Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Spain factory farming debate creates ‘too much’ beef

Spain factory farming debate creates ‘too much’ beef

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Activists hold placards reading ‘meat is the first cause of climate change’, as they take part in a protest called by international nonprofit animal rights organisation AnimaNaturalis, in Madrid, on the eve of the opening of the UN Climate Change Conference COP25 on December 1, 2019. AFP

Spain factory farming debate creates ‘too much’ beef

Debate over the environmental impact of Spain’s huge factory farming sector is heating up in the country, Europe’s biggest meat consumer, and splitting its ruling coalition.

In an interview published in British daily The Guardian, Consumer Affairs Minister Alberto Garzon lashed out against Spain’s “so-called mega-farms”, calling them unsustainable.

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

“They pollute the soil, they pollute the water and then they export this poor quality meat from these ill-treated animals.”

Garzon is the coordinator of the tiny 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,” the UPA union, which represents small producers, said in a statement.

It said Garzon’s statements were “based on falsehoods, clumsy, nearsighted and could have harmful effects on Spanish meat exports”.

Pablo Casado, the leader of the conservative main opposition Popular Party (PP) which is strong in some rural areas, also weighed in, calling Garzon’s words “an attack against ranchers and farmers and the image of our 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 divide between the Socialists and left-wing coalition partner Podemos ahead of an election in the Castile and Leon region north of Madrid as the PP rides high in the polls.

‘Bigger and bigger’

Garzon had already come under fire in July for urging Spaniards to reduce their meat consumption, prompting Sanchez to say that for him “there’s nothing that beats a well done steak”.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Cows wait to be milked at the Grille Sociedade Cooperativa Galega farm near the village of Mazaricos, northwestern Spain. AFP

For Salvador Calvet, a University of Valencia professor who studies the sector, the outcry over Garzon’s comments is due to the cultural and economic weight of livestock farming, which provides a living for “many families”.

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

And it is booming. Meat production has increased ten-fold in Spain over the past 60 years, a larger increase than in most other European nations, according to a University of Oxford database.

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

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

Each Spaniard eats an average of 98.8kg of meat per year, compared to the worldwide average of 42kg, according to FAO figures.

That makes Spain Europe’s biggest meat consumer, ahead of Portugal at 98.7kg and Poland at 88.5 kg.

‘Legitimate debate’

This level of consumption amounts to more than 270g per day, “when international scientific recommendations recommend 300g of consumption per week”, environmental group Greenpeace said in a statement.

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

Greenpeace was one of several environmental groups which backed Garzon, who has also come under fire for banning adverts for sugary foods aimed at children and a crackdown on the betting industry.

“There is a legitimate debate” over the environmental impact of livestock breeding but the reality is “complex and nuanced”, said Calvet.

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


  • Hun Sen: Stop Russia sanctions

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said sanctions against Russia as a result of its military offensive in Ukraine should be stopped as they have produced no tangible results, and predicted that a global food crisis would ensue in 2023 as a consequence. Speaking to an audience at

  • Chinese tourists 2.0 – Coming anytime soon?

    Regional tourism is grappling with the absence of the prolific travellers and big spenders – the Chinese tourists. Cambodia, which has welcomed over two million Chinese tourists before Covid-19, is reeling from the economic loss despite being the first to fully open last November ‘To put

  • PM reflects on shoe throwing: Free speech or act of violence?

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on May 17 questioned whether a man who threw a shoe at him while he was in the US was exercising freedom of expression or if it was an act of hostility. Hun Sen was referring to an incident last week when

  • Siem Reap’s Angkor Botanical Garden opens

    The Angkor Botanical Garden was officially opened on May 19 with free entry for both local and international visitors for the first six weeks. The garden was established on a nearly 15ha plot of land in Siem Reap. “After the first six weeks, Angkor Botanical Garden

  • Pub Street on the cards for Battambang

    The Battambang Provincial Authority has announced that it is considering establishing a Pub Street in the area around the heritage buildings in Battambang town in a bid to attract more tourists. Battambang provincial governor Sok Lou told The Post that the establishment of a Pub

  • Hun Sen: Don’t react to hostility

    Prime Minister Hun Sen urged tolerance and thanked members of the Cambodian diaspora for not reacting to the hostility on display towards him by others while he was in the US to attend the May 12-13 ASEAN-US Special Summit in Washington, DC. In an audio