Greenpeace sounds alarm over Spain’s ‘poisonous mega farms’

The “uncontrolled” growth of industrial farming of livestock and poultry in Spain is causing water pollution from nitrates to soar, Greenpeace warned in a new report on Thursday.

Greenpeace sounds alarm over Spain's 'poisonous mega farms'
Pollution from hundreds of intensive pig farms played a major role in the collapse of Murcia Mar Menor saltwater lagoon. Photo: JOSEP LAGO / AFP

The number of farm animals raised in Spain has jumped by more than a third since 2015 to around 560 million in 2020, it said in the report entitled “Mega farms, poison for rural Spain”.

This “excessive and uncontrolled expansion of industrial animal farming” has had a “serious impact on water pollution from nitrates”, it said.

Three-quarters of Spain’s water tables have seen pollution from nitrates increase between 2016 and 2019, the report said citing Spanish government figures.

Nearly 29 percent of the country’s water tables had more than the amount of nitrate considered safe for drinking, according to a survey carried out by Greenpeace across Spain between April and September.

The environmental group said the government was not doing enough.

It pointed out that the amount of land deemed an “area vulnerable to nitrates” has risen to 12 million hectares in 2021, or 24 percent of Spain’s land mass, from around eight million hectares a decade ago, yet industrial farming has continued to grow.

“It is paradoxical to declare more and more areas vulnerable to nitrates”, but at the same time allow a “disproportionate rise” in the number of livestock on farms, Greenpeace said.

Pollution from hundreds of intensive pig farms played a major role in the collapse of one of Europe’s largest saltwater lagoons, the Mar Menor in Spain’s southeast, according to a media investigation published earlier this week.

Scientists blamed decades of nitrate-laden runoffs for triggering vast blooms of algae that had depleted the water of the lagoon of oxygen, leaving fish suffocating underwater.

Two environmental groups submitted a formal complaint in early October to the European Union over Spain’s failure to protect the lagoon.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Mar Menor dead fish fiasco: Ecologists launch EU complaint over Spain’s ‘continued failures’

Ecologists said Wednesday they had submitted a formal complaint to the EU over Spanish authorities' "continued failure" to protect the Mar Menor, one of Europe's largest saltwater lagoons, against agricultural pollution.

A protester holds a banner which reads
A protester holds a banner which reads "Politicians you let the Mar Menor lagoon die" in Puerto Bello de la Manga, near Murcia. At least five tonnes of fish and crustaceans were washed ashore over a 10-day period in August. Photo: Jose Miguel FERNANDEZ / AFP

In a statement outlining details of the complaint, ClientEarth and Spain’s Ecologists in Action urge the European Commission to take “immediate action against Spain” as harmful agricultural practices were pushing the lagoon “to the brink of ecological collapse”.

It said the “continuous build-up of fertilisers from nearby agricultural land has created toxic conditions in the Mar Menor” which breach both EU and Spanish laws.

In August, millions of dead fish and crustaceans began washing up on the shores of the Mar Menor, located on Spain’s southeastern coast, which experts have repeatedly blamed on agricultural pollution.

They argue that sealife died due to a lack of oxygen caused by hundreds of tonnes of fertiliser nitrates leaking into the waters causing a phenomenon known as eutrophication which collapses aquatic ecosystems.

Two similar catastrophic pollution events occurred in 2016 and 2019.

Although the lagoon is protected under various EU directives and the UN environment programme, Spain had failed to comply with its legal obligations, taking “only superficial steps to safeguard the Mar Menor from damaging agricultural practices”, the environmental groups said.

READ ALSO: Five stats to understand why Spain’s Mar Menor is full of dead fish

Thousands of dead fish are seen in the Guadiaro river, in San Roque, southern Spain, 28 July 2005 due to severe drought. The European Commission is helping overcome cereal shortages in drought-hit Spain by making supplies available from other EU countries with excess stores, a spokesman said 27 july 2005. AFP PHOTO/ JOSÉ LUIS ROCA (Photo by JOSE LUIS ROCA / AFP)

“The European Commission must urgently act to stop this environmental crisis. As legal guardian of the Mar Menor, the Spanish authorities have a duty to safeguard the lagoon.. which risks disappearing forever,” ClientEarth lawyer Soledad Gallego said in a statement.

“Spain’s lack of meaningful action to protect this iconic site means we are witnessing the Mar Menor breaking down before our eyes. Protected species and habitats clearly cannot survive, let alone thrive, under the suffocating conditions caused by current industrial farming.”

Spain’s environment minister has accused the regional authorities of turning a blind eye to farming irregularities in the Campo de Cartagena, a vast area of intensive agriculture surrounding the lagoon.

But agricultural groups insist they comply scrupulously with environmental legislation.

If intensive agricultural practices are not curbed, there will be damaging long-term consequences, the NGOs warned.

“Continuing to compromise the Mar Menor and the surrounding farmland in favour of short-term gains is already causing irreversible harm and will eventually leave the area barren, which will have environmental as well as economic and social repercussions,” said Gallego.

Experts at Ecologists in Action believe the lagoon could recover if the area of irrigated land was reduced, if stricter limits were imposed on the use of fertilisers and if natural solutions were found to help retain excess nutrients and prevent soil loss.

Activists, who held a mass demonstration in August, are planning a new rally on Thursday evening in the city of Murcia to demand urgent action to save the lagoon.