Beyond the debate between pro and anti-corrida, there is the economy of bull breeding

Les deux taureaux des arènes de Nîmes
Les deux taureaux des arènes de Nîmes

In La Tribune 05/05/2023

Rarely has politics energized bullfighting as much as the anti-corrida campaign of 2022-2023, which ended without a victory. Since then, the bullfighting world has mobilized south of a line connecting La Brède in the Gironde to Istres in the Bouches-du-Rhône and passing through Alès in the Gard, in the form of a wave of new aficionados flocking to the courses camarguaises, courses landaises and corrida.

The courses camarguaises of Mouries, Eyguieres, Sainte-Marie de la Mer, Vallabrègues, Châteaurenard, Codognan, Saint-Laurent d’Aigouze, Port Saint Louis, Vendargues…, testify of this renewed popularity. The Easter corrida in Arles started late in 2023 because of the crowds, its arenas were packed to the rafters. The TF1 news oen April 26, 2023 featured “the lords of the arena” of the courses landaises. One million people are expected in Nîmes (the world’s second largest corrida arena) for the Whitsunday feria and tickets to sit in its Roman amphitheater are snapped up. The other big arenas of Béziers, Bayonne, Dax, Mont-de-Marsan or Vic will also be at the rendezvous and around Montpellier itself, the towns of Pérols and Mauguio are starting corrida again. At the initiative of the towns and villages, the “fêtes votives”, abrivados, “encierros” or “bandidos” are always present as well as the “capea” gathering 14 years old bullfighting students facing 2 years old bulls. Finally the manades are promised to a great tourist season.

The analysis of the bullfighting world is often controversial. It is mixed with an art beginning with the prehistoric drawings of bovines in the Lascaux caves, a bullfighting saga with the mythology of the Cretan Minotaur, of historicity such as the two bulls’ forebodies sculpted in the stone of the Nîmes bullring by the Rome of the emperor Augustus or the opposition between passion and anthropomorphism. However, to really analyze the current bullfighting environment, we need to shed light on its economy, which is primarily agricultural.

One of the most extensive farms in Europe

Between the Bouches-du-Rhône, the Gard and the Hérault, two breeds of cattle, di Biou and Brave, are raised between the Camargue and the Garrigue. It is one of the most extensive cattle farms in Europe. The animals live in the open air all year round and in freedom; the breeding is organic and meets the criteria of sustainable development because the agrarian land and the reduced food resources naturally limit the growth of the herds that the breeders manage with a traditional rural ecology. In addition, in the Camargue, several farms offer at least one and a half hectares of grassland or moorland with marshes, sansouire or woodland per head of cattle, in order to benefit from the European protection designation of origin label for the marketing of their meat.

The whole is necessary, but insufficient to balance the finances of the breeding, because a bull of 4 years and weighing 450 kg can already have cost 5 000 euros in breeding and veterinary expenses, whereas it will only be sold in slaughterhouse between 400 € without label and 1500 € in PDO. It is therefore necessary to find additional income and this is where the arenas come in.

How many bulls go down to the bullring ?

About 30,000 cattle of the two breeds Brave and di Biou live in some 200 manades in the triangle of the Rhone delta. They charge spontaneously and that is why they go into the arena.

The courses camarguaises in the Bouches-du-Rhône, Vaucluse, Gard and Hérault represent a volume of about 5,000 di Biou bulls each year. The breeders rent the bulls, none are killed in the bullring and they will perform one or more cocardies per year. In the Landes region, about 700 events, including the courses landaises, bring together as many cows, but of different breeds, and here again none are killed.

From the Gironde to the Bouches-du-Rhône there are about 1000 Braves that are sold at bullfights from April to September. This means that on average, 2.73 bulls are killed per day in public in French bullrings in the south of France. This figure compares to the 3 million animals killed every day in French slaughterhouses according to the L214 website.

How much bulls bring in to breeders?

If it is of the Biou breed, the bull rented in courses camarguaises will accumulate in 10 years of career as it progresses from 20 000 € to 30 000 € and exceptionally 50 000 €. His income will cover his breeding costs and a small part of those of his herd.

If he is of the Brave breed bred in France, he will be sold in a bullfight between 1,200 € and 4,000 € depending on his age and the reputation of his ganaderia. His income will cover his breeding costs with difficulty. Braves bred in Spain bring in 2 to 3 times more, and even 10 times more for exceptional breeders. But if he is gracié by the president of the bullring, not only will he never enter the ring again, but it is in the interest of the breeder. His bull will be almost deified and will provide him with a much higher income from notoriety.

If we add up the income from the courses camarguaises, bullfights, and other bullfighting events such as votive festivals, abrivados, encierros or bandidos, bullfighting would bring in about 4.5 M€ for the breeders of the Bouches-du-Rhône, Gard and Hérault regions. This sum represents about 25% of their total turnover. The other 75% are the tourist revenues that would disappear if the bull were eliminated from the farms, the meat sold in short food channels and the contributions of the common agricultural policy.

