Spanish campaign rises against “pig factories”

CUENCA, Spain: “It’s not a farm, it’s a factory … a pig factory,” says Antonio Escribano, looking at a huge metal frame in the middle of a field in Spain.

The 58-year-old local winemaker has been battling for months against the planned opening of a large pig farm that will raise nearly 40,000 piglets per year from 2,200 sows within 2 miles of his town of Quintanar del Rey, in the central province of Cuenca.

Locals fear pollution from pig manure, bad smells and flies, which they say the project will bring, and have staged regular protests against it.

The farm is just 350 meters from the wells that supply the town of about 7,000 people with fresh water.

“If the water is polluted, the village will be ruined,” says Escribano, who speaks in a stony voice and has salt and pepper hair.

“People will leave as has happened in other villages and Quintanar will become a ghost village.”

In response to the protests, local authorities have suspended work on the farm while they reassess the environmental impact of the project.

Some residents are pushing for the project of the Spanish company Jisap, which already owns 480 pig farms in Spain, to be definitively closed.

“We must put an end to the mega-farms,” ​​says Paciencia Talaya of the “Stop Mega-farms” group, which has raised opposition to the project.

“BORNE D’EUROPE”

Over the past decade, mega-farms producing livestock with the efficiency of auto assembly lines in warehouse-like barns have mushroomed across Spain, drawing opposition from local residents.

Fueled by Chinese demand, Spain has become the leading pork producer in the European Union.

The number of pigs raised in Spain jumped 21.5% between 2015 and 2020, according to Greenpeace.

The country had a population of 56 million pigs in 2020, about 9 million more than its humans, according to government figures.

“The sector generates a lot of money,” explains Remedios Bobillo, the boss of “Alive Villages”, a group created in 2017 to fight against the spread of mega-farms in Cuenca.

“Unfortunately, the villages are not benefiting from it,” she said.

The group organized a demonstration in Cuenca on Sunday against the “sale of villages” to agribusiness companies which attracted around 1,000 people.

“Spain has become the dumping ground for Europe and China. This cannot be the case,” says Bobillo.

Putting thousands of animals in a pen produces enormous amounts of manure.

Unlike human wastewater, which is treated before being discharged into waterways, animal waste is stored and then spread on cultivated land as fertilizer.

Environmental groups say fields often cannot handle the volumes of manure produced, resulting in runoff that pollutes groundwater with nitrates and ammonia.

Pig farming also consumes large amounts of water in a country frequently affected by drought.

“CANNOT BREATHE”

Critics also say that the barnyard smells of the farms of the past were nothing like the overwhelming stench of today’s oversized operations.

“At certain times of the year the air is unbreathable,” says Toni Jorge of Ecologists in Action as he stands in front of a pig farm in Cardenete, a village of about 500 people east of Cuenca .

Opened five years ago, the farm is home to 6,400 pigs that produce enough manure each year to fill four Olympic-size swimming pools, he says.

Unlike the small farms, the pigs here are crammed with no access to the outdoors and daylight, except on the day they are taken for slaughter, Jorge explains.

Industry groups argue that there are many strict rules for handling manure and that pastoralists are adopting improved methods and technologies.

The sector follows “European directives on animal welfare”, which are a “world benchmark”, explains the president of the Spanish association of pig producers Anprogapor, Miguel Angel Higuera.

“Spain is the only country in the world which limits the capacity of farms and imposes a minimum distance between farms and residential areas,” he adds.

Farms are one of the “rare activities” that provide employment in rural Spain, which suffers from depopulation, and help keep villages “alive”, he adds.

He estimates that around 250,000 people work in the pork sector in Spain.

But Talaya of “Stop Mega-farms” said most of the work on factory farms is mechanized.

Standing next to her, Escribano accepts.

“They say they help keep people in the villages. But who is going to live in a village where you can’t breathe, where you can’t drink the water? he asks.


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