The following article was published by El País in English on Sunday 27th March 2011. As St. Martin’s day is drawing near we thought that it would be a good idea to bring it back.
That home-killed taste: Spaniards ignore laws on pig slaughter
Thousands of animals are butchered the traditional way despite a ban by European Union
From November to February, thousands of fattened pigs are slaughtered in Spain on family farms. With a knife, as always, and with the animal squealing and struggling until it bleeds to death. This proceeding has been prohibited by law for almost two decades, but some aren’t aware of it, or simply don’t care. A European directive of 1993 allows this tradition to be practiced, outside the slaughterhouse, provided that the pig has been stunned before sticking the knife into it. This is done practically nowhere.
In the same sense, a law was passed in Spain in 1995, and certain regions even drafted their own norms on animal well-being that afforded them some favorable publicity and applause, but which have never been observed.
The Balearic Islands government, for example, once promised to distribute stun guns to each municipality, to facilitate compliance with the law. This was in 2007 and a headline appeared in the local press, but nothing has since been heard of the stunning tools.
In Extremadura there was similar talk, and a norm made municipalities and veterinarians responsible for health supervision of the viscera and for observance of the law. This in 2006 also brought favorable headlines. Not a single complaint has been received, although thousands of pigs are slaughtered in the traditional way. Indeed, it is hard to ask the mayor of a village of some 400 people to file a complaint about a neighbor, or indeed himself.
In Catalonia the case is this: slaughtering pigs at home is not really prohibited, or really permitted either: “It’s a private act that we can’t control, which is done on one’s own responsibility. Our advice is to have it done in the slaughterhouse, with stunning, but if it’s done otherwise, we can’t stop it,” says a regional health department spokesman. Nor in Castilla y León or in Andalusia have there been complaints. The same goes for Galicia, Castilla-La Mancha, and so on. Last winter in Extremadura 17,481 pigs were slaughtered in backyards, and similar numbers in other regions.
The squeals are particularly audible on any St Martin’s Day morning (November 11), a traditional day for the sacrifice of the porcine kind. A cada cerdo le llega su San Martíngoes a Spanish saying: “Every pig has his St Martin’s Day coming to him.” This is said of someone who is considered to be deserving of a nasty come-uppance.
However, the practice of home slaughter followed by a pork-fest on sausages etc is slowly dwindling. When Spain ratified the EU norm in 1995, in the region of Castilla y León 126,755 pigs were slaughtered for home consumption. A decade later, this figure had shrunk to 52,202. Since 2000 in Extremadura the number has fallen from some 50,000 to less than half that. The decline is partly the result of the depopulation of rural areas, and of changing consumption habits.
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