Immigration and globalisation result in increased slaughter

15th July 2008

Mercabarna’s Slaughterhouse closed 2007 with a new slaughter record: over half a million animals (including cattle, sheep and horse): 32,431 tonnes of meat (150,000 kg of meat per day) in all. Yet this record is far from an isolated statistic. It is the result of the constant growth experienced by the Slaughterhouse over the past five years, a period in which slaughter has risen 30%. The sheep line has shown highest growth, (65%) followed by the cattle line (29%) and the horse line (5%).

But what has brought about this increase?
The key lies in two phenomena that are modifying the urban landscape but which also have to do with the slaughterhouses. One is the growth of the immigrant population. The ‘new citizens’ have brought with them a greater demand for meat and a new slaughtering method. In Mercabarna, slaughter according to the Islamic ritual (performed by a follower of the Koran, the sacred book on which Islam is based, authorised by the Islamic Board of Spain and with the animal facing Mecca) already accounts for 34% of total cattle and sheep slaughter.

The other factor affecting this rise is market globalisation, since the Slaughterhouse’s user companies devote an increasingly greater part of their production to exports to other countries.

Steps taken to satisfy the demand
Within this new context and in order to face the growing demand by regular customers and potential future operators alike, Mercabarna has made a firm decision to improve the Slaughterhouse facilities, expanding the space and creating a new slaughter line for lambs, in operation since the beginning of the year.

In the words of Jordi William Carnes, deputy mayor of Finance and Economic Promotion on Barcelona City Council and chair of Mercabarna, “The Mercabarna Slaughterhouse is the largest in Catalonia and one of the most modern in Europe. Thanks to such projects, we will further reinforce Barcelona as capital of the Spanish food industry.” Mr Carnes made this observation in the course of a press conference held in Mercabarna on 8 July, at which time he assessed the slaughter and announced the project to expand the facilities.

There too, the new slaughter line for lambs was announced to the media representatives gathered. This is a new infrastructure which, according to Mercabarna’s managing director, Montserrat Gil de Bernabé, will mean “along with expansion, a significant increase in the Slaughterhouse’s service capacity.”

More space and services
Scheduled to get underway after the summer, the expansion project will mean a 10% increase in the precinct’s current area. An additional 2,000 m2 have been earmarked for cold storage rooms and loading bays. With this expansion, the Slaughterhouse space given over to cold storage rooms will increase by 50%. As Ms Gil de Bernabé pointed out, “Mercabarna continues to opt for improving service to the Food Unit’s meat sector companies. And for this reason we will invest 3 million euros in this project.”

And indeed Mercabarna boasts a meat sector that accounts for 25% of the sector’s production in Catalonia, thanks to the Slaughterhouse and the more than 30 transformation companies set up in this market, which give the products added value.

As Mr Carnes puts it, “This is a meat sector with synergies with the other sectors here in the precinct, which enables a retail buyer to stock up on any food product without leaving Mercabarna.” This new area is set to go into operation by the end of 2009.

A made-to-order lamb line
In addition to the expansion project, plans are underway for the construction of the new slaughter line for lamb. With an investment of 1.4 million euros, this infrastructure makes it possible not only to boost Mercabarna’s meat sector but also to adapt to current consumption and trade needs, thanks to the incorporation of state-of-the-art technology.

As Slaughterhouse director Víctor Trigueros says optimistically, “Although it was built by a Norwegian company, it is a line unlike any other in the world because it was designed specifically for us, to meet our users’ needs.”

Montserrat Gil de Bernabé drew attention to the line’s technology, which makes it “the most modern in Europe and one of the few with such a high slaughtering capacity.” More specifically, the new line can kill some 4,000 lambs a day, around 50% of what is slaughtered in Catalonia daily. 500 lambs an hour can now be slaughtered, in contrast to 300 with the old chain.

One of the specific characteristics of this line, in fact, is that its machinery enables it to adapt the volume of slaughter to the needs of the demand at a given time, which is to say it is flexible. This is something fundamental if we take into account that the lamb sector is one that peaks at Christmas and Easter Week but is less active during the rest of the year.

Greater hygiene and higher quality
The new line also boosts hygiene and sanitary conditions and improves the quality of the dressed carcasses. First, because it has been designed to limit the operators’ direct contact with the carcass and minimise use of the knife.

And second, because, owing to the design of the chain, the weight of the skin causes it to fall to either side, thus leaving the carcass bare and rendering contact of the skin with the carcass impossible. Moreover, the design is also intended to comply with the new traceability and food safety requirements.

As Trigueros explains, “The old line involved direct human intervention. Hence the high degree of mechanisation of the new chain means a considerable reduction of physical effort on the part of the workers. This leads to improved comfort and job safety and makes the whole process run more smoothly.”

This improved mechanisation and less physical exertion by the different line operators have in fact significantly speeded up the work formerly accomplished by the old chain. As Mercabarna’s managing director sees it, “The working conditions in Mercabarna will encourage operators to come to our slaughterhouse. However not only for this but also for the quality of the dressed carcasses and the synergies created with the other Mercabarna companies.”

Meeting with the sector business owners
Following the press conference, Jordi William Carnes and Montserrat Gil de Bernabé met with Mercabarna’s meat sector business owners. During the meeting, the business owners asked the deputy mayor to mediate with the office of the government delegate in Catalonia to speed up the operation of the Border Inspection Points (PIF) of the port and the airport and thus facilitate product import and export.