Kay’s Cuts: Spanish meat industry’s $3.65b drive towards greater animal welfare, sustainability


Steve Kay, Beef Central (Australia)



A monthly column written on the global beef trade by Steve Kay, publisher of US Cattle Buyers Weekly


I HAVE just returned from a ten-day trip to Spain, one of my favorite countries to visit in Europe.


I stayed mostly in Barcelona and once again enjoyed its beauty, culture, food and more. I also made a two-day trip to the foothills of the Pyrenees, where I witnessed up close both the stunning countryside filled with pastures and dense green forests, but also the Spanish cattle industry.


As I drove through the region, I saw numerous beef cattle herds, some of which appeared to be Charolais but were more likely to be one of the 49 native beef breeds that Spain has.


I saw thousands of round hay bales standing in what were often fields of no more than a couple of acres. I also saw close up ultra-modern feeding barns, whose roofs no doubt gave respite to the cattle from the blazing sun.


I won’t presume to make any conclusions after what was just a cursory glimpse but it appeared that the Spanish cattle and beef industry is thriving, and is an important part of the country’s overall economy. But it is also in transition.


In a recent report, USDA said that after years of increased production of animal protein, Spain is now taking a different approach for its livestock sector.


The Spanish livestock sector’s strategy is now focussed on a more controlled expansion and diversification of export markets.


The overall Spanish meat sector, including cattle and swine, is willing to invest around $3.63 billion, partially through the European Union’s Next Generation funds, to improve animal welfare, sustainability, efficiency and to modernise the sector.


Spanish livestock production contributes more than US$17 billion to the country’s agricultural production, while the country’s meat industry has a turnover of more than US$30 billion, says USDA.


This represents 22.6pc of the total Spanish food industry, making it the leading sector with exports of US$10.4 billion.


Contraction in livestock inventories


However, the new approach may lead to a contraction in livestock inventories for 2022, as producers are looking to minimise the environmental impact and to find alternative export markets to China.


In 2020, Spanish official data for cattle and beef showed a slight decrease in production because of the COVID pandemic and higher feed prices. In 2020, Spanish cattle slaughter declined 3.5 percent to 2.4 million animals. Spanish beef production also decreased by 2.6pc to 677,740 tonnes, while carcase weights rose 1pc to 279.5kg from the delays to slaughtering because of the closure of the hospitality sector.


According to the sector, Spain’s cattle slaughter likely decreased 2.4pc in 2021, mainly due to a reduction in calf slaughter, and 3.5pc in 2022 due to low economic performance and Spanish cattle growers’ intention to reduce production.


Spanish cattle herd ending inventories for 2022 might decline 1.1pc, says USDA. In 2020, Spain’s beef exports grew 4pc to 231,000t and US$903m, mainly fueled by an 8pc rise in exports to the EU, especially to Italy and Greece. This level of exports and a decrease in imports led to the second positive trade balance since 2000 of US$289m. This positive trend continued from January to July 2021.


In 2020, Spain exported 85pc of its beef to other EU member states, mainly to the Mediterranean countries, says USDA.


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