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HEALTH

‘Eat less meat’: Minister calls on Spaniards to cut down on carnivorous habits

Consumer Affairs Minister Alberto Garzón has reignited the debate about Spain's love of meat by asking Spaniards to consume less 'carne' to protect their personal health as well as the future of the planet.

'Eat less meat': Minister calls on Spaniards to cut down on carnivorous habits
A Spanish butcher cuts ribs at a Madrid market. Photo: Gabriel BOUYS / AFP

“I am worried. I am worried about the planet,” Garzón said in a video posted on Twitter on July 7th, pleading with Spaniards to cut down their meat consumption to improve their personal wellbeing and that of the planet’s.

“Without a planet we have no life, we have no salaries and we have no economy.

“And we are bringing this upon ourselves. One thing we can change, which has a direct impact on the planet, is our diet. We can change our diet and improve the state of the planet”.

Garzón explained that according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the meat and dairy industry accounts for 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

He believes that a “50 percent reduction in emissions could be achieved” if Spaniards are able to adjust their diet and consume a moderate amount of meat, which is recommended by the health authorities.

Spain consumes seven million tonnes of meat each year, which comes from the slaughter of 70 million animals.

The Spanish Agency for Food Safety and Nutrition recommends a weekly consumption of between 200 and 500 grammes of meat (carne in Spanish), while Spaniards consume on average more than one kilo. This is between two and five times more than what is considered optimal.

In the video, Garzón also criticised the meat industry and particularly macro-farms, saying that “for us to have one kilo of beef, 15,000 litres of water are required”.

Spanish minister asks people to consume less meat. Photo: Free-Photos / Pixabay

According to FAO data cited in the video, Spain is the country that consumes the most meat in the European Union.

The latest data from Spain’s Ministry of Agriculture also revealed an increase in meat consumption of 10.5 percent in 2020. Per capita consumption is close to 50 kilos per year and each Spaniard spent an average of €350 on meat in 2020.

Garzón continued to say that Spaniards don’t need to cut out meat completely, but should aim to reduce it, changing their diets to include more salads, legumes, rice and vegetables.

He also admitted that “not all types of livestock are the same” and that “extensive farming is much more sustainable than large macro-farms: it helps enrich soils, prevent fires and create jobs”.

Livestock farmers however have rejected Garzón’s recommendation to consume less meat and some associations have already demanded his resignation due to “his erroneous attack”.

The Young Farmers Agricultural Association (Asaja) in the city of Valladolid has issued a statement in which it requests the immediate termination of Garzón as Minister if he does not rectify his statement.

In 2015, the WHO issued a health warning that carcinogens were present in certain types of meat, including jamón, however that didn’t seem to curb Spaniards’ appetite for their most beloved product. 

Despite Spaniards’ excessive consumption of meat, it doesn’t seem to be affecting their health too much, as the Spanish are predicted to have the longest life expectancy in the world by 2040 – mainly thanks to their Mediterranean diet. In 2019, Spain was already considered the healthiest country in the world, according to the Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index. 

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HISTORY

How 22 Spanish orphans became ‘the vaccine’ to beat smallpox in the Americas

This is the unlikely story of how in 1803 one doctor, one ship and 22 Spanish orphans serving as human fridges helped the world beat smallpox by carrying out the first international vaccination campaign.

How 22 Spanish orphans became 'the vaccine' to beat smallpox in the Americas

We’re living through a time in history where the emergence and resurgence of viruses is becoming more prevalent, from the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic to the appearance of monkeypox, with several cases recently recorded in Spain, Portugal and the UK.

Monkeypox is a similar virus to smallpox, a devastating illness that was finally eradicated in 1980. The virus causes high fever, body aches, headaches and chills, as well as a rash of boils or sores. 

READ ALSO: Eight suspected monkeypox cases detected in Spain

While historians and scientists believe that smallpox has been around for the last 3,000 years, monkeypox was first discovered in 1958 when two outbreaks occurred in a group of monkeys kept for research. The first human case of monkeypox was recorded in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The first vaccine

During the 18th century, smallpox was rife throughout the world and was killing millions. It was around this time that English doctor Edward Jenner saw that people who caught the milder bovine virus of cowpox never actually caught the deadlier smallpox.

So in 1796, he took the pus from a cowpox lesion on a milkmaid’s hand and inoculated an eight-year-old boy named James Phipps, rendering him immune to smallpox and creating the world’s first vaccine.

But it was in fact Spain that played a pivotal role in getting this vaccine out to the masses and helping to bring the smallpox virus under control. 

How did they transport vaccines in the 18th and 19th century?

Even today, transporting vaccines proves to be problematic, best evidenced by the specific temperature and storage requirements of some of the Covid-19 vaccines, as well the logistical delays and other distribution obstacles.

But back in the early 19th century, doctors and scientists came up against even more problems.

Health professionals at the time invented an ingenious method of taking the puss-like fluid from the sores of those with cowpox and placing it on a piece of material to dry out.

They would then travel to the next town and mix the dried puss with water, before scratching it into people’s skin to infect them with cowpox, thus protecting them from smallpox.

This method seemed to work in Europe, where distances between towns were relatively close.

The arrival of Spain’s Conquistadores in America led to the spread of viruses such as smallpox among native populations, killing millions, including the Aztecs of present-day Mexico.

However, the vaccine wouldn’t stay fresh long enough to take it further across the seas to the Americas. It wouldn’t even work for distances from one European capital to the next, only from town to town. 

Children become the vaccine carriers

This is where Spain comes in. The colonial power was desperate to send the vaccine over to its South American territories, where the virus was running rampant throughout the population, killing around half of those it infected.

In 1803, a doctor from Alicante in eastern Spain, Francisco Javier de Balmís, came up with a plan and asked Spain’s King Carlos IV, whose own daughter had died of smallpox, to fund a new mission.

His plan was to sail to the Americas with 22 Spanish orphans on board, infecting them with cowpox along the way, a plan that wouldn’t have much chance of being approved in this day and age due to human rights laws, but this was the early 18th century.

Francisco Javier de Balmís was integral in helping the first international vaccine campaign. Source: Foundling / WikiCommons

The cowpox vaccine only survived in the body for up to 12 days, so at the beginning of the journey only two of the orphans were infected with smallpox. Then, ten days later when they were sick enough and had boils all over their skin, doctors on board would lance these sores and infect two more boys. The aim was to keep this going every ten days until they reached South America.

Miraculously, the plan of using the orphans as vessels for the virus worked, and although all the children got sick, none of them died.

By the time the ship docked in Venezuela in March 1804, one boy still had fresh sores and puss which could be used to vaccinate the local population. 

Balmís and his team set about vaccinating the locals straight away and then split up, with half the team travelling through what is today Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia and the other half up to Mexico.

Amazingly, using this method of lancing boils and moving from town to town, they managed to vaccinate around 200,000 people, most of whom were children.

Locals who received news of their arrival would greet the heroes with all the flamboyance of a Spanish fiesta – complete with music, bullfights and fireworks. 

The mission was not yet complete

Balmís left the 22 original orphans with adoptive families in Mexico and then set out on a new voyage with a brand new set of children for the Spanish colony of the Philippines.

The ship arrived in April 1805 and again astonishingly the plan worked. Here, Blamís and his team were able to vaccinate a further 20,000. 

This vaccination plan was so successful again, that Balmís took the vaccine to China to keep inoculating the population there too. 

Thanks to the ingenious methods of one Spanish doctor and the bravery of 22 Spanish orphans, Jenner’s original vaccine was able to reach the far corners of the world, vaccinating hundreds of thousands and saving countless lives. 

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