In memoriam Mies van Oosten-Poortman

This text is a part of the contact magazine "Relatie Mens en Dier" (Relationship Man and Animal), reproduced with permission from the foundation Rechten Voor Al Wat Leeft (Rights for all that lives). By . On 24th September this year we had to say goodbye forever to the founder and president of "Rechten voor al wat leeft", Mrs. C.M. van Oosten-Poortman. After an intensive and industrious life, in which she has done much groundbreaking work, she passed away at the age of 86.
She lived her life earnestly, with vision and persuasiveness. We are saddened for what we miss in her now that she's gone, but we are also grateful for all she has meant, for everything she has left us in words and deeds. Her life was filled with caring for others: for people, animals and plants. Nature, creation - including everything that lives - always had her great interest and compassion.
In this extra edition we want to explain what Mrs. Van Oosten has meant for Rechten voor al wat leeft and especially for the animals, for the welfare for which she stepped into the breach during her life (for as long as she could). She was an enormously inspiring force for those around her, we can say that without exaggerating. Although she led a retreated life the last few years (she became practically blind), until recently she was always interested in everything that went on in society. And although she didn't want to talk about animal suffering much anymore, because she could no longer handle it, she suffered with the animals until the end. During the last few years we had to "get by on our own strength", but now that Mrs. Van Oosten is gone we realize to the fullest what a great loss she is to us, and what a source of inspiration she has always been!
First we want to give the floor over to former employee Mrs. L. Vreugdenhil in Duiven (87!); from the day Rechten voor al wat leeft started, she supported Mrs. Van Oosten, went with her to meetings and when she held lectures.
An employee of the first hour: "A fragile plant, a new beginning, but it holds wondrous growth potential…. This old school song keeps ringing in my mind when I see the contact magazine Relatie Mens en Dier by Rechten voor al wat leeft. I'm writing this to realize that everything that Mrs. Van Oosten strived for is still very much alive.
We met when we were both members of the main management of the NBBV (the Dutch federation for fighting Vivisection, as it was then called; Vereniging Proefdiervrij is the new name) in the Hague. We were about the same age (I'm only one year older) and we immediately connected. I didn't know anything then, was awakened by a NBBV-brochure and was immediately on fire: imagine that happening to my animals! Could it be possible? And I found myself fighting and agitating in the main management very soon. Where I found out early that vivisection is not the only wrongdoing to animals. And I met Mrs. Van Oosten - I shall call her Mies, which sounds friendlier. I can still see it: Mies with raised finger, outraged: "Do you know how they get these animals? They are stolen, collected and supplied to buyers for money; in this case the greatest perpetrator was a German, Heinz Vieten who regularly crossed the border, took Dutch animals to Germany and vice versa. Mies didn't need a federation or other inhibiting body to intervene and… the law started to get involved in this shady trade and unnecessary vivisection.
Mies also had the gift to go after those persons and bodies she needed. In her most active period she lived in Raalte. With the cooperation of her husband, who worked for the city council, very soon thousands of handouts were spread to warn people not to give pets they wanted 'to get rid of' to just any strangers. After all, it happened only too often that ads, in which pet owners offered their animal(s) or a newly born nest of pups or kittens for free, attracted people who took the animals and promised to give them a good home. They then brought these animals to collectors who would in turn sell them off to big traders and the animals would invariably end up in vivisection laboratories. Partly thanks to Mies' work many people woke up and it was uncovered how the malafide dogs and cats trade operated. But it didn't stop at that, because living among agrarians, she was early in spotting the abuse of factory farm animals: the chickens, the calves in crates, the pigs. It was raining handouts! Through newspaper interviews, radio and television broadcasts, many stands and lectures all over the country, Mies succeeded in attracting the public's interest'. Printed brochures later replaced the simple (and cheap!) handouts and of these, thousands were spread throughout the country as well. This was news to people! Nobody really knew what suffering was hidden behind their eggs and meat! But…the authorities woke up as well!
Just agitating against the misery was not sufficient, there had to be an alternative. One project was meant to be first, and that was the project of free-range eggs. We needed the help of the government for that. They had a kind of bio-animal testing facility: Het Spelderholt in Beekbergen. There they researched under which conditions animals would feel well, and still fit the financial requirements of poultry farmers and consumers.
