Too much meat? Spain’s factory farming debate creates beef

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Madrid (AFP) – Debate over the environmental impact of Spain’s huge factory farming sector is intensifying in the country, Europe’s largest meat consumer, and dividing its ruling coalition.

In an interview published in the British daily The Guardian, the Minister of the Consumption Alberto Garzon unleashed against the Spanish “so-called mega-farms”, calling them unsustainable.

“They find a village in a depopulated part of Spain and put 4,000, 5,000 or 10,000 head of cattle there,” he said.

“They pollute the soil, they pollute the water and then they export this shoddy meat from these mistreated animals.”

Garzon is the coordinator of the small United Left party, a junior member of the minority coalition government led by Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, and his comments angered farmers.

“There are no mistreated animals in Spain, Minister,” UPA union, which represents small producers, said in a statement.

He said Garzon’s statements were “based on lies, clumsy, myopic and could have adverse effects on Spanish meat exports.”

Debate over the environmental impact of Spain’s huge factory farming sector intensifies OSCAR DEL POZO AFP

Pablo Casado, the leader of the main conservative opposition Popular Party (PP) which is strong in some rural areas, also weighed in, calling Garzon’s remarks “an attack on pastoralists and farmers and the image of our country. country”.

Government spokeswoman Isabel Rodriguez said Garzon was speaking in a personal capacity.

She added that the government “supports the livestock sector, which contributes decisively to our exports.”

The debate risks deepening the rift between the Socialists and left-wing coalition partner Podemos ahead of elections in the Castile and León region, north of Madrid, as the PP leads the polls.

‘Bigger and bigger’

Garzon had already been criticized in July for urging Spaniards to reduce their meat consumption, prompting Sanchez to say that for him “nothing beats a well-done steak”.

Comments by Spain's Consumer Minister Alberto Garzon angered farmers
Comments by Spain’s Consumer Minister Alberto Garzon angered farmers PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU AFP / File

For Salvador Calvet, professor at the University of Valencia who studies the sector, the outcry over Garzon’s remarks is due to the cultural and economic weight of breeding, which supports “many families”.

It is responsible for some 2.5 million jobs in the country and accounts for nine billion euros ($ 10 billion) in annual exports, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO ).

And it’s booming. Meat production has increased tenfold in Spain over the past 60 years, a larger increase than in most other European countries, according to a database from the University of Oxford.

Although there are fewer farms, their size is “getting bigger and bigger,” Calvet said.

The sector’s growth is fueled by external demand, especially from China, as well as Spain, where ham, chorizo ​​sausages and other animal products are a key part of the diet. many people.

Each Spaniard eats an average of 98.8 kilograms (218 pounds) of meat per year, compared to a global average of 42 kilograms, according to FAO figures.

Spain is the biggest consumer of meat in Europe
Spain is the biggest consumer of meat in Europe Josep LAGO AFP / File

This makes Spain the biggest consumer of meat in Europe, ahead of Portugal with 98.7 kilograms and Poland with 88.5 kilograms.

“Legitimate debate”

This level of consumption rises to more than 270 grams per day, “while international scientific recommendations recommend 300 grams of consumption per week,” the environmental group Greenpeace said in a statement.

He warned that the consequences of this overconsumption are “devastating”.

Greenpeace was one of several environmental groups that backed Garzon, who also came under fire for banning ads for sugary foods aimed at children and for cracking down on the betting industry.

“There is a legitimate debate” about the environmental impact of animal husbandry but the reality is “complex and nuanced,” Calvet said.

Breeders have “improved” their practices in recent years but they could still do more, he added.

About Keneth T. Graves

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