Consumer Affairs Minister Alberto Garzón claimed in an interview with British newspaper The Guardian that mega-farms are damaging the environment and leading to the export of poor-quality meat from the country.
“What isn’t at all sustainable is these so-called mega-farms. 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 told the newspaper.
“They pollute the soil, they pollute the water and then they export this poor-quality meat from these ill-treated animals”.
Since these comments were published, there has been an uproar about his comments both across farmers’ unions and in the government.
Much of what the minister has said has been taken out of context and it’s important to point out that Garzón wasn’t talking about the quality of Spanish meat in general, he was only talking about the mass-produced meat from mega farms in certain regions.
There is scientific evidence proving that intensive livestock farming is damaging Spain’s environment and water supplies, but is there any evidence to suggest that it actually produces poor quality meat too?
According to Greenpeace Spain, the mega farm system always seeks the highest production of meat, milk and eggs at the lowest cost and in the shortest possible time, all to maximise profits.
This means that a large number of animals are crammed into confined spaces rather than grazing or foraging outdoors, fed with cheap feed imported from other countries, and pumped full of antibiotics and chemicals to help them survive in these unsanitary living conditions.
The Local Spain has not found evidence of any official study conducted in Spain which calls into question the quality of the meat as a result of intensive livestock farming.
Most of the international reporting on meat quality standards is from animal rights groups who write that scientific studies prove factory farming can lead to the bacterial contamination of meat, such as salmonella and E. coli, and can be breeding grounds for antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
But according to Spain’s Agriculture Ministry, only 1 percent of pig farms and 3 percent of cow farms in the country can be considered large scale, meaning that most of the many different types of meat produced in Spain don’t come from these macrogranjas (as they’re called in Spanish), although this doesn’t guarantee they don’t use a similar production model.
If you take the example of Spain’s jamón ibérico de bellota, high-quality cured ham from pigs fed on acorns in outdoor pastures, the rearing model to obtain its exquisite taste is completely the opposite of factory farming.
What do The Local’s readers think of the quality of Spain’s meat?
Meat, whether cured or cooked, is an intrinsic part of the daily diet in Spain, so we decided to ask our readers what they really thought about the quality of Spain’s meat and how it compares to other countries.
Half of our respondents (50.9 percent) thought that Spanish meat wasn’t bad quality at all and actually thought it was very good compared with other countries.
Readers Anna and Christopher agreed with the Spanish Prime Minister’s recent words when arguing that Spanish meat is of “excellent quality”.
Harriet also agreed, saying: “Spanish ham, pork products, veal, and lamb are some of the finest meats in the world! We go to Spain often to eat!”.
Ann McKiernan also praised the quality of meat in Spain. She told The Local: “I’m happy with the quality, it compares favourably to meat I can purchase in other countries. I’d prefer more availability of different cuts/thicknesses in supermarkets but generally, I can find what I need in butchers, even with my rather limited Spanish”.
Jens Riis also couldn’t fault the quality of Spanish meat. “Here in Madrid, we get excellent meat: beef, pork, lamb; it’s almost always top drawer, never bad,” she said.
Jorge thought that Spain has some of the best meat in Europe with sustainable livestock, while Bruce thought that both the quality and price are excellent, and Daniel said that “it’s really tasty”.
Not everyone agreed however and around a quarter of our respondents (24.6 percent) said that ‘yes’ Spanish meat is bad. Many of the answers agreed with Garzón’s comments about the bad quality of meat from mega-farms, but several people also thought the taste and the texture weren’t good either.
Maria thought that the animals in Spain are not fed quality food. “They should be grass-fed and they are not given proper living standards,” she said. “As a result, the meat doesn’t look or taste as good”.
Jane Pritchard told The Local: “The standard of beef and lamb is extremely poor quality and very expensive, particularly lamb. I assume it’s because there is no decent grazing for the animals. Having been used to salt marsh lamb in the UK we have been spoiled. Ibérico ham is lovely, but we can’t live on pork”.
Valerie concurred with Jane’s comments, saying that “the availability of large joints is very limited. The lamb joints are tiny plus the quality and taste are poor. I don’t see any meat claiming to have good husbandry care, I think most meat in Spain is mass produced”.
Chris Foster also thought similarly when he said: “I can’t find organic meat locally and the animal farms I have seen here are terrible. The food they are fed looks terrible too”.
Meanwhile, a few respondents focused on the taste of the meat.
Thomas said: “It tastes strange, not like in other EU countries. It’s very weird. I’m now mostly vegetarian”.
Alan Robinson completely agreed “We find it tough and tasteless,” he said. “It would be so much better if they left some fat on it too”.
Roger simply thought that good quality beef was very hard to find, while Brian Wall thought that most types of Spanish meat are bad, but mainly due to the way it’s cut in Spain.
“The Spanish butchers don’t use or know the proper cuts of beef so their steaks are never what we expect. As a result, steak is always disappointing for a Brit used to traditional sirloin or rump etc. Furthermore, the Spanish lamb is atrocious. I don’t know where it comes from but it is awful and expensive. Finally, Spanish traditionally seem to prefer wafer-thin chops and I have to remind the butcher to cut it thicker. My brother is a top-class chef and has trouble sourcing decent meat,” he said.
On the other hand, a quarter of respondents said that the quality of meat in Spain depends. Most agreed that good quality meat is available in Spain, but that depends on where you buy it from, but others said it depended on the type of meat you buy too.
John Latka explained: “It very much depends where you purchase your meat. I avoid the supermarkets and buy from a reputable butcher”.
Jonathan said that “Of course there is high-quality meat available in Spain, if you are willing to pay for it…. most of what you see in the supermarket or served at an average restaurant is the kind of stuff that Garzón is talking about. There is a demand for cheap meat, and lots of it, a demand that these farms serve. The megafarms don’t employ proportionally as many people, so if you could persuade the population to reduce their meat consumption, but spend about the same on a smaller quantity of better-quality product, you might even improve the economy”.
Rob H agreed saying: “Generally speaking, meat from traditional pastures is of good quality. Spain produces meat in a variety of ways and it is sold at a variety of prices. You get what you pay for. Personally, I try to buy locally produced meat that I know doesn’t come from a huge, industrially-run factory farm. If you want quality you should buy your meat at a butcher and ask where it comes from. If price is a priority, as it understandably is for many people, it is still possible to buy local meat, but never at the lowest price”.
Anna also thought that it depended on where the meat is sourced. “Animal products produced on small farms using traditional farming methods is of excellent quality, both ethically, health-wise. Supermarket meat from mega-farms involves animal abuse and is dangerous to consume,” she said.
Susan Wallace said: “I have bought some excellent quality fresh meat, especially organic. And I think bellota jamón products are of very high quality, too. But “industrial” jamón is a different matter, and some fresh meat from supermarkets also leaves a lot to be desired”.
Matthew agreed with Susan, saying that the cured meats are excellent, whereas fresh meat here is somewhat less, while Jerry B said: “Beef is generally of very poor quality (tough, sinewy), whereas pork and chicken are very good”.