Manel González. Journalist
The Interprofessional Organization for Beef (Provacuno) is now fully operational. It aims to provide a meeting place, and a platform for discussion, to improve the industry's food chain, once the extension of the rule is rolled out. The organization will also conduct a market study on domestic consumption, which is one of the sector's main concerns. We spoke with Javier López, Director of Provacuno, about these issues, and much more.
Manel González.- 2016 is over and it's time to take stock. How would you describe the Spanish beef sector's current situation?
Javier López.- The word that best defines the situation at present is "calm." The CAP is in an intermediate period: the first one has been defined, but the second one has yet to be negotiated. Right now the price of raw materials for animal feed is in a very interesting situation for meat production, and the price of meat is not high—maybe it's the lowest it's been in recent years—although it's very stable, driven by the movement of live animals to be slaughtered in non-EU countries, mainly Arab markets.
M.G.- Historically, ASOPROVAC has defended the need to connect all parts of the beef food chain, which materialized with the creation of Provacuno. What purpose will it serve?
J.L.- You defined it really well. Provacuno aims to help the sector do everything it has wanted to do, but has never been able to do. Now, with Provacuno, they can address many challenges that they couldn't even think about before, working individually in the production or industry segments.
In the organization's beginning stages, there are many tools that need to be developed: we have to understand more deeply the purchasing motivations of Spanish consumers (70% of what we produce must be consumed in Spain) and address the challenges of internationalization proposed by the sector as a whole.
Provacuno must be an instrument by and for the sector as a whole, for both production as well as industry.
M. G.- What will the organization's modus operandi be?
J. L.- Interprofessional organizations begin working when the sectors, given their maturity, consider it appropriate; in our case, that was when the extension to the rule was rolled out, a fundraising mechanism of the sector itself to complete a series of actions that define the extension of the rule's approach, the result of desires expressed by those who cover its costs, i.e. producers and the industry/sales. These are not ideas that occur to us on the fly; the work is already defined.
In the case of beef, there are actions that were proposed previously. The most important ones include a market study on domestic consumers, which we're already working on, and another one on internationalization, focusing mainly on non-EU countries.
M. G.- Searching for ways to offset the decline in domestic consumption is one of the main challenges. How will the sector address this issue?
J. L.- The market study we've launched at Provacuno aims to better understand the consumer, the reasons he shops and eats beef, and what we believe is most important: what discourages him to do so.
The decline in consumption is a fact. It's easy to blame the financial crisis, but we believe there are many more factors that will come to light during the study. With a good initial assessment, we'll be able to decide what to do first to address the decline, and then how to encourage beef consumption.
M. G.- You have said on several occasions that the health and sanitary aspect is crucial for maintaining external markets.
J. L.- Yes, it's absolutely fundamental. It's no longer duties that are closing borders for us, its health issues. That's the commercial barrier that non-EU countries use. Without health and sanitary standards, there's no business, and without business, things would be pretty complicated. As I said, 70% of what we produce is consumed in Spain, and 30% is exported abroad, some of it to the EU and some to non-EU countries. If we have some kind of health or sanitary issue that closes those markets, we are going to have a very serious problem.
The situation in Spain is quite calm. In fact, one of the measures that closed a lot of non-EU markets, mainly Asian ones, was our situation with BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), or mad cow disease. That changed in May of this year, when we were declared a country with little risk of BSE. This is excellent news, and a necessary condition for negotiating agreements with non-EU countries, especially with Asian countries, which are growing markets in terms of beef consumption.
M. G.- What are the sector's main concerns when analyzing the effects of the international trade agreements being negotiated on the European production model?
J. L.- We believe we must be very careful when finalizing agreements with non-EU countries. Why? If the agreements are not balanced, and don't take into consideration the European Production Model and the extra expense borne by European production, it will be very difficult to compete with those countries that don't comply and which have economic advantages in beef production.
We sell meat to many countries around the world. We like doing business, and we're not protectionist, as some say we are. What we want is a level playing field. We don't want to play a game where the cards are stacked against us. It's as simple as that.
M. G.- What are Provacuno's next steps?
J. L.- We are primarily focused on the market study on Spanish consumers. When we have the results, we will take a look at the type of promotion and information that should be given to consumers. But we're taking it one step at a time. It's like building a house—you have to build it from the bottom up. If we lay a good foundation, we will be able to build on it as we advance and obtain more and more information.