Quality food secures Spain’s place in globalised market

Spain's farmers receive €45bn in CAP payments every year and generate 11% of GDP. [Anna & Michal/Flickr]

This article is part of our special report The added value of EU quality schemes.

Spain is an agricultural powerhouse: agri-food products account for 20% of the country’s exports. And if there is one thing keeping Spanish farmers competitive in the age of globalisation it is the quality of their products. EURACTV’s partner EFEAgro reports.

Spain’s one million farms cover 30 million hectares of land, take in €45bn in Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments, generate 11% of the country’s GDP and account for one fifth of its exports, worth some €48bn.

Isabel García Tejerina, Spain’s minister for agriculture and fisheries, food and the environment (Mapama), once described Spain as “the vineyard, the oil mill and the orchard of the world”, driven by the quality of its products and its export power.

This position has been achieved thanks to the efforts of farmers, the agricultural industry and food distributors, with the support of local and national administrations.

Quality is key

“Quality is essential in global markets,” Carlos Cabanas, secretary general of agriculture and food at Mapama, told EFEAgro. “Our priority has been to work on traceability, checks and the fight against fraud, and to adapt our quality standards to new technologies: we have reviewed more than 500 products in the last four years.”

Cabanas highlighted the importance of continuing to work “on the promotion of this differentiation that allows Spanish and European products to compete under better conditions on the international markets”. He added that the European Commission has always supported a European production model focussed on quality, “through standards that have given us the highest levels of food safety”.

Spain has also passed a law on improving the functioning of the food chain, which includes monitoring and quality control tools.

EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan recently announced an initiative to introduce minimum requirements aimed at tackling unfair competition in the food supply chain. According to Commission sources, “a public consultation will first take place and an impact assessment will be presented if the action is considered appropriate in the first half of next year.”

The Spanish Federation of Food and Beverage Industries (FIAB) insisted on the sector’s “very strong commitment to quality” and highlighted its use of innovative solutions, such as the technology platform “Food For Life Spain”, to ensure its food products are safe and of the highest quality.

The role of distributors

The president of the Association of Spanish Chains of Supermarkets (ACES), Aurelio Del Pino, told EFEAgro that distributors “participate in two ways” in safeguarding food quality: “How we want the product to be and what additional qualities we want it to have. With our own brands this is an even more challenging job, with tougher checks, because these products bear our name.”

The association has a collaboration agreement with Origen España, an umbrella organisation covering most of Spain’s geographical indications and which carries out “additional checks”. According to Del Pino, fresh products always undergo an exhaustive quality control process, both in distribution depots and on the shop floor.

The ACES president defended distributors’ “ability to dictate” quality standards, saying this had a transformative effect on the industrial sector.

Ignacio García Magarzo, director-general of the Spanish Association of Distributors, Self-services and Supermarkets (Asedas), emphasised the effects of EU regulation, which prohibits and sanctions certain practices “because they do not add value and generate costs which adversely affect the consumer”.

He stressed that Asedas supports the aims of these regulations that “try to bring transparency and stability to commercial relations”. But he added, “At the same time, we have warned that unnecessary costs generated by administrative intervention should be avoided. The experience of recent years makes us think that the path of self-regulation, if taken seriously, presents enormous opportunities for sectors to transform their business relationships.”

And he insisted that, “farmers must adopt structural measures to increase their bargaining power, gain influence and adapt their production to the market”.

A market characterised by globalisation and different production models in which Spain, and the European Union as a whole, can only survive if they fly the flag of quality and added value.