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07 March 2022

The meat sector assumes its environmental and animal welfare responsibility

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In recent years, society seems to have increased its interest in and attention to the livestock-meat sector, largely because of its impact on the environment and animal welfare during the breeding process. This trend, together with the reduced visibility of the livestock activity, has led the players in this economic segment to rethink the way they carry out their activity and, above all, their communication towards society. The sector argues that legislative and consumer pressure is not the only thing that moves them, but that the protection of animals and the natural environment is intrinsic to the development of their tasks.

The livestock-meat sector assures that the entire chain, from breeders to marketers of the final product, are the first to be interested in ensuring that the animal and its environment are in the best possible conditions. Starting with the effect this has on the final product. In other words, the better the animal is cared for, the better the meat will be and the higher the price at which it can be sold.

In addition, having the backing of parameters that demonstrate the welfare of the animal is an added value that also has an impact on the price and can influence the consumer's choice at the time of purchase. According to data provided by Interporc, 71% of Spaniards demand more information on the living conditions of farm animals.

Proof of good animal care extends to the entire chain.

It is worth noting that there is an increasing number of certifications to attest to the respectful care that animals receive. And this has also become a sales strategy, in the sense that the companies that obtain it show it off both on the packaging of their products and in their information to the media and consumers.

In this field, the Welfair seal, awarded by the Institute of Agri-Food Research and Technology (IRTA), stands out, as well as the Animal Welfare Commitment. The latter was promoted by the interprofessional association of the Spanish white-coat pork sector (Interporc Animal Welfare Spain - IAWS), although it was later adapted and adopted by the beef sector (Provacuno Animal Welfare Spain - PAWS) and the sheep and goat sector (BAIE - Bienestar Animal Interovic España).

But the care of animals goes beyond their breeding and the product itself: it is also an aspect to be valued, for example, in the treatment they receive during transport while they are alive. This is how the Animal Welfare on Wheels seal of quality, promoted by the National Association of Live Animal Transporters (Anta), came into being. This seal values the handling and comfort conditions of the animals during loading, transfer and unloading; the awareness and capabilities of the drivers; the characteristics of the vehicles; the report of injured and/or deceased animals during the journey; etc. For the time being, this standard applies only to swine, with specific requirements for Iberian or white-coat pigs, although its application to other types of animals is being prepared.

The commitment to the quality of life of the animals focused on their subsequent consumption is reflected in the number of companies that have obtained these and other welfare seals. From the interprofessional of the white pork meat they emphasize that the IAWS is present in the products of distribution chains of mass consumption such as Carrefour, Alcampo, Consum, El Corte Inglés, Aldi, E.Leclerc, Maskom, SuperSol, Unide and Covirán. In the first month of 2022, Carrefour has announced that 100% of fresh meat products (poultry, pork, beef, sheep and rabbits) with its MDD are welfare certified. El Corte Inglés has also announced the same fact with regard to fresh chicken and eggs sold under its brand, which come from cage-free hens. The company is also working to extend these certifications to external brands of fresh eggs sold in its stores. Supsa Supermercados Pujol also has the Welfair seal on "most of the chicken, rabbit, pork and veal cuts available in Plusfresc stores", as well as on packaged raw materials.

Another example of these initiatives is the HAI 4.0 project, which develops an artificial intelligence system to measure the degree of animal welfare based on the analysis of animal behavior in different situations. The initiative comes from a group of members of the Spanish cluster of Pig Producers (i+Porc), including the cluster itself, Ceva Salud Animal, Grupo Costa, Infoporc, the Institut De Recerca I Tecnologia Agroalimentaries (IRTA) and the Clúster Digital de Catalunya (EQTIC).

European and national regulations want more environmental control

The organizations that promote them assure that the requirements of these certifications are aligned with the demands and recommendations of European bodies, framed in plans such as the European Green Deal and the strategy 'From farm to fork' (Form farm to fork). These documents focus on three fundamental aspects: animal health, the nutritional values of raw materials and the environmental impact of the livestock-meat chain. The final objective is that of "a fair, healthy and sustainable food system" with which the national meat sector claims to be not only aligned, but also initiated.

According to data from the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory, livestock farming accounted for 9.1% of total emissions in 2020. The percentage rose significantly in that year, due to the fact that electricity generation and transportation reduced their weight as they were limited by confinement during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, the gross tons belonging to livestock in 2020 were similar to those of 2019. In that fiscal year, the weight of livestock stood at 7.8%, compared to 29% for transport and 19.8% for industry and 13.7% for energy.

Both companies and meat associations have created and publicized codes of good practice in environmental matters in recent years. The beef interprofessional, for example, created one such document in 2020 as part of the Carbon Neutral Beef Beef 2050 strategy. The code was developed by a group of 17 researchers from 7 centers of the national scientific network Remedia, focused on climate change mitigation in the agricultural, livestock and forestry sector, with the collaboration of technicians from the beef industry.

The Government is also taking steps to improve the environmental management of farms. In this sense, from the beginning of 2022 all pig breeding farms must have an Integrated Farm Management System (SIGE), according to what is included in the Royal Decree 306/2020 of basic rules for the management of pig farms. This legal document incorporates an emissions reduction program "through the mandatory application of Best Available Techniques" to reduce between 60% and 80% of ammonia and greenhouse gas emissions, depending on whether they come from the buildings that house the animals or from the external storage of slurry.

One of the ways to adapt to the new regulations is focused on greater automation and digitalization of the livestock-meat chain, in pursuit of a more exhaustive control of the companies' activity. However, this entails significant investments. In this sense, the sector is relying on the impulse of the Next Generation EU funds that will be structured through the Strategic Projects for Economic Recovery and Transformation (Perte). The national Executive planned to provide the agrifood chain with its own Perte, which, in principle, was a "priority". However, at the end of January 2022 it was still in the study phase.