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ENVIRONMENT

Spain’s countryside rises up against ‘pig factories’

Over the past decade megafarms that produce livestock with the efficiency of auto assembly lines inside warehouse-like barns have multiplied across Spain, sparking opposition from locals.

A protestor wearing a pig mask holds a sign reading
A protestor wearing a pig mask holds a sign reading "Stop macrofarms" during a demonstration to denounce the permits for new intensive livestock farms and to demand sustainable livestock farming in Cuenca. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

“That’s not a farm, it’s a factory… a pig factory,” says Antonio Escribano as he stares at a huge metal frame in the middle of a field in Spain.

The 58-year-old local winemaker has for months been battling the planned opening of a large pig farm that will breed almost 40,000 piglets a year from 2,200 sows less than three kilometres (1.9 miles) from his town of Quintanar del Rey, in the central province of Cuenca.

Locals fear the 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 metres (1,200 feet) from the wells that provide the town of around 7,000 residents with fresh water.

“If the water gets polluted, the village will be ruined,” says Escribano, who speaks with a gravelly 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 re-evaluate the project’s environmental impact.

Some locals are pushing for the project by Spanish firm Jisap, which already owns 480 pig farms in Spain, to be shuttered for good.

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

"We want to smell the pines, not pig shit" and "No to artificial fattening, we want health and wellbeing" reads two of the signs at the recent protest in Cuenca province. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)
“We want to smell the pines, not pig shit” and “No to artificial fattening, we want health and wellbeing” reads two of the signs at the recent protest in Cuenca province. (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

‘Dump of Europe’

Over the past decade, mega-farms that produce livestock with the efficiency of auto assembly lines inside warehouse-like barns have multiplied across Spain, sparking opposition from local residents.

Residents are demanding an end to intensive pig farming, fearing the impact on groundwater and their quality of life from untreated manure

Fuelled by demand from China, Spain has become the European Union’s top pork producer.

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

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

“The sector generates a lot of money,” says Remedios Bobillo, the head of “Alive Villages”, a group set up in 2017 to fight the spread of mega-farms in Cuenca.

pigs drink water in factory in spain
Around 250,000 people work in the pork sector in Spain. Photo: RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP

“Unfortunately, the villages don’t benefit from it,” she said.

The group staged a protest on Sunday in Cuenca against the “sale of villages” to agri-food companies which drew around 1,000 people.

“Spain has become the dump of Europe and China. That can’t be,” says Bobillo.

Putting thousands of animals in one enclosure produces huge amounts of manure.

Unlike human sewage, which is treated before it is released into waterways, animal waste is stored, then spread on croplands as fertilizer.

Environmental groups say fields often can’t handle the volumes of manure produced, leading to runoff that pollutes groundwater with nitrates and ammonia.

Pig farming also consumes vast quantities of water in a country frequently affected by drought.

‘Can’t breathe’

Critics also say the barnyard whiffs from the farms of the past were nothing like the overpowering stench from today’s supersized operations.

“At some times of the year, the air is unbreathable,” says Toni Jorge of Ecologists in Action as he stands outside a pig factory 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-sized swimming pools, he says.

Unlike in smaller farms, the pigs here are packed together with no access to the outdoors and daylight except for the day they are taken to slaughter, says Jorge.

Industry groups argue there are plenty of strict rules regarding the treatment of manure and livestock farmers are adopting improved methods and technology.

The sector follows “European directives on animal wellbeing”, which are a “world reference”, says the head of Spanish pork producers association Anprogapor, Miguel Angel Higuera.

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

The farms are one of the “rare activities” that provide jobs in rural Spain, which is suffering from depopulation, and help keep villages “alive”, he adds.

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

But Talaya of “Stop Mega-farms” said most work on industrial farms is mechanised.

Standing beside her, Escribano agrees.

“They say they are helping to keep people in villages. But who is going to live in a village where you can’t breathe, where you can’t drink the water?” asks local winemaker Antonio Escribano.

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ENVIRONMENT

Sweden to set world’s first consumption-based emissions target

Sweden political parties have unanimously backed the world's first consumption-based emissions target, with the country aiming to hit net zero by 2045.

Sweden to set world's first consumption-based emissions target

The committee responsible for setting Sweden’s environmental goals on Thursday presented its proposals for what goals Sweden should set for greenhouse has emissions linked to the country’s consumption. 

“No other country in the world has done what we have done,” Emma Nohrén, chair of the climate goals committee, said at a press conference announcing the goals. “There has been a pioneering sprit.” 

About 60 percent of the emissions caused by people living in Sweden are released in other countries producing goods to be consumed in Sweden, meaning Sweden’s production-based emissions goals, like those of other countries, arguably misrepresent Sweden’s impact.  

In a press statement, the government said that as well as the 2045 consumption emissions target, the committee has suggested setting targets for the climate impact of its exports, include emissions from flights and cargo ships in its long-term national climate goals, and aim to include emissions from internal flights in its target for domestic transport by 2030.  

The committee also proposes that emissions from goods and services ordered by the public sector should decline at a faster rate than those of the rest of the country. 

Amanda Palmstierna, an MP for the Green Party who sits on the committee, said it was positive that the new goals had the backing of all seven of Sweden’s parliamentary parties. 

“It’s important that all the parties are backing this proposal so that it can become implemented,” she said. “Significant action is required now. We have so little time, as we saw in the IPCC report which came out on Monday.”  

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