You are currently viewing Keys to the controversy of macrofarms in Spain: what are its negative effects?  What exactly did Garzón say?

The macro farms have become the subject of public debate in the last week due to the interview that the Minister of Consumption, Alberto Garzón, granted to the newspaper The Guardian by the end of 2021. The minister’s criticism of these facilities has unleashed a political storm that raises many questions. These are some keys to better understand this controversy.

What are macro farms?

Macrofarms are intensive livestock facilities that house thousands of head of cattle in a single facility. “They are cattle farms with a large number of animals whose food comes from afar —mainly from South America, where the production of feed is very cheap—. The animals from the macro-farms do not go out into the field at any time ”, explains Pablo Manzano, researcher at the Basque Center for Climate Change. There is no exact number of animals that differentiates a macrofarm, nor is there an official cataloging of the term. “It is better understood what a macro-farm is compared to an extensive farm, in which the animals graze and there is a link between production and the territory,” adds Manzano. This expert assures that it is very difficult to establish from how many animals we can talk about this type of facility or estimate how many macro-farms there are in Spain. “It is not only the number of animals, other factors influence,” he concludes.

What is the difference between intensive and extensive livestock?

In intensive farming the animals eat feed and live in industrial buildings. In the extensive, they feed on grasses and do not live continuously in closed places. A macrofarm is intensive livestock raised to its maximum expression.

Pigs in a pig farm in Germany.Getty

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What negative effects does a macro farm have on the population?

The main ones are soil and water pollution, as well as bad smells.

The contamination is produced by the generation of slurry, that is, excrement mixed with water. These, loaded with nitrates, end up in ponds that, when emptied, decimate the agricultural land and pollute the water in the aquifers. This problem is especially relevant in Catalonia, one of the communities that produces the most pork meat: 7 out of 10 aquifers are contaminated in the community according to European criteria.

“The ecosystem around the macro-farms cannot assimilate the immense amount of urine and other waste from the animals. The regulation establishes that the farmer must distribute the slurry so that it does not contaminate the soil and water, but then he would lose all profitability in diesel. With a pig, the soil does not suffer. With 30,000, with those densities in such a small space, it is impossible ”, says Manzano.

Daniel Ortiz, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California Davis, indicates that in some areas near some macro-farms “you cannot drink the tap water” due to the leakage of nitrates. “In addition,” he continues, “macro-farms have other indirect effects such as zoonosis – diseases that are transmitted between vertebrate animals and man – or deforestation in the areas of the world that produce feed.” It also highlights the ammonia emissions derived from these facilities.

The promoters of the macro-farms defend the jobs that this industry generates in unpopulated areas, but a recent study by Ecologists in Action points out that they are not fixing inhabitants. The text analyzes hundreds of municipalities with less than 5,000 neighbors far from large cities where there is a large intensive pig load – from 5,000 to more than 100,000 animals – and compares them with others nearby and with a similar population but without these facilities. In 74% of the comparisons, the localities with these macro-farms lose more population or gain fewer inhabitants than those that do not have them. “The smell is unbearable, you never get used to it,” says an affected neighbor in this report, which tells what life is like near a large farm.

These facilities “outsource their costs,” explains Rosa Díez, from the Stop Livestock Industrial platform. “The supposedly cheap meat is cheap because it externalizes the pollution it generates and the health costs. It pays little in labor costs and needs feed that has an environmental cost for the planet. It is a model that has many externalities and its consequences are assumed by those who live in rural areas “, says Díez, informs Miguel Angel Medina. “It is pure economy of scale. They generate so much for so little costs that they can drop prices dramatically, doing a lot of harm to local producers. What we see in the European Union is that these small farms are disappearing and the macro farms are increasing ”, adds Ortiz.

What measures are being taken against these projects?

Both the central government and several regional executives are taking steps to stop the expansion of macro-farms. The Ministry of Agriculture is working on a decree law to regulate the size of beef farms: the text, in the public consultation phase, limits the maximum capacity of the farm to 850 large cattle units for cattle farms.

