Europe’s Meat-Loving Nation Faces Reckoning Over Climate Impact

A new controversy has broken out in Spain, this time over its love of steak.

The link between red meat consumption and climate change was made by Minister of Consumer Affairs Alberto Garzón in a video published on his Twitter account Wednesday. People should eat a more varied diet, with less animal products, because it is healthier and better for the environment: “I don’t want to scold anyone, but to reflect on this before the problem becomes chronic.”

Garzón touched a nerve. Data shows consumers increased their intake of meat by 10.5% last year to around 50 kilos (110 pounds) per person -- about double the recommended amount. The industry generates 2.5 million jobs nationally and nearly 9 billion euros ($10.7 billion) in exports.

Within less than 24 hours, the six-minute video racked up more than half a million views, and got the attention of Garzón’s colleagues. “Our cattle farmers are being subjected to criticism that’s deeply unfair,” said Luis Planas, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. “They deserve respect.”

Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez also got involved while on an official visit in Lithuania. “To me, eating a steak cooked to perfection, that’s unbeatable,” he told reporters.

If Spain is to achieve its goal of eliminating net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, in line with a European Union target, it will need to tackle emissions from agriculture. The sector is Spain’s second-largest emitter after transport, and accounted for about 14% of the country’s emissions last year.

Elsewhere, meat producers are mitigating greenhouse gas emissions with innovative solutions -- agriculture giant Cargill Inc. will start selling mask-like wearable devices for cows in 2022.

After an industry group sent an open letter to protest Garzón’s “irresponsible” and “erroneous” statement, he nuanced his words, telling a local radio station he doesn’t want anyone to stop eating meat. The minister is the leader of United Left party, a junior partner in a coalition with a very slim majority.

“What we’re saying is not that we have to stop consuming meat,” he said, “but that we have to follow the levels recommended by science, between 200 and 500 grams week.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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