Spain top EU pig meat producer, China is one of their biggest clients

FILE PHOTO: Hams and slices of ham are seen in a bar in Madrid, Spain, October 3, 2019. REUTERS/Jon Nazca/File Photo

Spain is becoming the top producer of pig meat in the European Union. Germany used to be the number one EU pig meat producer, but they lost China as a client after an African swine fever (ASF) outbreak in wild boars.

So far, 56% of sales of EU pig products has gone to China, making the country the biggest export client, according to European Commission data.

EU shipments of pig products to China were 3.3 billion kilograms (7.4 billion pounds) last year, almost three times more than in 2018.

China’s desire for imported pig meat increased after its own ASF outbreak, where more than 100 million pigs were killed.

“The fact that in recent years it [China] has been affected by African swine fever has caused demand to skyrocket,” Ramon Soler Ciurana, export manager of Faccsa-Prolongo, a Spanish pig meat producer in Malaga, told Reuters.

Spain produced 2.6 billion kilograms (5.1 billion pounds) of pig meat during the half of 2021, up 4.1% from the same period last year, according to European Commission data.

German slaughterhouse in Spain
Because Spain has less strict animal welfare rules than Germany, Tönnies, Germany’s largest slaughterhouse, is building a pig slaughterhouse and meat packing facility in Calamocha in Spain.  

Tougher animal welfare and environmental rules in Germany have contributed to the decline in pig farming, according to Tönnies.

“Even if German farmers want to invest in new pig stalls, they often cannot get planning approval from local authorities,” Andre Vielstaedte, a spokesperson for Tönnies, told Reuters.

Tönnies made headlines in June last year after hundreds of employees tested positive for coronavirus. During a protest in July last year, activists climbed the roof of the Tönnies slaughterhouse with banners saying “Stop exploiting humans, animals, nature” as they demanded changes to current meat industry practices.

“We have to get back control over our food production. Let’s replace profit-driven meat conglomerates with democratically controlled, ecological and harm-free production sites,” activist Maya Keller said at that time.

Operations of the new Tönnies slaughterhouse will start in 2023 in Spain, and the company will kill 10,000 pigs per day. “The pork market in Spain is looking attractive, and the political framework is positive,” Vielstädte said. 

“Our new Spanish plant will be aimed exclusively at exports to markets including pork ribs to North America, bellies to Japan and other products such as pigs feet and ears to China and elsewhere in Asia,” Vielstädte said.

He called the German animal welfare rules “one-sided” because other European countries don’t demand the same from farmers, making it cheaper and easier to invest in pig farming in Spain than in Germany. 

China’s pork meat import 
African swine fever is an infectious viral disease in domestic and wild pigs. The disease can result in death, but animals can also recover from it. So far, authorities worldwide kill entire pig populations when African swine fever is detected.

China has continued to report outbreaks of ASF this year, including in three of the top five pig meat producing areas, Henan, Sichuan and Shandong, which mean they will keep looking at other countries to import pig meat.  

And European governments are excited about the pig trade deals they’re making with China. Ireland recently proudly announced they would be sending live breeding pigs to China.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service said earlier this year that China would import a total of 5.1 billion kilograms (11.4 billion pounds) of pig meat in 2022. In 2020, they imported 5.3 billion kilograms (11.7 billion pounds) of pig meat.

Industrial farming and climate change
The report Food system impacts on biodiversity loss, published in February by the English policy institute Chatham House, explained how industrial animal farming destroys nature and contributes to species extinction.

The paper had three recommendations for policy makers: promote a more plant-based diet, set aside farmland for nature and shift to more organic and sustainable farming with respect for nature and animals. 

The study said that policymakers have to focus on all three recommendations in future international conferences on food systems, climate change, biological diversity and health care. 

The biggest upcoming climate conference COP26 will be held in the first two weeks of November in Glasgow, where animal welfare organizations and animal politicians hope industrial animal farming will be a part of climate change discussions.

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