The Popular Party has not only decided to use as an electoral ram the misrepresentation of the words of the Minister of Consumption, Alberto Garzón, on the production of meat but, now, it assures in various ways that "macro farms do not exist". Both its parliamentary spokesperson Milagros Marcos and the president of Castilla y León, Alfonso Fernández Mañueco, have exhibited this argument speaking of them as an invention, "a smokescreen".
Industrial livestock: a handful of meat and dairy companies pollute as much as entire countries
Macrofarm is not an official category. The term refers to large intensive livestock farms. "We borrowed the word from neighborhood movements that saw traditional farms disappear, replaced by larger and larger farms capable of producing many animals in limited spaces", says Luis Ferreirim, from Greenpeace.
The Ministry of Agriculture divides livestock farms into groups according to their capacity: group I, group II and group III. This capacity is measured in Major Livestock Units. Not all animals count the same. The translation of equivalences carried out by the Dehesa Observatory of the Center for Scientific and Technological Research of the Junta de Extremadura in the case of pigs says that Group I farms admit 350 animals for fattening, those of Group II up to 2,000 plus 200 reproductive females and those of group III 5,500 specimens getting fat and 750 females. The regulations allow these dimensions to be increased by 20% with a regional authorization.
From how much to call them macrofarms?
The deputy of PP Milagros Marcos has personally chosen the amount of 10,000 heads to talk about macro farms. In reality, the only official criterion that can be applied is the one that forces farms to report how much they pollute above a certain size. All intensive farms with 2,000 pigs over 30 kg or 750 breeding females are required to register their methane or ammonia emissions. By virtue of their size, the regulations require them to report their pollution levels to the State Registry of Pollutant Emissions and Sources (PRTR) of the Ministry of Ecological Transition. In 2020 there were 3,233 active installations of this type.
They are not farms but factories. They make food, not food, to market it: there are more and more animals and fewer farms, which, unequivocally, implies that production is more and more concentrated "
"The most important thing is not the size of the individual farms, but the industrial model: there are municipalities, counties with dozens of industrial farms that perhaps would not be considered macro but that, together, concentrated on the surface, they have the same impact as a single large one, "explains Ecologists in Action spokesperson Elisa Oteros." They are not farms, but factories. They make food, not food, to market it: there are more and more animals and fewer farms, which, unequivocally, implies that production is more and more concentrated. "
The Minister of Agriculture, Luis Planas, admitted this Tuesday in Onda Cero that Garzón's "unfortunate" words have been "manipulated." And then he has abounded in that "there is a confusion between intensive and extensive livestock farming. Here there is no conflict, there is diversity. Spain is a livestock power. (...) And then there is a confusion between the identification of intensive livestock farming with macro-farms" .
Contrary to what the leaders of the Popular Party have said, the Union of Small Farmers (UPA) –which came to ask for the resignation of Alberto Garzón at the beginning of this controversy– has admitted the concept of macro-farms. And he has criticized them harshly by attributing to this model "environmental damage", "worse quality products" and poor employment, as they left in writing in 2018 when requesting in Brussels "the prohibition of macro-farms". The UPA insisted in November of that year that MEPs had to" free Europe of this threat "because" mega livestock farms are not integrated into the natural environment, as are small and medium family farms, for not talk about the worst level they have in terms of animal welfare. "
Source of contamination: methane, ammonia and water
Although it is not the first idea that comes to mind, the agribusiness activity emits greenhouse gases into the atmosphere (cause of climate change). In Spain, this sector released 38,263 kilotonnes (kt) of these gases in 2020: 14% of the total, according to the National Inventory of the Ministry of Ecological Transition.
The main gas caused by agriculture and livestock is methane (CH4). This compound lasts active in the atmosphere for an average of ten years, much less than carbon dioxide, but during its life it absorbs much more energy, that is, much more heat. It is more powerful, although it acts less time, while CO2 can continue to increase global temperature for thousands of years.
The Union of Small Farmers, which called for Garzón's resignation at the beginning of this controversy, asked the EU in 2018 to "ban macro-farms" by blaming this model for "environmental damage", "worse quality products" and poor employment.
Spain emitted 23,600 kt of methane in 2020. Some 16,000 of them come from enteric fermentation of cattle (a by-product of their digestion) and another 7,175 kt from manure management. Two out of every three tons of greenhouse gases in the Spanish agricultural sector are methane. Almost all of that gas (98%) comes directly or indirectly from livestock.
Another toxic produced by livestock, especially intensive and large-scale, through the degradation of waste is ammonia. A "colorless gas with a pungent odor, easily soluble in water and evaporable", as defined by the Pollutant Emissions Registry (PRTR).
Spain has not complied since 2010 with the ammonia emission ceilings committed to with the European Union. Last year it released 483 kilotonnes, above the 467 that marks the maximum threshold in force since 2020. Pig macro farms accounted for 8% of all that ammonia. These large facilities saw their methane emissions grow by 8% last year and ammonia emissions by 3.4%, according to the data entered in the PRTR.
Finally, nitrates from livestock and agricultural waste have affected 40% of Spanish aquifers. This diffuse pollution that damages water has become a "structural problem" in Spain, as analyzed by the European Commission in 2019 when it verified how States were applying the Water directive. Following the notices imposed by the European sanctioning process, Brussels has taken Spain before the Court of Justice for not having solved this matter. The Government has admitted in its reports that more than half of the affected points may not be recovered in the time indicated by law.
"The problem is rather the model of which macro-farms are the maximum exponent: highly mechanized facilities with large production capacity in reduced space. A landless livestock that depends totally on external inputs (water and food) and that generates many emissions and waste ", concludes Ferreirim.
Recognized problem: pig, poultry and future decree for cows
The environmental problem of air and water pollution posed by industrial meat production is well known. The Government has so far regulated in separate decrees the basic rules for pig farms (in February 2020) and poultry (in July 2021). In addition, the autonomous governments of Castilla-La Mancha, Aragon, Catalonia and Navarra have regulated –or announced that they will do so– the sector to limit or prohibit the establishment of large intensive livestock farms, that is, macro-farms.
In both state regulations there are specific sections for the management of manure and the reduction of polluting gas emissions into the atmosphere that, the texts admit, "has become one of the main problems on a world scale." Nitrates and ammonia top the concerns of the livestock sector.
For pig farms, the requirements aimed at reducing these emissions will come into force in January 2023. For poultry farms, they will be mandatory in 2024 if they require structural modification of the facility. If not, they will be required in January 2023.
The third leg remains: cattle farms. The decree is now in preparation. In the current Pollutant Emissions Registry, only poultry and pig farms are required to report their methane or ammonia levels. Those of cows, for the moment, are exempt.