The debate on macro farms in other European countries

The controversy over macro-farms and their environmental impact has intensified in recent days in Spain as a result of the statements of the Minister of Consumption, Alberto Garzón, who criticized this model and defended extensive livestock farming. A similar debate is taking place, with more or less intensity, in other European countries, although measures against this type of facility are still scarce: only the Netherlands is timidly betting on closing some of these facilities.

Germany: an increasingly aware population

Animal welfare and pollution from intensive farming are issues of concern to Germans. From time to time, images of livestock farms appear in the news in which apparently the regulations are not complied with and the regional parliaments often debate about it. Last August a parliamentary question from the Social Democrats revealed that in Baden-Württemberg large pig farms are only inspected every 11.5 years on average. The Greens have been very belligerent with the macro farms. In 2017, when they were negotiating a government coalition with the Christian Democrats and the Liberals – which ultimately did not go ahead – they demanded that the agreement include a provision to progressively close these types of facilities within a maximum period of 20 years. Now that they are part of the new tripartite Executive – with Social Democrats and Liberals – they advocate “ending junk prices” of meat, as the German Minister of Agriculture, Cem Özdemir, of the environmental party, said a few days ago. The current coalition agreement does not explicitly include any measure in this regard, although it does speak of “restructuring livestock” and supporting livestock “on the road to climate neutrality.”

Germany is the second largest producer of pork in the EU, behind Spain. Almost 80% of the pigs that are slaughtered come from farms where more than 1,000 animals are fattened at the same time. In the last 15 years, 80% of farmers have stopped raising animals while increasing meat production by 50%, according to data from the Heinrich Böll Foundation, which shows the change in the production model towards macro-farms. Small farms are disappearing and, in fact, organic farming is practically non-existent: only 0.6% of farms produce pork under this label. However, the population is increasingly aware. Several recent polls show that more and more people would be willing to pay more for higher quality meat. The environmental organization Greenpeace has proposed this week to raise the VAT on animal products in Germany, which are currently taxed at 7%, and lower or eliminate it in the case of fruits and vegetables to compensate.

France: 82% of citizens, against factory farming

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France, the leading agricultural power of the European Union, experiences the debates on the productivist model in the countryside as an intimate tear: it bases its prestige on the renown of its products for their quality, but at the same time their power and its idea of ​​food sovereignty relies on the ability to produce on an industrial scale. The almost sacred condition of the farmer has been shaken in recent years by campaigns by environmental groups and the awareness in the public opinion about the reality and the effects of macro-farms. A recent survey by the Ifop institute indicated that 82% of French people would be in favor of ending livestock and industrial animal husbandry for consumption. The problem is that if this wish were strictly applied, French agriculture would collapse: today about eight out of 10 animals – mainly chickens and pigs – live confined in intensive farms in France, according to calculations by environmental organizations.

French President Emmanuel Macron has defended the need for a transformation of the production and consumption model and launched a public investment plan of 5,000 million euros to “better respond to the expectations of consumers and fellow citizens to preserve French food sovereignty and, at the same time, the quality of French production ”. Macron considers that “there will continue to be several agricultural models”, including the intensive one, but maintains that for France it makes no sense to compete with other countries that produce more massively and with lower quality. According to the president, French producers cannot propose “to compete tomorrow with the 100,000 cow farm in China or with Brazil, Ukraine or Russia in the range of frozen chickens.” Macron’s policy has been to promote this transformation while still defending the industry against criticism and attacks from environmentalists and animal rights. “French livestock is quality,” said Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie a few days ago.

Italy: municipalities fighting against intensive installations

Currently there is no active debate in Italy on macro-farms, although in some regions the mobilization of citizens or environmental organizations against intensive livestock farming has reached justice. This is the case of San Cassiano, a small municipality in the province of Mantova, which has been fighting for years against the establishment of a large chicken farm. The State Council has agreed with the municipal administration, although the provincial authorities have authorized the opening of the plant. In another town in the same province, Schivenoglia, a court has ordered the City Council to respond and provide data to the requests of various environmental organizations protesting against the construction and expansion of large pig farms, authorized by the local authorities without a procedure for the Evaluation of Environmental Impact, to which intensive pig farms of more than 3,000 pigs must be subjected, considered “first class unhealthy industries”.

According to the National Livestock Database (BDN), the majority of intensive cattle, pig and poultry farms in Italy are concentrated in the north of the country, between Lombardy, Piedmont, Emilia Romagna and Veneto. In particular, most of it is in a very restricted area that encompasses the provinces of Mantova, Brescia, Reggio Emilia and Modena. For several years the province of Brescia has registered a greater number of pigs than inhabitants. Green associations denounce the negative environmental impact of intensive livestock farming and argue that it is no coincidence that the regions most affected by air pollution in the country are also those with the largest number of macro-farms.

United Kingdom: campaigns against intensive farming

In the UK, legal and political campaigns against factory farming, intensive livestock, are above all the work of organizations such as Humane Being, Animal Aid The Viva. The latter collected nearly 20,000 signatures last summer – including that of comedian Ricky Gervais – in an open letter to Johnson to push for a reduction in meat consumption. The National Food Strategy, a report commissioned by the British Government itself to an independent commission made up of representatives from the agricultural and livestock sectors, the food industry, universities and the public health system. The main recommendation of the report was to reduce meat consumption by 30% by 2032, and increase the consumption of vegetables and fruits by the same amount (compared to 2019 figures). “One of the most effective ways to reduce carbon emissions and return land to nature is to reduce the consumption of animal protein,” defends the document, which indicates that 85% of the land used to produce food is ultimately destined for food. intensive livestock.

Despite the fame of the United Kingdom as a country especially dedicated to the protection and defense of animals, so-called macro-farms have also spread there. An investigation carried out by the newspaper The Guardian In 2017 it already pointed to a figure of more than 800 intensive livestock facilities throughout the country. No county was alien to this situation. The figures that the organization was able to contribute during the past year Compassion in World Farming (Compassion in Livestock) to the House of Commons serve to describe a reality: the huge number of animals raised each year in England in indoor facilities: 1.2 million pigs, 140 million chickens or 13 million laying hens. The figures, however, do not say anything by themselves. “It has a lot more to do with the way these farms are run. There are intensive livestock operations that are horrible, while others are a fantastic example of how to take care of animals and produce good results “, explained Charles Godfray, the director of the Program on the Future of Food that the University of Oxford

The Netherlands: a ministry to reduce the impact of large farms

The Dutch are concerned about the impact of larger pig farms. This concern has led the Government of the Netherlands to focus on gradually reducing the impact of farms, their numbers and that of animals, and promoting sustainability and animal welfare. But since the sector is very important, it does not speak specifically of closing macro-farms. With almost 11.4 million head in 2021, the pig herd is of great economic importance in the country. Since 2019, the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture has subsidized the voluntary closure of farms of various sizes near populated areas to avoid the nuisance of odors. For its part, the new center-right government, which plans to present itself on January 10, includes a department with a Minister of Nature and Nitrogen, included within the Ministry of Agriculture and in charge of reducing emissions from the entire livestock sector national. Nitrates, derived from nitrogen, can contaminate soils through agricultural fertilizers or animal droppings.

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