The financial balance of the breeding is therefore rarely balanced and largely dependent on the revenues of the arenas. This was demonstrated during the confinements of covid-19. The near closure of the bullring and the absence of this income forced many farmers to take their animals to the slaughterhouse to save their farms. Without this income, it would have to be replaced by appropriate subsidies.

The last facet of bullfighting is the bullring ticket office. Courses camarguaises, courses landaises and corrida in large arenas, but also in hundreds of smaller ones, and all other bullfighting events (fêtes votives, abrivados, encierros or bandidos) bring in about 15 million euros for the organizers, whether they are municipal or private companies. Most of it is used to pay the breeders, the toreros and the raseteurs, the public service delegations, etc…

Local micro-crafts

Contrary to an urban legend, these figures and the number of actors involved definitely classify the bullfighting activity as a local micro-craft. It generates however very important indirect tourist receipts because it is the vector of an impressive number of visitors, such as the million expected in Nîmes by the end of May 2023.

Everyone understands now that the craftsmen breeders are not platinum cardholders. Without the bullring, their deficit would destroy their activity. The breeds of Biou and Brave would disappear from the poor lands of the Camargue and the arid scrublands, which have no other possible agricultural destination. The pastoral jobs of breeders, guardians and all the others of the rural ecosystem that allow this population to live in the country would also disappear. The artisanal economy of the Rhone delta would be destabilized. Other benefits are often overlooked, for example those of biodiversity. It is often endemic and would perish, if only in the form of the ravages of summer fires, which would no longer have before them the firebreaks that are the fruits of the clearing and undergrowth naturally managed and maintained by the herds. Given its indirect services, the cost of clearing the herd would be significant and would have to be resized at the expense of the State.

The figure of 15 million euros of the bullfighting craft is also to be put in perspective of another market, which is not local but global, that of natural meat, which weighs nearly 800 billion euros.

Meat is at the center of an informational war that has directed a battle against links in the livestock industry identified as emotionally weak and financially fragile. The offensive against the craft of bullfighting is just one of many. This anti-natural meat marketing strategy is inspired by two competitors of livestock farming: cultured meat or “laboratory meat” made from animal cells and “vegetable meat” made from plants. It is not in favor of a cohabitation, because it aims to conquer all or part of the 800 billion euros.

Ambitions of cultured meat and “vegetable meat”

In 10 years, the market share that will be conquered by cultured meat from animal cells is estimated at 150 billion euros. This industry assures that from the cells of 150 cattle, enough laboratory meat can be cultivated to feed the whole world. The 1.5 billion cattle in the world that contribute to climate change would be eliminated, including the 30,000 in the Rhone triangle. Eventually, the same causes would cause the same effects on other livestock: lambs, gallinaceous, pigs …

The other substitute for natural meat is the ultra-processed “vegetable meat” whose market is expected to be worth more than 50 billion euros in less than ten years. It will be able to eliminate all of the world’s cattle, including the last 150 needed for laboratory meat, as well as goats, gallinaceous animals, pigs…, thanks to a simple and clever principle. Rather than the animal participating in climate change by transforming plants into meat, it is better to eliminate the animal from the process and directly extract the nutrients from beans, peas, soybeans… to create a meat substitute. The logic is the same for plant milk. Once extracted from local vegetables or from the antipodes without necessarily being GMO, proteins, amino acids, lipids, minerals, vitamins and other adjuvants are chemically converted into ultra-processed “vegetable meat”.

In both cases, this comestible chemistry guarantees an appearance and “sensory” experience close to, if not identical to, natural chicken, pork, turkey, mutton, beef…

Let’s not argue about tastes and colors. But to generalize this food to the whole world is a perspective that raises questions:

– What about the energy footprint of this comestible chemistry if the energy needed to produce it is not carbon neutral?

– What about the role of GMOs?

– Vitamin B12 is essential for the formation of red blood cells and its absence causes serious risks for human health. It is present in animal meat, but not in vegetables. This deficiency must be compensated by taking tablets from the pharmaceutical industry. An comestible chemistry will require pharmaceutical sovereignty in the production of this vitamin, but also of other components.

– Just like other foods consumed in excess, comestible chemistry can lead to diseases: early mortality, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, cancers, depression, etc. At this point, should we not consider going much further and simplifying the food process by feeding only on capsules elaborated by a new comestible pharmacy?

Killing pets

Finally, after having seen the disappearance of their herds from their farms and our landscapes, for the sake of equality, won’t rural people ask city dwellers to make their pets disappear from cities and apartments? Don’t they also contribute to climate change? Cats, dogs and new pets will then repeat the words of the Earl of Essex: “I die innocent, and I will live guilty”.

Let’s have a final debate after these possible global animal ecocides for the benefit of a globalized comestible chemistry. Who will ask whether our world, more humane because animal-free, will have gained or lost humanity? It is probably at the moment of answering that the two forebodies of bulls sculpted by Rome above the entrance of the consuls of the amphitheatre of Nîmes will remind us of these silhouettes of rural animals. The 2000 year old stones do not lie, but it will be too late.