And so, in 1975, after some years of talks, meetings and deliberations, the free-range hens came to be: free to move about, "free-ranging" on the floor, with nests to the sides (and the later variation on this theme: the aviary eggs; what's in the name? As long as they got space!) Legal stamps and marks were eventually placed on eggs and cartons: her brainchild was shooting up. But a lot had to be done before that!
Many meetings and talks were held. The question was raised on what these eggs should be called! It should be a catchy name, and that was difficult! Then Mies and I went to Drs Brantas in Zutphen and he said: "A chicken is a free-range animal." So the eggs produced by these chickens became "free-range eggs".
We agreed wholeheartedly with this. Drs Brantas held an important position at Het Spelderholt. The government would take care of protecting this name.
In 1975 the first cartons with the emblem were printed: the orange yield-sign with the name Rechten voor al wat leeft. Four years later, in 1979, the government mark appeared. The Free-range eggs control was founded in the name of Mrs. Van Oosten. Later this name changed to NEB (Dutch Egg Control Bureau) and now it's called the CPE (Control bureau for Poultry and Eggs and egg products). Rechten voor al wat leeft is still represented in this government control service.
In the above I made special mention of this visit to Drs Brantas, because it proves that everything was the work of Mies. "The" animal protection agencies, which of course fully supported this case, pretended that they had created the free-range egg, but this misunderstanding was probably a consequence of the ignorance of youthful employees.
And of course everything free-ranged later: chickens, other poultry, but pigs too. Even this latter is something that Mies started: putting alternative pork on the market, free-range pork.
We have come a long way. There's not a single person who doesn't know what free-range products are, there's not a paper that hasn't reported about them and that doesn't still mention the name free-range regularly! Even the latest dictionaries, and the Dutch "Woordenlijst Nederlandse taal" has the words "free-range egg", "free-range hen" and "free-range pig". There's not a producer, consumer or trader who doesn't encounter it. The Albert Heijn supermarket chain has always reacted very positively. The public no longer wants the factory stuff, because many animals (and even many people) in too small spaces, live in a hotbed of viruses and bacteria, and cannot stay healthy.
If you think that now that Mies is gone, she will be forgotten, you are mistaken! Because free-ranging is here to stay! You have fought hard Mies, and devoted your life to it. I hope there is a heaven, where you will be surrounded by all the animals you fought for, but it should be a large heaven! And: Rechten voor al wat leeft was really: Vechten voor al wat leeft! (Fighting for all that lives) But I'd like to end this text on a happy note: In 1981 Mies received a royal decoration. But…, that had to remain a surprise. I received a phone call from her husband, to ask if I wanted to come to the city hall in Raalte on 29th April 1981. With an explanation. Mies was told it was for the birthday of a city official, and she brought a bottle of wine as a gift. After she was seated at the front, she looked around, and I could see her thinking: what's she doing here!? (me, among others) and him? and him?! She didn't understand and she didn't suspect a thing. Until the mayor started speaking, that it had pleased Her Majesty… etc…. And she received this royal decoration: Companion of the Order of Orange-Nassau. And the city official…, he got his bottle of wine!" L. Vreugdenhil
Heinz Vieten
From the above remembrances of Mrs. Vreugdenhil we want to bring forward some points about which we want to tell a bit more: On 21st March 1962 Mrs. Van Oosten, together with Mrs. T. Roes-Stibbe, followed the German dog trader Heinz Vieten from Nijverdal to the border crossing at Glanerbrug, to see if he would pick up inoculation papers somewhere to subsequently cross the border with 180 to 200 animals. Mrs. Polak-Moor was waiting for them there, with customs officials. Radio, TV and newspapers had been warned that 'something' would happen that night at the border.
All the media failed to appear and there was just one newspaper reporter. When the truck was opened the stacked crates with dogs were revealed. Then Mrs. Polak boxed Heinz Vieten loudly on the ears. She did this in the hopes that finally charges would be made, and the filthy practices of these traders would stop.
In 1964 the Dogs & Cats Decree was put into operation, but unfortunately it still hasn't been able to put a stop to the trade of dogs (and cats) to other countries for the purpose of vivisection. The trade in dogs and cats is a horrible business, because animals that are stolen from traders or picked up from private persons are often locked in miserable housing to eventually be abused in animal testing for the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries and for war purposes.

