By Guillermo Altares
At the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, chicken was served, a bird that may seem very un-noble for a moment of pomp and circumstance. From that ceremony, one of the most famous British recipes was born: Coronation Chicken. Since then, meat consumption in the West has accelerated so dramatically that what was extraordinary is now normal. Only between 1990 and 2012, according to FAO data, the number of hens in the world has grown by 104.2%, from 11,788 to 24,705 million, and cattle, which are highly polluting for the environment, have gone from 1,445 to 1,684 million (16.5%).
The problem is to know if the planet will be able to support it: a 2013 study, also by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, ensures that meat production is responsible for 14.5% of carbon emissions and that At the same time, meat consumption in developing countries grows by around 5% or 6% a year. "Livestock play a very important role in climate change," the FAO concluded.
"Our diet is based on products of animal origin and we know that their environmental impact is very high", explains Emilio Martínez de Victoria Muñoz, former president of the Scientific Committee of the Spanish Agency for Food Safety and Nutrition. "A kilo of meat is much less sustainable than a kilo of vegetables."
Anthropologist Jesús Contreras, from the Food Observatory, points out: "If all the inhabitants of China consumed the same meat as us, it would be unsustainable. We have a sustainability problem, because we maintain a very expensive energy diet."
The meat has suffered several crises. On the one hand, there are the medical advice related to the excessive consumption of certain varieties (pigs, red meat). On the other, as happened with mad cows, there are the controversies caused by the products with which cattle are fed. But the great problem posed by its consumption now has much more to do with the environment than with health. The so-called carbon footprint, which measures the resources needed to produce something, is gigantic in the case of meat, so much so that no one believes that the current rate can be maintained. Again, according to the FAO, in developed countries as a whole, an average of 60 kilos of meat were consumed in 1964, now there are 95.7 and it is estimated that it will be 100.1 in 2030.
Journalist Andrew Lawyer, who just published a book on the history of chickens, "Why did the chicken cross the world?" (Why did the chicken cross the world?) Says he cannot calculate the number of birds that are slaughtered each day in the world: "There are no statistics, but I am sure there are tens of millions. The consumption of chicken grows very quickly The more urbanized countries are, the more eggs and chickens they consume. " In Spain, it has gone from producing 836,000 tons of poultry meat to 1.3 million between 1990 and 2013.
Meat represents a very important industry in Spain. According to the latest data available from the association of meat producers, in 2013 they exported 1.57 million tons worth 4,189 million euros. With 3.4% of world production, Spain is also the fourth largest producer of pork, behind China (which produces 50% of the world's pork), the US (10%) and Germany (5.3%). At the same time, it is the second European country in production, representing 16% of the total.
That industrial world, which is home to thousands of small economies - it is enough to remember the crisis that occurred in Burgos at the end of 2014 when the Cantimpalos factory caught fire - can be found in the Segovian town of Cantimpalos, with 1,400 inhabitants, 16 industries of sausages and a chorizo production of 42 tons in 2013. "The pig does not have community aid", explains Pedro Matarranz, a small farmer. "This town lives from the sausage industries, livestock or agriculture," he says.
Under the July heat on the Segovian plateau, a visit to his small farm shows the enormous difficulties of the trade, from handling some 500 tons of slurry a year (despite the fact that he uses mostly straw) to use as fertilizers until the huge health security measures. Even on a family scale, bordering on artisanal, pork requires enormous energy effort.
"The food of the future will be the food of the past," explains Sandro Dernini, FAO advisor. "The carbon footprint of animal protein production is huge," he says. "This trade has changed very little in 200 years," explains Jesús González Veneros, a cattle rancher from Ávila, as he shows black spots on a distant hill in the Sierra de Gredos. An inexperienced eye is unable to distinguish cattle, but he can spot it perfectly.
To get there, he needs a horse, just like his great-grandfather, his grandfather and his father, who were also cattlemen. These farms represent the maximum expression of an organic meat, on which an economic and social ecosystem depends, but it is impossible that through this type of farms world demand can be sustained, unless its consumption is reduced very quickly.
This problem also arises in a world where around 900 million people go hungry every day. As the FAO points out, the meat sector faces the impossible challenge of increasing production given a growth in demand and the planet's population and the need to curb emissions at the same time.