Your views: Is Spanish meat good quality?

In recent days a debate about the quality of Spain’s meat has been raging across the country after the Consumer Affairs Minister claimed that megafarms are exporting poor-quality produce. We asked you, our readers, to give us your opinions on the taste, texture and overall quality of 'carne' (meat) in Spain.

Your views: Is Spanish meat good quality?
More than half of our readers said the quality of meatin Spain is very good compared with other countries. Photo: Priscila Sanchez/Pixabay

Consumer Affairs Minister Alberto Garzón claimed in an interview with British newspaper The Guardian that mega-farms are damaging the environment and leading to the export of poor-quality meat from the country.

“What isn’t at all sustainable is these so-called mega-farms. They find a village in a depopulated bit of Spain and put in 4,000, or 5,000 or 10,000 head of cattle,” he told the newspaper.

“They pollute the soil, they pollute the water and then they export this poor-quality meat from these ill-treated animals”.

Since these comments were published, there has been an uproar about his comments both across farmers’ unions and in the government. 

Much of what the minister has said has been taken out of context and it’s important to point out that Garzón wasn’t talking about the quality of Spanish meat in general, he was only talking about the mass-produced meat from mega farms in certain regions. 

READ ALSO – KEY STATS: What you need to know about Spain’s mega farms

There is scientific evidence proving that intensive livestock farming is damaging Spain’s environment and water supplies, but is there any evidence to suggest that it actually produces poor quality meat too? 

According to Greenpeace Spain, the mega farm system always seeks the highest production of meat, milk and eggs at the lowest cost and in the shortest possible time, all to maximise profits. 

This means that a large number of animals are crammed into confined spaces rather than grazing or foraging outdoors, fed with cheap feed imported from other countries, and pumped full of antibiotics and chemicals to help them survive in these unsanitary living conditions. 

The Local Spain has not found evidence of any official study conducted in Spain which calls into question the quality of the meat as a result of intensive livestock farming. 

Most of the international reporting on meat quality standards is from animal rights groups who write that scientific studies prove factory farming can lead to the bacterial contamination of meat, such as salmonella and E. coli, and can be breeding grounds for antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

But according to Spain’s Agriculture Ministry, only 1 percent of pig farms and 3 percent of cow farms in the country can be considered large scale, meaning that most of the many different types of meat produced in Spain don’t come from these macrogranjas (as they’re called in Spanish), although this doesn’t guarantee they don’t use a similar production model.

Cured pigs legs hanging from the ceiling are a common sight in Spanish supermarkets and bars.
Cured pigs legs hanging from the ceiling are a common sight in Spanish supermarkets and bars. Photo: Pixels4Free from Pixabay

If you take the example of Spain’s jamón ibérico de bellota, high-quality cured ham from pigs fed on acorns in outdoor pastures, the rearing model to obtain its exquisite taste is completely the opposite of factory farming.

What do The Local’s readers think of the quality of Spain’s meat?

Meat, whether cured or cooked, is an intrinsic part of the daily diet in Spain, so we decided to ask our readers what they really thought about the quality of Spain’s meat and how it compares to other countries.

Half of our respondents (50.9 percent) thought that Spanish meat wasn’t bad quality at all and actually thought it was very good compared with other countries.

Readers Anna and Christopher agreed with the Spanish Prime Minister’s recent words when arguing that Spanish meat is of “excellent quality”.

Harriet also agreed, saying: “Spanish ham, pork products, veal, and lamb are some of the finest meats in the world! We go to Spain often to eat!”.

Ann McKiernan also praised the quality of meat in Spain. She told The Local: “I’m happy with the quality, it compares favourably to meat I can purchase in other countries. I’d prefer more availability of different cuts/thicknesses in supermarkets but generally, I can find what I need in butchers, even with my rather limited Spanish”.

Jens Riis also couldn’t fault the quality of Spanish meat. “Here in Madrid, we get excellent meat: beef, pork, lamb; it’s almost always top drawer, never bad,” she said.

Jorge thought that Spain has some of the best meat in Europe with sustainable livestock, while Bruce thought that both the quality and price are excellent, and Daniel said that “it’s really tasty”.

