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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

France gets help from EU neighbours as wildfires rage

Firefighting teams and equipment from six EU nations started to arrive in France on Thursday to help battle a spate of wildfires, including a fierce blaze in the parched southwest that has forced thousands to evacuate.

France gets help from EU neighbours as wildfires rage

Most of the country is sweltering under a summer heatwave compounded by a record drought – conditions most experts say will occur more often as a result of rapid climate change.

“We must continue, more than ever, our fight against climate disruption and … adapt to this climate disruption,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said after arriving at a fire command post in the village of Hostens, south of Bordeaux.

The European Commission said four firefighting planes would be sent to France from Greece and Sweden, as well as teams from Austria, Germany, Poland and Romania.

“Our partners are coming to France’s aid against the fires. Thank you to them. European solidarity is at work!” President Emmanuel Macron tweeted.

“Across the country over 10,000 firefighters and security forces are mobilised against the flames… These soldiers of fire are our heroes,” he said.

In total, 361 foreign firefighters were  dispatched to assist their 1,100 French colleagues deployed in the worst-hit part of the French southwest.

A first contingent of 65 German firefighters, followed by their 24 vehicles, arrived Thursday afternoon and were to go into action at dawn Friday, officials said.

Among eight major fires currently raging, the biggest is the Landiras fire in the southwest Gironde department, whose forests and beaches draw huge tourist crowds each summer.

It had already burned 14,000 hectares (35,000 acres) in July – the driest month seen in France since 1961 – before being contained, but it continued to smoulder in the region’s tinder-dry pine forests and peat-rich soil.

Since flaring up again Tuesday, which officials suspect may have been caused by arson, it has burned 7,400 hectares, destroyed or damaged 17 homes, and forced 10,000 people to quit their homes, said Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Mendousse of the Gironde fire and rescue service.

Borne said nine firefighting planes are already dumping water on the blaze, with two more to be in service by the weekend.

“Gigantic”
“We battled all night to stop the fire from spreading, notably to defend the village of Belin-Beliet,” Mendousse told journalists in Hostens.

On several houses nearby, people hung out white sheets saying: “Thank you for saving our homes” and other messages of support for the weary fire battalions.

“You’d think we’re in California, it’s gigantic… And they’re used to forest fires here but we’re being overwhelmed on all sides — nobody could have expected this,” Remy Lahlay, a firefighter deployed near Hostens in the Landes de Gascogne natural park, told AFP.

With temperatures in the region hitting nearly 40C on Thursday and forecast to stay high until at least Sunday, “there is a very serious risk of new outbreaks” for the Landiras fire, the prefecture of the Gironde department said.

Acrid smoke has spread across much of the southwestern Atlantic coast and its beaches that draw huge crowds of tourists each summer, with the regional ARS health agency “strongly” urging people to wear protective face masks.

The smoke also forced the closing of the A63 motorway, a major artery toward Spain, between Bordeaux and Bayonne.

The government has urged employers to allow leaves of absence for volunteer firefighters to help fight the fires.

Meanwhile, in Portugal, more than 1,500 firefighters were also battling a fire that has raged for days in the mountainous Serra da Estrela natural park in the centre of the country.

It has already burned 10,000 hectares, according to the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS).

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