Recently the Party for the Animals published an interview with Karen Soeters, director of the Nicolaas G. Pierson Foundation:
The Nicolaas G. Pierson Foundation (NGPF) is the scientific bureau of the Party for the Animals. We meet Karen Soeters in her Amsterdam office, surrounded by awards for the films Meat the Truth and Sea the Truth. She invites us in with a big smile.
What does the scientific bureau do?
We are an independent scientific bureau that was nominated by the Party for the Animals to receive government funding. Every political party in the Netherlands has the opportunity to nominate a scientific bureau for government funding. However, the bureau remains independent from the party.
The goal of the NGPF is to conduct and initiate scientific research and to enhance knowledge and awareness of social issues related to our key themes which are animal welfare, animal rights, sustainability and nature. This means that the NGPF focuses on analysing and presenting alternatives that can contribute to a more pleasant, more animal friendly and more sustainable society. This way the NGPF strives to make existing scientific research and knowledge about these themes more accessible to the general public. In doing so the NGPF hopes to stimulate the social and political debate.
What does this mean, essentially?
Well, in all modesty: a lot. Even though we are one of the smallest scientific bureaus in the Netherlands, I think we generate the most public attention.
Our first major project was the documentary Meat the Truth. We made a Dutch and an English version. The English version has been translated into 14 different languages! Premieres are being organised all over the world.
We also initiate research. For example, we created the so-called carbon savings tables together with the VU University in Amsterdam. With these tables, everyone can check how much they can do for a better climate by adjusting their consumption pattern and choose their own level of ambition.
On a different note: we also did a study on the energy yields for Schiphol Airport if solar panels were installed on all the airport’s flat roofs and on the surrounding grasslands. This would have the beneficiary side effect of preventing birds from foraging there, so they no longer have to be shot for posing a danger to air traffic. Another example is our recent study on the true cost of pork, including all costs to society resulting from pig farming.
Last May, Sea the Truth premiered: a new documentary about the future of our seas and oceans. We also published a high-profile book: Meat the Truth, Essays on Livestock Production, Sustainability and Climate Change, in which numerous scientists indicate that the production of meat causes great environmental problems.
Currently we are very busy preparing two new projects, a scientific document about religious slaughter and a film about zoonoses (infectious diseases transmissible from animals to humans, like swine flu, bird flu, Q fever, ESBL, MRSA).
And that is not all. We are full of energy and plans: organizing a summer university, giving lectures on animal, nature and environment related topics and participating in debates in and outside of the Netherlands.
Recently I met with Prof. Knottnerus of the Scientific Council for Government Policy to inform him about our work. It was a great boost to experience how much he appreciated our work.
What do you like most and least about you work?
I am so proud of what we are accomplishing with such a small team and few resources. I feel hugely privileged to work for the NGPF. But if I really have to name a project, it would be Meat the Truth. We put the subject of meat consumption in relation to global warming on the public and the political agendas. In the beginning I always had to explain to people who we are and what we do. Whereas now scientists contact us spontaneously because they would like to collaborate with us.
What also gives me an enormous boost is that I work with colleagues and board members that are just as passionate as I am. This week, we started a project about religious slaughter without stunning. After watching footage on this we don’t care anymore about how long and hard we have to work. We just need to finish it. I don’t have to explain why this is important. We are fighting for the same cause: realizing a better world with more compassion and sustainability and with respect for all living creatures.
It is less fun to always have to ‘search’ for money. It would be wonderful to have more funds, because I can easily come up with 100 subjects that we would like to research. I also don’t enjoy, to say the least, certain images that I have to watch and articles that I have to read. After reading scientific articles about slaughter methods for half a day, I feel nauseous but I also know it’s all worth the trouble.
What might people not know about the NGPF?
It has happened on several occasions that people contacted me who were very enthusiastic after a tour at the Parliament and who also wanted to come and have a look at the Scientific Bureau. That would be a very short tour, as our office is not even 16 square metres large. And at times we work there with 4 or 5 people… The boxes with DVDs and books are often stacked up to the ceiling and we also have the man-sized pig and fish figures (that were photographed for the Meat the Truth and Sea the Truth posters) standing in our office, sort of as our mascots.
Can the regional departments and members of parliament of the Party for the Animals also call in the scientific bureau?
No, unfortunately we don’t have the resources for that and it is also not what the scientific bureau was meant to do The government has emphasized that political parties can nominate scientific bureaus, but that has no connection with the support budgets that representatives receive from the government.
We are more than busy with scientific research, scientific publications and translating science to a broad public. As yet, our ambitions are greater than our resources allow, but if the party grows the support from the government would increase accordingly, so we could also accomplish more.
At the moment, we are still heavily dependent on the financial contributions from the public. If you would like to support us, please go to our website www.ngpf.nl.
What might people not know about you?
In addition to being the director of the NGPF, I also work as a lecturer at the Institute for Media and Information Management of the Hogeschool van Amsterdam and I am a board member of the Dutch Vegetarian Society, Bont voor Dieren (Fur for Animals) and broadcasting corporation Piep.