“What do you prefer, that your town smells like pines or shit?” Natividad Pérez throws this question at the neighbors who ask what will happen if a macro-farm is installed in their town. She tells them about the experience they have already gone through in Balsa de Ves, in Albacete, where she is mayor. He explains the problems that these farms do generate, such as soil and water pollution, and bad smells. He tells them about the experience of his small municipality, of 131 neighbors, where about 100,000 pigs are raised a year. “We touch 763 animals per inhabitant,” he says. His voice is helping to set up neighborhood platforms against new industrial livestock projects in towns in empty Spain – Albacete, Cuenca, Toledo, Zamora, Ávila – which have held several protests this year and have another scheduled for this Friday in 50 locations.
The concern that moves these peoples is the deterioration of their quality of life, but especially the future. Intensive pig farming accelerates depopulation or is unable to stop it, a new report from Ecologists in Action. Balsa de Ves, for example, has lost 40% of its residents since the macro-farm was installed in 2006, although other factors such as lack of services also play a role. The employer Interporc, which brings together the pig sector, defends that the more than 86,000 pig farms in the country employ 400,000 families directly and indirectly, most of them in rural areas, which is why they are “essential to fight against depopulation”, and attributes the protests to “animal groups.”
The work of Ecologists analyzes hundreds of municipalities with less than 5,000 inhabitants 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 it. “There is no positive relationship between industrial pig farming and the fight against depopulation,” says Daniel González, coordinator of the report.
Jorge Blanco, a researcher in Demography in the Complutense, explains that this type of industry “transforms the economy of rural areas, which is usually based on agriculture and extensive livestock, in a single direction that does not necessarily affect the life of the people, with which part of the wealth associated to diverse work activities is eliminated ”. For example, “it makes those who have other activities sell their land and become rentiers.” In his opinion, “it is true that these industries have the potential to attract workers, but they do not have to live in the place, and if they do not, they do not pay taxes there and no income enters the flow of the town.”
For his part, Vicente Pinilla, director of the Depopulation and Creativity Chair from the University of Zaragoza, points out that “the fact that the municipalities with macro-farms grow less does not show that the cause is these facilities, that is, that correlation does not imply causality.” The key question “is whether the pig produces depopulation or goes where there is depopulation, which seems more likely.” Pinilla considers that there are other causes for rural depopulation such as the lack of job opportunities, the lack of public services and a highly unbalanced, masculinized demographic structure with elderly people. “This type of depopulation has occurred throughout Europe in recent years,” he adds.
Ecologists and neighborhood platforms assume that factory farming is not the only factor that drives depopulation, but they want to emphasize that it does not serve to fix inhabitants, as the sector defends. Natividad Pérez explains the example of Balsa de Ves: “In 2006, when I was an opposition councilor, the macro-farm was installed and they told us that they were going to hire all the unemployed and that they were going to give a lot of work. But they only hired five people from the town. “
The illusion was diluted with the years. From 2000 to 2020, the municipality has lost almost 50% of its population (from 259 to 131 inhabitants), most of which left since 2006 (40%). Ecologists compares it with Villavaliente, a similar nearby town, which in two decades lost 22% of its inhabitants (from 282 to 220). “The sector says that these facilities fix the population, but it is not true. Who would want to live next to a farm that generates odors, that pollutes, that has traffic of huge trucks that destroy public roads? ”Pérez complains. Fidel Aldudo, retired and deputy mayor, lives in La Pared, a district of Balsa de Ves where it always smells bad: “The smell is unbearable, you never get used to it.”
Among the residents of this town of narrow streets and low houses, opinions are divided. José Murcia, 79, takes a third in El Ventorro, the only bar in town: “The macrofarm involves odor problems, I notice it a lot when I go for a walk with the bicycle, many times I have to go back because of the plague.” Matilde González, 50 years old and with three children, complains about the lack of opportunities: “I am unemployed, I have posted my CV on the farm and they do not call me. They should give priority to those of us who live here. ” Another resident who prefers not to say his name believes that the installation is not creating a problem.
The councilwoman since 2015 – with open lists – walks next to the door of the complex, located four kilometers from the town. Point out a field where the ground has been painted black with a material similar to oil. “It is digestate, a mixture that they make between slurry and other waste. The regulations say that they should plow in less than 24 hours to avoid air pollution, but it has been there for several days, “he says. “Nobody wants these facilities, so they are looking for small towns with an aging population and without municipal technicians or associative fabric that can stand up to them. And once they are established they try to expand ”. The company has not responded to the emails of this newspaper.
The employers’ association Interporc explains that, according to their analysis, “there is not a single town in which a farm has led to the abandonment of families, quite the contrary. Another thing will be that there are towns in which a farm has not been able to stop depopulation, but it is different ”. In his opinion, this sector makes a great commitment to rural areas, which attracts the agri-food industry and the auxiliary industry. “Agricultural and livestock activity is essential to fight depopulation”, he sums up. Regarding pollution, he points out that the regulations require applying the slurry directly to the ground and burying it within 12 hours, which is reducing ammonia emissions by 30%, according to his reports. “Today the sector produces 50% less slurry and more than 90% of the slurry is reused to replace fertilizers,” he adds. According to data from the different employers, in Spain there are 86,000 pig farms (80% of them industrial), 130,000 beef and 5,000 poultry.
Citizen platforms against this type of factory farming do not stop growing. An example is Loporzano without intensive livestock, in Huesca. “We were the first neighborhood movement to oppose this type of exploitation,” says Rosa Diez, spokesperson for the movement. “They installed us a farm for 75,000 chickens and then we saw that there were several requests to install industrial pigs and we managed to stop them.” What problems does it generate? “The slurry has antibiotics, heavy metals and nitrates, which seep into the ground and end up in the aquifers, contaminating the waters. There are already many municipalities with undrinkable water, ”continues Diez. His movement promoted the state coordinator Stop Industrial Livestock, which coordinates similar movements throughout the country.
Inma Lozano, from Stop Macrogranjas CLM, criticizes “the excessive growth of this type of facilities, which are being approved without evaluating them as a whole, both for the consumption of water and that of slurry.” Lozano lives in Pozuelo, a hamlet of Albacete of less than 500 inhabitants where the neighbors mobilize against a project to raise 150,000 pigs. Greenpeace It calculates that in the last three years authorizations have been granted for new facilities at the rate of 1.5 per day, which is why it requires a moratorium on this type of livestock, something on which all platforms agree.
In recent months there have been many demonstrations against new complexes, although most have occurred in small towns, so they have not had much visibility. In May, they took their protest to various provincial capitals. Living Towns Cuenca It has organized several concentrations in more than 30 municipalities in that province. In Castilla y León one of the foci is in Segovia; there, Belén Bernardos attended a rally in her municipality, Bernardos, in July. “Our platform brings together 15 towns concerned about this, where there are 18 projects pending approval. Next Friday we will demonstrate again ”, he says. The same will happen in 50 more locations throughout Spain. Natividad Pérez sums it up like this: “The towns are a territory of suffering and resistance. The platforms are giving voice and dignity to the neighbors to stop this madness ”.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.