Not everyone agreed however and around a quarter of our respondents (24.6 percent) said that ‘yes’ Spanish meat is bad. Many of the answers agreed with Garzón’s comments about the bad quality of meat from mega-farms, but several people also thought the taste and the texture weren’t good either. 

Maria thought that the animals in Spain are not fed quality food. “They should be grass-fed and they are not given proper living standards,” she said. “As a result, the meat doesn’t look or taste as good”. 

Jane Pritchard  told The Local: “The standard of beef and lamb is extremely poor quality and very expensive, particularly lamb. I assume it’s because there is no decent grazing for the animals. Having been used to salt marsh lamb in the UK we have been spoiled. Ibérico ham is lovely, but we can’t live on pork”.  

butcher cebada market madrid spain
Foreigners in Spain have very different opinions about the quality of Spanish meat. Photo: Gabriel BOUYS / AFP

Valerie concurred with Jane’s comments, saying that “the availability of large joints is very limited. The lamb joints are tiny plus the quality and taste are poor. I don’t see any meat claiming to have good husbandry care, I think most meat in Spain is mass produced”.

Chris Foster also thought similarly when he said: “I can’t find organic meat locally and the animal farms I have seen here are terrible. The food they are fed looks terrible too”. 

Meanwhile, a few respondents focused on the taste of the meat.

Thomas said: “It tastes strange, not like in other EU countries. It’s very weird. I’m now mostly vegetarian”.

Alan Robinson completely agreed “We find it tough and tasteless,” he said. “It would be so much better if they left some fat on it too”.

Roger simply thought that good quality beef was very hard to find, while Brian Wall thought that most types of Spanish meat are bad, but mainly due to the way it’s cut in Spain.

“The Spanish butchers don’t use or know the proper cuts of beef so their steaks are never what we expect. As a result, steak is always disappointing for a Brit used to traditional sirloin or rump etc. Furthermore, the Spanish lamb is atrocious. I don’t know where it comes from but it is awful and expensive. Finally, Spanish traditionally seem to prefer wafer-thin chops and I have to remind the butcher to cut it thicker. My brother is a top-class chef and has trouble sourcing decent meat,” he said. 

On the other hand, a quarter of respondents said that the quality of meat in Spain depends. Most agreed that good quality meat is available in Spain, but that depends on where you buy it from, but others said it depended on the type of meat you buy too.

John Latka explained: “It very much depends where you purchase your meat. I avoid the supermarkets and buy from a reputable butcher”.

Jonathan said that “Of course there is high-quality meat available in Spain, if you are willing to pay for it…. most of what you see in the supermarket or served at an average restaurant is the kind of stuff that Garzón is talking about. There is a demand for cheap meat, and lots of it, a demand that these farms serve. The megafarms don’t employ proportionally as many people, so if you could persuade the population to reduce their meat consumption, but spend about the same on a smaller quantity of better-quality product, you might even improve the economy”.

Rob H agreed saying: “Generally speaking, meat from traditional pastures is of good quality. Spain produces meat in a variety of ways and it is sold at a variety of prices. You get what you pay for. Personally, I try to buy locally produced meat that I know doesn’t come from a huge, industrially-run factory farm. If you want quality you should buy your meat at a butcher and ask where it comes from. If price is a priority, as it understandably is for many people, it is still possible to buy local meat, but never at the lowest price”. 

Anna also thought that it depended on where the meat is sourced. “Animal products produced on small farms using traditional farming methods is of excellent quality, both ethically, health-wise. Supermarket meat from mega-farms involves animal abuse and is dangerous to consume,” she said. 

Susan Wallace said: “I have bought some excellent quality fresh meat, especially organic.  And I think bellota jamón products are of very high quality, too.  But “industrial” jamón is a different matter, and some fresh meat from supermarkets also leaves a lot to be desired”. 

Matthew agreed with Susan, saying that the cured meats are excellent, whereas fresh meat here is somewhat less, while Jerry B said: “Beef is generally of very poor quality (tough, sinewy), whereas pork and chicken are very good”.

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Does Spain have a dog poo problem?

Many foreigners in Spain complain that the streets are full of dog faeces, but is that actually true and what, if anything, is being done to address it?

Does Spain have a dog poo problem?

Spain is a nation of dog lovers.

