Opinion piece from Somos Ganaderia on #MenosCarneMásVida

(See original opinion in Spanish)

21 July 2021 – The interbranch meat organisations of Spain, representing hundreds of thousands of livestock farmers, as well as companies, workers and experts throughout Spain in the livestock and meat sectors, have joined forces to express our outrage at the #MenosCarneMásVida (in Spanish: ‘less meat, more life’) campaign, which is smearing the entire livestock and meat sectors.

It is concerning to see misleading or vague claims being made through public channels, in an attempt to pit everyone against the livestock and meat sectors, which play a key socioeconomic role in our country. According to the FAO, our sector generates in excess of 2.5 million jobs in Spain alone and almost 9 billion euros in exports, bolstering the country’s balance of trade.

Using data in such a self-serving way –considering there is an abundance of data available from the Spanish Government itself, in addition to official consumption data from the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; or data from the Spanish Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory– is irresponsible.

The sector that we represent will continue its awareness-raising efforts and advocacy work by presenting hard evidence, such as the following:

● When claims are made about how overconsumption of meat has led to an increase in cardiovascular disease, diabetes and even some types of cancer, it must be made crystal clear that all global indicators show Spain’s diet and lifestyle to be among the best in the world, positioning our country as a global leader in this regard, as you can see below:

  • Spain is the healthiest country in the world (according to the Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index).
  • Spain is the country with the highest life expectancy in the world (according to the IHME at the University of Washington and the authoritative scientific journal ‘The Lancet’).
  • Spain is the country with the highest life expectancy in the European Union (according to the European Commission report entitled ‘State of Health in the EU 2019’).
  • Spain has a cancer rate well below the average out of all OECD countries (according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) study entitled ‘Health at Glance 2019’).

● When claims are made about how 15,000 litres of water are required to produce 1 kg of meat, it should be made crystal clear that 90% of the water used in meat production is ‘green water’, i.e. rainwater, and there would still be rainfall even if there were no animals; only 10% is ‘blue water’ or ‘grey water’, which is much less than what goes into numerous crops.

● When claims are made about how 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) come from livestock, it is paramount to emphasise the following:

  • Livestock and manure production account for only 5.8% of emissions (Climate Watch and World Resources Institute, Our World in Data. Oxford University. 2020).
  • Energy use, whether in the form of electricity or heat, or whether as part of transport or industrial processes, accounts for the majority (74%) of greenhouse gas emissions. The global food system, which encompasses post-harvest production and processes such as processing and supply, accounts for the remaining 26% of emissions. In addition, of that 26%, livestock and fisheries account for only one third [of emissions] (Joseph Poore and Thomas Nemecek. Science, 2018).
  • Out of all greenhouse gas emissions from livestock in the world, 80% come from developing countries (FAO, 2017). When we look at the overall emissions landscape, it is necessary to have a global and not an EU-centred approach so that our contributions to climate change mitigation may be properly considered.
  • Emission intensity (CO2 eq/kg meat) varies between different parts of the world. In our region, i.e. Western Europe, we have one of the lowest emission intensity rates in the world (FAO, 2017). Our production systems are highly efficient in the way we use and manage animal feed and animal health. As a result, we produce fewer emissions per unit of final product.
  • According to official data from the Spanish Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory, livestock meat production in Spain accounts for only 7.8% of total GHG emissions in our country. In contrast, transport accounts for 27% of these emissions, followed by industrial sectors (19.9%), power generation (17.8%), fuel consumption (8.5%) or industrial processes and use of other products (8%), as per data from the Spanish Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge [in Spanish: MITECO], 2020.
  • Significantly, methane produced in farming accounts for about 27% of the total methane emitted globally. This methane goes into a biogenic cycle where it is broken down and transformed into CO2 and H2O over a period of 12 years, to be later absorbed by plants during photosynthesis. Given that livestock census figures remain stable, our livestock sector’s CO2 emissions into the atmosphere do not increase over time and so they do not contribute to global warming to the same extent that fossil fuel consumption is. Therefore, the fact that our emissions are going down means that we are contributing to climate change mitigation, the same way other economic sectors are.

● When claims are made as to how ‘antibiotics overuse is jeopardising their efficacy in both animals and humans’, it should be made crystal clear that:

  • Use of antibiotics as growth-promoters in farm animals has been banned since 2006 (Directive 2001/82/EC and its subsequent amendments). Only occasionally, as is also the case in humans, is it necessary to treat food-producing animals for bacterial diseases. Responsible use of medicinal products ensures animal welfare, also making sure food produced by these animals is safe and healthy.
  • European legislation regulates which medicines can be used to treat animals and how to use them. Thus, only medicines that have been authorised after having successfully cleared a science-based risk assessment can be used.
  • This has also been confirmed by the Spanish Agency for Medicines and Health Products [in Spanish: AEMPS] indicating that sales of veterinary antibiotics in Spain decreased by 13.6% in 2019, i.e. a 58.8% reduction between 2014 and 2019 (National Antibiotic Resistance Plan).
  • In Europe, according to the latest report of the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) on the monitoring of residues of veterinary medicinal products and other substances in animals and products of animal origin, the level of non-compliance was a mere 0.30% in 2019. Hence, EFSA concluded that the level of compliance is high, and that the European surveillance system is robust and contributes to consumer protection.

The farming sector is working on multiple sectorial initiatives to support the country in its efforts to recover from the effects of the pandemic. These initiatives include strong commitments in the areas of sustainability and the transition towards climate neutral and circular production models, as well as creation of quality jobs, fostering local cohesion and equal opportunities, and promoting balanced and healthy eating habits for all.

We would like to underscore, once again, the extent to which livestock farming for meat production contributes to job creation and generates opportunities, in addition to promoting strong environmental commitments to deliver verifiable results. As sector representatives, we will continue to engage in institutional cooperation and dialogue, and trust our public policy decision-makers to do likewise and contribute, through their actions and words, to fostering an atmosphere of mutual understanding.

Signatory organisations:

Asociación Interprofesional del Cerdo Ibérico (ASICI)
(Interbranch Association for the Iberian Pig)

Asociación Interprofesional Española de Carne Avícola (AVIANZA)
(Spanish Interbranch Association for Poultry)

Organización Interprofesional para el Impulso del Sector Cunícola (INTERCUN)
(Interbranch Organisation for the Promotion of the Rabbit Sector)

Interprofesional Agroalimentaria del Ovino y Caprino (INTEROVIC)
(Interbranch Organisation for the Sheep and Goat Industry)

Organización Interprofesional del Porcino de Capa Blanca (INTERPORC)
(Interbranch Organisation for White-Capped Pigs)

Organización Interprofesional de la Carne de Vacuno (PROVACUNO)
(Interbranch Organisation for Beef and Veal)

With the support of the ‘Somos Ganadería’ (We Are Livestock Farming) Alliance