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Spanish govt in rib-eye rumble as minister attacks meat industry

·3-min read

Meat-loving Spaniards were outraged this week when a member of the government took aim at the industry over environmental and health concerns, prompting the prime minister to declare himself unable to resist a perfectly cooked steak.

In a nation where the average person tucks into around 50 kilogrammes (110 pounds) of meat per year, a backlash may have been inevitable when Consumer Affairs Minister Alberto Garzon served up a Twitter roast under a hashtag translating to "#LessMeatMoreLife".

"The amount of water needed to get a piece of meat onto a plate is worrying," said Garzon, a politician from radical left party Podemos, in a six-minute video laden with infographics and figures.

"The water animals drink, that's needed to produce their feed, to transport and pack the food, all of that contributes to exhausting the resources of the planet," he added.

"One kilo of meat means 15,000 litres (4,000 gallons) of water".

The comments sparked a beef with others from across the political spectrum, including fellow ministers in the left-wing government headed by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

"If you put me in front of a medium-rare rib steak, I can't resist," Sanchez declared on an official visit to Lithuania, at the other end of the 27-nation European Union.

Beyond the cultural role of meat in the Spanish diet, where many restaurants serve tapas dishes of cured ham beneath ordered rows of the very same pork legs dangling from the ceiling, its production is also vital to the economy.

The national meat industry association says it accounts for almost 28 billion euros ($33 billion) of revenue or 2.3 percent of Spanish GDP, making it the country's fourth-largest industry.

- 'Irresponsible and unworthy' -

Garzon's comments were "irresponsible and unworthy of a Spanish minister," a group of six meat industry associations said in an open letter, accusing him of "stigmatising" the sector.

Agriculture Minister Luis Planas also took Garzon to task, accusing him of talking up a "fake problem" and calling his criticism of producers "unfair".

Meat production accounted for "just eight percent" of Spain's greenhouse gas emissions, Planas said.

And Health Minister Carolina Darias sought to downplay her colleague's health claims, saying in a press conference Friday that people should aim for "a diet that allows them to alternate between eating large amounts of protein and of vitamins... a balanced and rounded diet, everything in the right amount".

Garzon pointed to the government's "Spain 2050" strategic plan, which calls for reducing meat consumption as much for health as for environmental reasons.

"Many studies show that meat consumption among the Spanish population is two to five times the recommended amount," one section of the 700-page document reads.

In 2020 alone, Spaniards' average meat consumption increased more than 10 percent compared with the previous year, an annual agriculture ministry report published last month showed.

Environmentalist group Greenpeace also sprang to Garzon's defence, attacking the prime minister's "irresponsible" comments about his love of steak.

Sanchez "prides himself on fighting the climate emergency but when it comes time to address reducing meat consumption -- a fact supported by science -- responds that he can't resist a rib steak," the activists said.