Public funds to farms breeding bulls keeping ‘cruel practice’ of bullfighting alive, say animal rights campaigners
Bullfighting across Europe is being kept alive by millions of euros paid out by the EU, claim campaigners, despite attempts by MEPs to ban the subsidies.
The funding goes to farms that breed bulls for fighting through the EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP), a long-running system of subsidy support to the sector.
Spain’s Unión de Criadores de Toros de Lidia, which represents the interests of 347 breeders, has estimated that a ban on the subsidy payout would mean an economic hit of around €200m (£170m) a year for the sector across Europe.
In 2015, in a move welcomed by animal rights campaigners who described bullfighting as a “cruel practice”, MEPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of blocking agricultural funds “for the financing of lethal bullfighting activities”.
More than six years later, however, there has been little change, with the ban set aside over concerns that it would modify the legal provisions of the CAP.
Joe Moran at animal advocacy organisation Eurogroup for Animals said: “While we agree with the MEPs entirely in their moral outrage and what they’re trying to do, the legal avenues to do this are pretty difficult. In fact, I would say they’re impossible.”
To remove the funds altogether would require animal welfare to be an official competence of the EU, coupled with a law that would ban the raising of bulls for this purpose or prohibit bullfighting altogether, added Moran.
An EU official said that while there were no funds specifically designated for breeding bulls for fighting, “it is not excluded”, and bull breeders could still receive public funds from agricultural funding.
Since 2003, EU farm subsidies have mostly been allocated on the amount of land farmed, rather than output or the final destination of products.
Green MEPs tabled a 2020 amendment to the CAP calling for funds to be barred for cattle whose final destination was “the sale for activities related to bullfighting”, but it was dropped as the European Commission, Council of the EU and parliament finalised the policy.
Portuguese MEP Francisco Guerreiro described the funds as “an oxygen balloon that is continually helping this industry to stay afloat”, as the number of festivals involving bulls has declined.
Europe’s bullfighting industry racked up reported losses of more than €150m (£125m) during the Covid pandemic as events such as Pamplona’s San Fermín festival were cancelled and bulls sent straight to slaughter.
The pandemic hit as the sector was struggling to recover from Spain’s economic crisis, which saw cash-strapped municipalities halt festivals involving bulls. In 2007 – a year before the financial crash – 3,651 events featuring bulls were held across Spain. A decade later, the number of events had plunged to 1,553.
Breeder associations in Spain, France and Portugal continue to defend the estimated 1,000 farms breeding bulls for bullfighting across the EU.
Antonio Bañuelos, president of Spain’s Unión de Criadores de Toros, said: “It’s discriminatory to create this concept that the fate of these cattle can be tied to receiving funds or not.” Many of the farms produce a variety of products while also raising bulls, meaning any ban would erode their right to access funding on par with other EU farmers, he said.
The industry has also lobbied MEPs claiming that the fighting bulls, raised in extensive areas, have less impact on the environment than pigs or sheep.
An association of Spanish veterinarians opposed to bullfighting has said the public suffering inflicted on bulls was unjustifiable.
It told MEPs that instruments ranging from barbed darts to an 80cm sword were used on bulls during bullfights that lasted approximately 15 minutes, causing “deep wounds, significant bleeding, intense suffering and painful death”.
Bañuelos claimed that the death of a fighting bull is “quicker and entails less suffering” than many animals raised commercially.
“There are thousands of animals that die every day in very painful circumstances. But the focus is on bullfighting because it is the most exposed when it comes to publicity and it is an easy target,” he said.
Sign up for the Animals farmed monthly update to get a roundup of the biggest farming and food stories across the world and keep up with our investigations. You can send us your stories and thoughts at [email protected]