As Italians get shopping for the traditional Easter lunch on Sunday, animal rights associations have launched their annual plea for people to leave lamb and goat off the menu and stick to sheep made of marzipan instead.
According to the Anti-Vivisection League (LAV), over 536,000 lambs, 72,000 adult sheep and 56,000 goats were sent to the slaughter to end up on Italian tables over Easter last year.
LAV president Gianluca Felicetti noted that this was a slight decrease on the number of animals killed during Easter 2006, when Italians were tightening their belts due to rising prices.
''We hope that the drop will be repeated in 2008, not only for economic reasons but also for ethical ones, seeing as this holiday is linked to the massacre of thousands of animals over a few weeks,'' he added.
Felicetti said that many of the lambs that end up on supermarket shelves this Easter have had to suffer long journeys in trucks to Italy from Eastern European countries, especially Hungary, Romania and Poland.
Squeezed together into tiny spaces, the lambs are unable to move and have to go without food and water during the voyage, he said.
Farmers' association Coldiretti confirmed that around 50% of lamb on sale this Easter will be from Eastern Europe and that many customers will be none the wiser since - unlike for chicken and beef - it is not obligatory to label lamb with source information.
They advised customers to seek out lamb clearly marked as coming from Italian regions such as Sardinia (where 75% of Italian lamb is sourced), or, if possible, ''to go and see the farmers directly''.
The Italian Vegetarian Society joined animal rights groups in calling for meat to be avoided altogether and said around six million vegetarians in the country would be enjoying a bloodless Easter feast.
''At my house I'll start the meal with a hearty mixed salad followed by lasagne with pesto, mushrooms fried in garlic and parsley, fried courgette flowers and a vegetarian meat substitute cooked in barolo wine, finishing off with a fruit salad, the classic colomba and a country-style pine-nut ring cake,'' said Italian Vegetarian Society president Carmen Somaschi.
According to Coldiretti, almost half of the 1.6 kilogrammes of lamb consumed by the average Italian each year is eaten over the Easter period, when the nation also gobbles down 380 million eggs for breakfast or in puddings and sweet treats for lunch.
Around eight out of ten Italians will spend Easter at home with relatives, where the average festive lunch will cost around 22 euros a head - up 8% on last year, consumers' association Federconsumatori said.
It based its calculations on a traditional home-cooked lunch, including lamb, Easter egg, fizzy wine and a colomba - an Easter cake filled with candied citrus rind and covered in sugar and almonds.
The nation's restaurants are expecting around five million Italians to spend a total of 224 million euros between Easter Sunday and Easter Monday, the National Federation of Bar and Restaurant Owners (FIPE) said.
Around 75% of restaurants will be offering an all-inclusive menu, which will cost an average of 44 euros a head - up 1 euro on last year's price.
Some 53,000 restaurants - or nine out of ten - will be open on Easter Day, and it will be business as usual for 44,000 outfits on Easter Monday.