Unnecessary animal testing

In the years that followed, from 1970 onward, petitions were made to all the members of the Dutch Senate, urging them to ban all UNNECESSARY animal testing. Many times during hearings Mrs. Van Oosten put forward and defended the goals of Rechten voor al wat leeft in the area of animal testing, unfortunately with very little result (at that time). What she deemed unnecessary animal testing can be read in our information brochure, but in short it is:
  1. Testing on live animals that is done by medical, veterinary and biology students, often reluctantly, during the first years of their studies and that are also videotaped.
  2. Repetition of tests for war purposes, i.e. the production of weapons, for which results are already known.
  3. Testing for household articles and cosmetics
  4. Testing done by the pharmaceutical and agrarian industries (medicine, cattle rearing, agrarian poisons).

Health resorts

To prevent animal testing as much as possible, and also to give patients a choice, Mrs. Van Oosten worked towards health resorts where patient care would take place according to the principles of natural living and natural cures.
The recovery of natural resistance after going through a serious illness, and obtaining mental balance is a hard task for many in their own environments. In their own home it's difficult for many people to follow dietary regulations and to find the necessary rest for recovery.
These health resorts were meant not only to treat patients according to natural living and natural cures for some weeks, but also to guide them, so that when the patients went home they could put this living style into practice there. From the assumption of respect for all of creation, harmful substances would not be applied at these health resorts. In the countries surrounding us, there are numerous resorts like that, and the National Health Service compensates the cost of accommodation and treatment.
Mrs. Van Oosten strived for years to make the 'Bronnenbad' in Nieuweschans into a health resort as she thought it must be: a simple lay-out, quiet, inexpensive, and not meant just for people with money (and compensated by the NHS). But unfortunately she did not succeed. It was never her intention that the Bronnenbad Nieuweschans would later turn into a luxurious health spa. But there are an increasing number of insurance companies that compensate certain types of medical treatment.


When you buy free-range eggs or aviary eggs at a Dutch supermarket, you will see that the carton still shows, besides the mark by the Control bureau for Poultry and Eggs (CPE), the emblem of Rechten voor al wat leeft.
This is a recognition of Mrs. Van Oosten's work that has lasted many years. But her hard work has not only realized the free-range egg and chicken. The free-range pig was ultimately also her idea and her work. Those who haven't been supporters of Rechten voor al wat leeft for many years may not know this, but Mrs. Van Oosten (in 1978), after countless meetings with numerous bodies, and in cooperation with 'Diepvries Home Service' te Varsseveld, finally started with alternative pork (free-range pork) that was bought through mail-order by customers and delivered to their homes. Checking the conditions of housing and transport to the (nearest) slaughterhouse, and slaughter practices themselves, was a task of Rechten voor al wat leeft in those years. I accompanied Mrs. Van Oosten to the many meetings and preliminary talks that had to be held before free-range pork came on the market, and we often paid control visits to pig farms together. Now this meat is being sold through supermarkets (a.o. Albert Heijn) and controls are carried out by the Product branch for Cattle and Meat.
Mrs. Van Oosten also fought for calves in crates! In countless newspaper and radio and TV interviews she exposed the horrible living conditions of these calves! And for these animals she also tried to realize an alternative: "Diepvries Home Service" tried to freeze the meat of calves that could have led more dignified lives, but unfortunately this did not work out, because the technical results were not satisfactory. Still Mrs. Van Oosten lived to see that there was a long-term ban on keeping calves in these horrible individual crates: At the end of 1996 this ban was imposed: in ten years (2007) calves may no longer be kept in crates in Holland. The animals must at least be housed in groups. And isn't that the least we may ask for these (herd) animals!