In a similar vein, Castilla-La Mancha has announced a moratorium that prohibits the construction of new macro-farms and the expansion of existing ones until December 2024; Aragon has presented a bill that limits the size of “all intensive livestock farms”; Navarra prohibits the construction or expansion of farms with more than 1,250 units of beef; and Catalonia has taken measures to prevent the development of new projects.

And in other countries?

The problem of macro-farms is also being analyzed in other European countries, although little measures are being taken to stop them. For example, the coalition agreement in Germany does not explicitly include any policy against these farms, but it does speak of “restructuring livestock” and supporting farmers “on the path to climate neutrality.” The new German agriculture minister has anticipated that he will fight against the “junk prices” of meat allowed by the country’s macro-farms, without mentioning them. And French President Emmanuel Macron has defended the need for a transformation of the production and consumption model. Yes, concrete steps are being taken in the Netherlands, which since 2019 has subsidized the voluntary closure of farms of various sizes near populated areas to avoid the nuisance of odors and has created a ministry to reduce the impact of pig farms.

What did the Minister of Consumption say?

In an interview in the British newspaper The Guardian Posted on December 26, the Minister of Consumption, Alberto Garzón, said that the macro-farms “pollute the soil, pollute the water and then export poor quality meat from abused animals”, and described extensive livestock farming as “environmentally sustainable”. They are statements similar to those he has made on other occasions and that had not generated so much media hype. For example, in July 2021, he said on LaSexta that “the macro-farm model supposes little employment, animal abuse, contamination of soil and water and is also destroying our extensive livestock”.

How have other politicians reacted?

Garzón’s statements did not attract much attention in the days after the publication of the interview in The Guardian. However, on January 3, the president of Castilla y León, Alfonso Fernández Mañueco (PP), criticized him on Twitter by linking an article of a website specialized in information on the meat sector entitled “Garzón affirms in The Guardian that Spain exports poor quality meat from abused animals ”. The text does not explain that the minister charged against the macrofarms and claimed extensive livestock. However, Mañueco pointed out to the minister accompanying the article with the following message: “What has Castilla y León done for the Government of Spain to attack our farmers again. They will have us in front in the defense of the men and women of the field ”. The only mention of Garzón to Castilla y León in the interview in The Guardian It is precisely to claim the territory as one of those that produces extensive “ecologically sustainable” livestock.

Mañueco’s message, in the middle of the pre-electoral climate for the elections held by Castilla y León on February 13, was the first in a cascade of criticism from other political positions, such as the leader of the PP, Pablo Casado. Vox and Ciudadanos also charged against the minister. Given the escalation of attacks against him, on January 4, Garzón shared the transcript of the interview to recall that his criticisms were focused on macro farms.

Then came the contrary opinions from the PSOE, the majority partner of United We Can in the central government and in various regional and municipal executives. One of the most forceful It was issued by the President of Castilla-La Mancha, Emiliano García Page: “You cannot do gratuitous damage to such an important sector, especially without foundation. One is used to the fact that mistakes in life and in politics go in the same proportion to the workload… Here things are reversed and that is that when the devil has nothing to do, he kills flies with his tail ”. Other regional presidents, such as the Aragonese Javier Lambán, and members of the Executive, such as the Minister of Agriculture and Defense, have charged Garzón for this controversy. This Monday, the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, in an interview on Cadena SER, limited himself to the following words: “As President of the Government, I express my regret about a controversy and I believe that with that I am saying everything.”

Unidos Podemos has complained about the lack of support from other members of the Executive branch to the Minister of Consumption and that the story that his words were addressed to the entire livestock sector is accepted as good: “The massive dissemination of hoaxes and their normalization is a slippery slope that, in the United States, we already saw how it ended. Several initiatives based on the hoax about Garzón and macrofarms come to Congress. We are going to protect democracy and we are going to try to stop them ”, said this Tuesday the parliamentary spokesman for United We Can, Pablo Echenique.

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