The public interventions of the Minister of Consumer Affairs may perhaps be called into question if they are analyzed exclusively from the point of view of political strategy, but there is little doubt that his statements have the capacity to bring to light debates that show some of the contradictions of a society like ours, which needs to change the productive and social model to adapt it to the ecological transition and which, consequently, should publicly discuss how to face this enormous challenge. Livestock and meat consumption is, without a doubt, one of them.
That is precisely why the reactions that are being provoked against an issue like this are discouraging. On the one hand, the conservative sectors are tearing their hair out at the mere fact that a discussion can be opened, they take the radish by the leaves by twisting and manipulating the minister’s statements to make political blood, and they stand as staunch defenders of the ranchers , as if all those involved in that sector constituted a monolithic block with the same interests. On the other hand, sectors of progressivism prefer to avoid the issue, probably so as not to bother some powerful lobbies, and to do so they throw balls out with statements that are sometimes more typical of Comedy Club monologues than of serious socio-political discussion forums. The reference made by the President of the Government at the time to the T-bone steak as any response to the problem of meat consumption, or his complaints about the declarations of his minister, are proof of how he avoids going into the substance of the issue, subtracting thus to the citizens a debate that could be very useful.
If despite everything we enter the subject seriously, a first idea that seems reasonable in this regard is that livestock policy should be addressed as an inseparable part of the ecological transition that we need to carry out. Considering that this transition has to do only with energy consumption would be a mistake, since in order to consolidate it requires much broader changes in the production model. And in these changes, the agricultural and livestock sectors play a fundamental role, not so much because of the importance they have in GDP, which is not very large, but because of their profound territorial, food and social implications. It would therefore be required of any government to coordinate the actions of all the ministries involved in these matters, so that the actions that are taken are not contradictory.
In this general framework, the main criterion to regulate the different types of farms should be that of sustainability understood in its basic sense, that is, the resounding requirement for each and every one of the livestock farms to cover their current production objectives. without promoting an over-exploitation of resources or environmental or social deterioration that compromises the future of the areas in which they are operating.
In the case of livestock production, this sustainability depends mainly on the imbrication that the activity has in the territory and the use it makes of it, something that in turn is closely related to the number and size of the farms. Extensive livestock farming that rears cattle in the open air using meadows and mountains as food is closely linked, by its very nature, to the space in which it is developed, and as long as it maintains an adequate size to avoid over-exploitation of pastures, it contributes to good management of the territory, also generating activities that help establish population. There is little doubt that this livestock should be supported and promoted not only for the quality of the products it generates, but also for its role in lessening the problems of an empty Spain.
But if we are realistic we have to admit that extensive farming alone is not enough to cover the needs of meat and other animal products, so that, like it or not, we need intensive farms. Precisely for this reason, it is necessary to establish clear rules that delimit the number of farms and their size, and that make production compatible with the environmental and social aspects of the territory. Intensive production can be perfectly compatible with sustainability as long as things are organized properly, respecting certain limits. Seriously guaranteeing this compatibility should be the priority function of a good livestock policy.
In this context, it does not seem unreasonable to state that the model that is clearly out of tune with this vision of things is precisely that of the macro-farms, since they are farms that are guided by criteria totally alien to the territory in which they are inserted. Its main objective is to achieve economies of scale that allow production costs to be reduced in order to gain competitiveness in the food markets. But that merely economic logic collides head-on with the reasonable limits of both environmental and social sustainability. To the over-exploitation of local resources (water, especially) and the generation of huge amounts of waste that are impossible to assimilate by the surrounding ecosystems, we must add the scarce generation of work derived from its high mechanization, the fierce competition that these giants make to small local producers, in addition to its incompatibility with other activities that help promote rural development.
A livestock policy that wants to be inserted in the ecological transition and that has the sustainability of the rural world as its basic guide is, without a doubt, very complex to implement. Precisely for this reason, it requires profound debates from which social consensus can emerge in order to act. It is not an easy task, but avoiding the discussion by going out for peteneras so as not to disturb the lobbies on duty, does not seem to be the best way to achieve it.