Slaughter methods and cattle transports

Activities by Mrs. Van Oosten have also contributed strongly to the implementation of rules for slaughter methods, mainly for pigs, and calves as well, being much improved. In the seventies the practice was still that pigs were stunned for such short periods, that many of them came to during butchering and bleeding. Many animals were fully conscious as they landed in the hot water, where they drowned. In 1975 an inspector complained about this to Mrs. Van Oosten, who of course had invited the press. The Dutch newspaper Trouw devoted a long article to this issue, which caused quite a stir. In 1976 Mrs. Van Oosten exposed these outrages and also the terrible consequences for animals in gruesome cattle transports, on television (in the show "Sprekers-hoek") together with veterinary inspector Dr R. Hoenderken.
Two weeks after this broadcast the official state newspaper published that starting from lst January 1980 all slaughterhouses were compelled to have equipment to give pigs the required stunning.
For many years she spoke out against the transports of live cattle, mainly to and from other countries.
Animals should be butchered in their native countries, she said. But now, in 2000, there are still millions of animals that are dragged alive all over the world, from one continent to another!

(Ritual) slaughter without anesthesia

Since 1976 Mrs. Van Oosten fought for anesthesia before the throat cutting of ritually slaughtered animals.
Countless letters and meetings were devoted to this, and a signature action that brought 30,000 signatures and that was presented in 1983 to the then Secretary of State Van der Reijden (Welfare, Health and Cultural Affairs), and who promised to talk with Muslim groups.
Eventually this happened, but until now it has had only very little result. And a discussion of slaughter according to Israeli rites never took place at all. Still there was an electrical stunning method at that time that was reversible, and that met the requirements of the rites: the animal had to bleed out entirely and wasn't allowed to die from this stunning. Despite the fact that this stunning method met the requirements, it still hasn't been accepted generally in Holland.


It's hard to find anything Mrs. Van Oosten hasn't fought for when it came to animal suffering! Against fur farms!
When she held lectures in which she would also talk about the suffering of animals, she very often showed up in her synthetic fur coat. When she had held her lecture and answered questions, she told those present: "I'm surprised that none of you ask why I dare show up in a fur coat while I'm speaking about animal suffering. But before you think it's real fur, I will show you!" She would lift the hem of her coat and showed where she had loosened a bit of the lining. "Look behind this lining, and you'll see the back of the fabric. It's plain cotton, you see?" Oh, how she always spoke out against wearing fur, even through newspapers and radio broadcasts!

Equestrian sports

And then equestrian sports! Not the sport in itself was a thorn in her flesh, but its excesses, such as giving doping to horses, and abusing them with whips! Doping often made that horses that really couldn't walk because of injury or inflammation in their legs, were able to run, but then of course after the race their pain would return double because their exertions had been too much for them. Not rarely did those animals have to be put down after the race. But what did it matter? As long as the profits had been raked in first!
Mr. J. Stam, who was very active in the seventies and who knew of all the outrages in equestrian sports, had asked for her help. Once (in 1979) he wrote: "After approaching many bodies I was finally given the address for Mrs. Van Oosten. And I will not forget this name, Van Oosten, for as long as I live. She's been steady as a rock, and what goes for other, subsidized, animal organizations - long roads between doing and saying - surely doesn't go for her. She was always there, even though she had to come a long way. We started submitting a petition against doping and abuse to all the members of the Dutch Senate and Upper Chamber. We went to the Ministry of Agriculture in The Hague for talks with a/o. Mr. Dobbelaar and later with Mr. Binsbergen. The latter is (was - red.) president of the Dutch Foundation for Trotting and Racing sports. Other talks in The Hague followed, this time with Mrs. Verkerk-Terpstra, member of the Senate. Trials were held, and we journeyed many times to the studios in Hilversum. All this work in the interest of animals was made possible by the interest group Rechten voor al wat leeft. I think that people who inflict this kind of suffering to animals cannot remain unpunished. It's my conviction that one day we will win, because we are no longer alone. There are doctors who know the facts and for that reason have taken our side. But they were banned from speaking and were even threatened to be fired. In number 37 of the magazine 'In ren en draf' (Racing and Trotting) one of the members of the board requested a suspension of at least six months for those who whip their horses too forcefully. This is a step in the right direction, thanks to our work in the interest group Rechten voor al wat leeft (unsubsidized!)." Thusfar Mr. Stam in 1979.
In recent years we approached the Senate and the Minister of Agriculture many times about the current doping tests. Repeatedly we have asked for national dope testing of the first three winning horses, but every time we were sent off none the wiser. Mr. Stam is no longer with us and we never hear anything about this issue anymore.