According to the country’s National Institute of Statistics (INE), 40 percent of Spanish households have a dog.

In fact, believe it or not, the Spanish have more dogs than they do children.

While there are a little over 6 million children under the age of 14 in Spain, there are over 7 million registered dogs in the country. 

But one bugbear of many foreigners in Spain is that there’s often a lot of dog mess in the streets, squares and parks.

The latest estimates suggest it’s as much as 675,000 tonnes of doodoo that has to be cleaned up every year in Spain.

Many dog owners in Spain carry around a bottle of water mixed with detergent or vinegar to clean up their dog’s urine and small plastic bags to pick up number twos.

And yet, many owners seem to either turn a blind eye to their pooches’ poo or somehow miss that their pets have just pooed, judging by the frequency with which dog sh*t smears Spanish pavements. 

So how true is it that Spain has a dog poo problem? Is there actually more dog mess in Spain than in other countries, and if not, why does it seem that way?

One contextual factor worth considering when understanding the quantity of caca in Spain’s calles is how Spaniards themselves actually live.

When one remembers that Spaniards mostly live in apartments without their own gardens, it becomes less surprising that it feels as though there’s a lot of dog mess in the streets. Whereas around 87 percent of households in Britain have a garden, the number in Spain is below 30 percent.

Simply put, a nation of dog lovers without gardens could mean more mess in the streets. 

Whereas Britons often just let their dogs out into their garden to do their business, or when they can’t be bothered to take them for a walk even, Spaniards have to take them out into the street, unless they’re okay with their pooches soiling their homes. 

There aren’t many dog-friendly beaches in Spain, and the fact that on those that do exist, some owners don’t clean up their dogs’ mess, doesn’t strengthen the case for more ‘playas para perros‘ to be added. (Photo by JOSE JORDAN / STR / AFP)

Doggy dirt left in the streets is most certainly not a Spain-specific problem either, but rather an urban one found around the world.

In recent years, there have been complaints about the sheer abundance of canine faecal matter left in public spaces in Paris, Naples, Rome, Jerusalem, Glasgow, Toronto, London, San Francisco and so on.

READ ALSO: Why do some Spanish homes have bottles of water outside their door?

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a worldwide study to shed light on which cities and countries have the biggest ‘poo-blem’, with the available investigations mainly centred on individual nations, such as this one by Protect my Paws in the US and UK

And while it may be more noticeable in Spain than in some countries, it doesn’t mean the Spanish are doing nothing about it.

In fact, Barcelona has been named the third best city in Europe for dealing with the problem, according to a study by pet brand

Although Barcelona’s score of 53/80 was significantly lower than many British cities (Newcastle scored 68/80 and Manchester 66/80, for example) its hefty fines of 1,500 for dog owners caught not cleaning up after their canine friends might be a reason. 

And some parts of Spain take it even more seriously than that.

In many Spanish regions doggy databases have been created to catch the culprits. Over 35 Spanish municipalities require dog owners to register their pets’ saliva or blood sample on a genetic database so they can be traced and fined, if necessary. 

In Madrid, you are twice as likely to come across someone walking a dog than with a baby’s stroller. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP)

This DNA trick started earlier in Spain than in many other countries; the town of Brunete outside of Madrid kicked off the trend in 2013 by mailing the ‘forgotten’ poo to neglectful owners’ addresses. Some municipalities have also hired detectives to catch wrongdoers.

So it’s not as if dog poo doesn’t bother Spaniards, with a 2021 survey by consumer watchdog OCU finding that it’s the type of dirt or litter found in the streets than bothers most people.

READ ALSO: Clean or dirty? How does your city rank on Spain’s cleanliness scale? 

It’s therefore not a part of Spanish culture not to clean up after dogs, but rather a combination of Spain’s propensity for outdoor and urban living, the sheer number of dogs, and of course the lack of civic duty on the part of a select few. Every country has them. 

On a final note, not all dog owners in Spain who don’t clean up after their pooches can be blamed for doing it deliberately, but it’s certainly true that looking at one’s phone rather than interacting with your dog, or walking with your dog off the leash (also illegal except for in designated areas) isn’t going to help you spot when your pooch has done its business.

Article by Conor Faulkner and Alex Dunham