idea and the awareness that the meat was of poor quality, and stuffed with harmful illegal drugs has also made its way into the minds of many people, after the attempted murder of Giuseppe Antoci who wanted to publicly thank “the investigators for the constant work for the benefit of the Nebrodi and the many honest breeders.”
The decision of these policemen to become vegetarians shows what is served on the tables and what everyone really eats, but it also make people aware of the fact that clandestine slaughtering and agro-mafias generate a river of money, made available to criminals. Over the years, mafia families have stretched their roots and built solid relationships to manage drug trafficking, and extortion from companies that won public contracts, asking for “protection money” from businesses for keeping them. They also managed to apply for public funding for agriculture from the Region and the European Union. Therefore, frauds were carried out through a consolidated link with the land that allowed them to “swallow millionaire profits”.
On November 12, 2016, the President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella granted Giuseppe Antoci the honor of “Officer of Merit of the Italian Republic”, with the following motivation: “For his courageous determination in the defense of legality and in the fight against mafia”. The council chamber of the Nebrodi maxi-trial on agricultural fraud against the European Union and Agea of the Tortorician mafia groups began on 24 October 2022, the sentence is moving towards a punishment. Penalties were sought for 970 years in prison.
The importance of this story is consolidated in the fight against the mafia, as well as in the promotion of vegetarian food, even if the choice of these policemen is not mainly due to ethical but purely health reasons, in the same way, it fits into a context that equally saves lives of sentient and conscious beings: animals and humans.