Spainish bullfighters see red over mad cow measures

Spanish bullfighters see red over mad cow measures

July 17, 2001 Agence France Presse

Spain's traditional bullfighting fiestas could be suspended for the first time in their history from next Tuesday after matadors and breeders threatened strike action over government measures introduced to tackle mad cow disease.

The Spanish government in February banned the sale of meat from animals killed in the bullfighting ring as a precaution over the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), better known as mad cow disease.

But a group of 12 professional associations working in the sector says that the measure has hit the financial viability of the country's bullfights -- especially in smaller villages -- and has threatened strike action.

Such a suspension is unprecedented in over two centuries of the national sport, which more than being just a potent Spanish symbol, plays an important part in the country's economy.

Losses incurred by the ban on selling carcasses amount up to 4,800 euros (4,000 dollars) per fight, money which usually makes a major contribution to the fiesta budget, the association says.

A compensation agreement running until the end of last month gave bullfight organisers 1.9 euros per kilogramme (2.2 pounds) for bull carcasses which were then incinerated.

The group says it will suspend the traditional events unless a deal can be agreed with the government to offset financial losses incurred by the ban, either extending the compensation package or paying for meat to be frozen awaiting scientific tests, so it could later be sold.

A meeting is scheduled for Thursday in the hope of reaching an agreement.

A further sticking point concerns how the bulls are killed, with Spanish authorities saying animals could only be sold if their brain and spinal column were intact.

However, the traditional dispatch for a Spanish bull in the ring involves a sharp stab of a sword blade through the spinal column, a tradition which was reversed last week in one village which dealt the coup de grace with a gas powered pistol.

But such an unorthodox method for the climax of the fiesta finds little sympathy among traditionalists.

"Pistols have no place in the national fiesta which should keep its liturgy," a spokesman for the bullfighting association insisted.

The group insisted that over 100 fights had already been cancelled over the government's measures and warned that if a general strike went ahead, massive festivals in cities including Santander, Valencia and Huelva would be cancelled.

Spanish crowds attend some 17,000 bullfights in the country every year, mostly held in July and August.

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