Personal remembrances

For almost twenty-five years I knew and experienced her and had the opportunity to learn from her. Our initial meeting took place after the first report I read in the newspaper about free-range eggs: that these eggs were already available in a number of shops, and that we as consumers should ask for them in our own shops. For more information the telephone number of Mrs. Van Oosten was printed.
After this first introduction we stayed in contact. For twenty-five years I worked with her closely, and I was very impressed with the way she worked to achieve her goal: more animal welfare. She used all of her energy, patience, tactics and perseverance in this struggle. And especially her powers of persuasion!
The free-range egg is her best-known brainchild. But after that came free-range pork and better slaughter methods.
But even before I met her she had done a lot to help animals in distress! She started off the chain-dogs decree. That was in Raalte, but from there it spread to other communities. On all fronts she battled against animal suffering in Holland.
You should know that during her youth, which until her seventeenth birthday she spent in the Dutch East Indies (as they were called then), she dreamt of a future in nursing! And then preferably in Africa, with Albert Schweitzer in Lambarene! But these plans were foiled because she met her husband and married him just before the war.
But even though she didn't go to Lambarene, she had a very versatile life here in Holland. As a teacher she trained young girls in child care, as a maternity nurse she delivered around 500 babies, and as a hospital nurse she alleviated and eased the suffering of many patients.
When after the war she witnessed the immense suffering of animals in factory farming, she devoted her life to this. In this field she did some really groundbreaking work, and she was unstoppable! Three coronaries couldn't stop her from giving her all. The royal decoration she received in 1981 on the recommendation of the Ministry of Agriculture was well deserved!
The sudden passing of her husband in 1991 gave her a severe blow. But in the end she overcame this, even though it remained a great sorrow!
People that are great, and lead great lives, aren't always easy. Mrs. Van Oosten wasn't always easy either.
But she was one of a kind! She stood for the things she said! And she was very consistent in that! I think the following story is very typical of her: Whenever she visited a restaurant (which happened quite often because she didn't have much time for grocery-shopping or cooking!) and there was a small plant nearby that was limp from lack of water, she would always ask the waiter for a glass of water, allegedly because she wanted to take some aspirin. As soon as the waiter had given her the water and turned his back, she would empty the glass into the flower pot.
She once told this story to the then president of the Product branch for Poultry and Eggs, and he was taken with her instantly!
Mrs. Van Oosten has passed away, but she has left her marks! When nobody, not even animal organizations, was thinking of animals in factory farming, she woke people up! She was the first who, during a meeting of several hundreds of pig farmers, calves and poultry farmers, where she was the only woman, grabbed the microphone and asked the agrarians if they had ever thought about what consumers wanted! In those early days she caused quite a stir in agrarian circles!
She had the courage to stand up for animals, because her principle was: ANIMALS CANNOT, WHEN THEY HAVE FALLEN INTO HUMAN HANDS, PROTEST, DEMONSTRATE, GO ON STRIKE OR ESCAPE. THAT'S WHY PEOPLE WILL HAVE TO SPEAK OUT FOR ANIMALS! Well, Mrs. Van Oosten has more than done her task. We remember her in respect and gratitude!

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