Spain: The Spanish meat sector is up in arms

The Consumer Affairs Minister's "anti-meat crusade" clashes with the Agriculture Minister, as was the case with the introduction of Nutriscore labelling and the "Sugar kills" campaign.

The Minister of Consumer Affairs, Alberto Garzón, was once again in the eye of the storm for the campaign to reduce meat consumption “Less meat, more live”: an initiative that provoked the anger of the meat sector and a political storm within the socialist-communist coalition government. The Consumer Affairs Minister's "anti-meat crusade" clashes with the Agriculture Minister, as was the case with the introduction of Nutriscore labelling and the "sugar kills" campaign.

The Prime Minister himself, when questioned by a journalist, opted for a laid-back phrase to disavow Mr Garzón and took a clear stand with the Minister of Agriculture, Luis Planas, who branded the initiative as erroneous. "If I'm offered a T-bone steak ... that's unbeatable," PM Sánchez said from Latvia.

carne III

Industry reactions

What Mr Garzón's initiative did achieve was to unite the entire meat sector, which sent an open letter to the Minister of Consumer Affairs and, subsequently, in a press release called for the withdrawal of the campaign. In particular, they called the minister's statements "irresponsible and improper". In addition, they said, the livestock-meat industry chain has always defended "a varied, balanced and complete diet".

For a farmers’ organization close to socialist party, the campaign is "misleading, fraudulent and irresponsible" because it "buys messages" from a part of radical environmentalism.

Arguments against the Consumer Affairs Minister

Different organizations pointed out some of the data provided by Garzón in the campaign. For example, they denied that big companies control the sector. Specifically, they added that there are more than 2,750 companies in this sector and that most of them are SMEs. "The number of livestock farms exceeds half a million, mostly family businesses".

carne V

They also pointed out that 90% of the water used to produce 1 kg of meat is rainwater and only 10% is "grey" water. The sector said that they are also not responsible for 14.5% of emissions in Spain. According to the Ministry of Ecological Transition, they would be responsible for 7.8%; far behind transport (27.7%), the manufacturing industry (24.1%) or electricity generation (10.3%).

The meat industry in the national economy

Fig. 1 shows the main economic data of the Spanish meat industry and livestock production.

carne I
Fig. 1. Spanish meat industry and livestock production (2020)

The Spanish meat sector is the fourth largest industrial sector in the country, behind only the automotive, oil and fuel and energy industries, and with GDP impact figures similar to those of the chemical and metallurgical industries.

In 2020 total turnover was almost €28 billion, plus the €22 billion contributed directly by livestock farming. This sector provides 100,000 direct jobs, representing 25% of the total employment in the food industry.

As for exports (Fig. 2), it continues its upward trend with more than 3 million tons exported in 2020 for a value of close to €9 billion.

carne II
Fig. 2. 2015-2020 meat exports evolution in tons

These figures make it the leading export sector of the food industry. Strong Chinese demand has been the main driver of recent rises. In 2019, Spain became the leading exporter of pork and pork products to China.

Meat consumption in Spain

According to official statistics, in 2020, Spanish households increased meat consumption by 10.5% annually, to more than 2 million kilos. In the shopping basket, meat products accounted for the largest share of the household budget, 20.37% of food and beverage expenditure, equivalent to an expenditure of 349.54 €/person/year. Its value grew by 12.9%, with an average price of 7.01 €/kg. Per capita consumption was close to 50 kilos, 10.2% higher than the previous year.

Spain 2050

A relevant factor in the debate that has arisen is the so-called “Spain 2050. Foundations and Proposals for a Long-term National Strategy”, recently presented by PM Sánchez in which is textually stated: “Several studies indicate that meat consumption in the Spanish population is two to five times higher than recommended”. Previously it was warned “the Spanish population will have to reduce its intake of foods of animal origin”.

carne VI

After the campaign launch, the socialist party to which the PM belongs did not hesitate to criticize Minister Garzón. Besides that, PM Sánchez reaction in Latvia, after inciting the decrease in meat consumption a few months earlier, were very strange to say the least. Most of the media interpreted these statements as an endorsement of the PSOE leader to the meat sector. However, according to others, Mr. Sánchez managed to get away with his joke. Thus, strategically, Sánchez avoided supporting both Garzon's campaign and the data on which the communist relies to attack the consumption of meat, which allowed him to escape the rain of criticism that his Government partner had received.

Several sources