Spanish government squabbles over whether to promote plant-based diet

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The amount of meat that Spaniards eat has rattled the unity of Spain’s governing coalition with the prime minister coming down on the side of carnivores.

Members of prime minister Pedro Sanchez’s Cabinet are clashing over whether to discourage people in Spain from consuming so much ham, beef and other forms of animal protein.

Supporters favour messaging on the health and environmental benefits of plant-based diets.

The internal debate ballooned to the point that the primer minister waded in from Lithuania while on an official visit there on Thursday.

“To me, if you give me a rare, ribeye steak,.. that’s unbeatable,” Mr Sanchez said, stating his unequivocal position.

Since coming to power in early 2020, Mr Sanchez’s centre-left Socialists and the ministers representing the coalition’s junior partner, the far-left United We Can, have clashed over how to respond to issues like transgender rights, spiralling rent prices, tax hikes and social benefits for the most vulnerable Spaniards.

In a video posted Wednesday on social media, consumption minister Alberto Garzon, a leader of United We Can, called on people to consider putting less meat on their plates.

“I’m worried about the health of our citizens and the health of our planet,” Mr Garzon said.

The minister cited data from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation that showed Spain as the European Union’s top meat consumer: 98 kilograms per person a year compared to an EU average of 76 kilograms.

Mr Garzon said that 70 million cows, pigs, sheep, chickens and other farm animals are slaughtered for food each year in Spain, a country of 47 million, and that beef production, in particular, requires disproportionate amounts of water and releases greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.

“This doesn’t mean that we can’t have a family barbecue once in a while,” he added.

“We just need do it with a bit more restraint and make up for the days when we eat meat by following them with eating more salad, rice, legumes and vegetables.”

Agriculture minister Luis Planas, a fellow Cabinet member, called Mr Garzon’s campaign “unfortunate” and “unfair” for an industry that produces one-fifth of Spain’s exports, a business worth 10 billion euros (11.8 billion US dollars).

“Livestock breeders don’t deserve this,” Mr Planas said during an interview with Cadena SER radio.

“The industry is being subjected to profoundly unfair criticism and deserves respect for the honest work it does for all of us in food and in the economy.”

Anafric, one of the organisations, accused the the minister of “criminalising” an industry that “has adapted to both European and global environmental standards”.

And UPA, a union of small farmers and livestock breeders, said it was outraged.

“We eat well in Spain.

“Our Mediterranean diet has placed us as the world’s third country in terms of longevity,” Roman Santalla, a union spokesman, said.

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