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The Government and at least four autonomies have announced or approved measures against macro-farms | Spain

Aerial view of the Caparroso macrofarm facilities (Navarra), released by Greenpeace
Aerial view of the Caparroso macrofarm facilities (Navarra), released by Greenpeace

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, led by Luis Planas, assured on April 21 at the 10th Congress of the Union of Small Farmers and Ranchers (UPA) that it would develop a decree law to “regulate the size of beef farms , within the framework of a family and professional farming model ”. The text, in the public consultation phase, limits the “maximum capacity” of the farm to 850 units of larger livestock —that is, large ones— for cattle farms. In addition, Planas assured that the new CAP – Common Agricultural Policy – of the European Union will favor the “family and professional” model of exploitation. Along the same lines, the autonomous governments of Castilla-La Mancha, Aragon, Catalonia and Navarra have approved initiatives to prohibit or limit the construction and expansion of macro-farms.

Emiliano García-Page (PSOE), president of Castilla-La Mancha, announced two weeks ago a moratorium which prohibited the construction of new macro-farms and the expansion of existing ones until December 2024. Although a few days before the Castilian-La Mancha president announced that this limitation would be indefinite. “Between all of us we must establish a serene dialogue on the regulations that should govern this issue, making the economic and livestock sector of the autonomous community compatible with the needs of environmental sustainability,” said the regional president.

The Government of Aragon, chaired by Javier Lambán (PSOE), presented a bill last July for the “protection and modernization of family agriculture and the agrarian heritage of Aragon”. This text indicates that intensive livestock “endangers both the environmental sustainability of the territory, as well as the economic and social sustainability.” The legislative initiative adds that family farming “is subject to especially relevant risks in the field of intensive livestock farming.” Although the Lambán Government’s bill does not prohibit the construction of new intensive farms, it does limit the size of “all intensive cattle farms” and conditions the construction of new macro-farms to the capacity of “reception of manure” that the ground on which they intend to build.

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This is a measure similar to the one approved by María Chivite in Navarra last April, which has prohibited the construction or expansion of farms with more than 1,250 units of beef. The bill was approved with the votes in favor of the left-wing parties and the abstention of Navarra Suma, made up of Ciudadanos and the Popular Party.

In Catalonia, the autonomy with the largest number of macro-farms according to the data provided by each region, the Department of Climate Action, Food and Rural Agenda proposed a new model of regulation of livestock management in October 2021 that will take the form of a decree to ensure the balance between economic and environmental sustainability. With it, the number of animals that the farms may have will be limited and the number of cattle will not be able to be expanded on those farms that do not comply with the regulatory distances between them. The decree sets a maximum of 600 cows for new farms, in addition to mandatory training for farm workers, which consists of 20 hours of courses on physiology, behavior, concepts of animal health and current legislation on animal welfare.

In addition to this measure, in 2019 the Catalan Government prevented the construction of new facilities for a period of two years due to the contamination of its aquifers. In July, the Generalitat approved a decree law that extended four more years – until 2025 – the moratorium in the granting of permits to build or expand this type of exploitation in 68 Catalan municipalities. The objective, according to the Government, was to reverse the excessive presence of nitrates in the waters of these localities due to the slurry discharged by intensive livestock farming. Seven out of ten aquifers are contaminated in Catalonia according to European criteria.

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The measure announced by Minister Planas last April was celebrated by UPA, which has been requesting the closure of these farms for years and was “hopeful” at the minister’s decision. Environmental NGOs such as WWF, Greenpeace or Ecologistas en Acción, also demand and applaud the approval of moratoriums for the new construction or expansion of macro-farms due to the nitrate dumping they involve. This Government has approved two decree laws on intensive livestock: the first in February 2020 regulated pig farms and the second in July 2021, for poultry farms.

Both impose measures for manure management and the reduction of contamination of groundwater by nitrates – present in animal excrement. In the case of pig farms, he also pointed out that they cannot be less than 200 meters from a population. Despite these laws, last December the European Commission denounced Spain – after warning it in 2020 – before the community justice, considering the efforts made to reduce the level of nitrate in its aquifers “unsatisfactory and insufficient”.

Autonomies without measures against macro-farms

The initiatives approved by Catalonia, Castilla-La Mancha, Aragon and Navarra clash with those adopted by other autonomous communities such as Castilla y León. In 2020, the regional Executive approved a decree law that eased the procedures to create facilities of this type. It only takes an environmental license to operate. Macro-farms that have been operating for at least 10 years can directly obtain this permit, although they previously did not have it.

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However, there are other regions such as Asturias or Cantabria in which no measure has been approved apart from those adopted by the Ministry of Agriculture. In the Basque Country there is no specific regulation either, since family farming predominates, with small farms with few head of cattle. In Andalusia, the legislation is limited to developing the European directive. Municipalities are subject, among others, to the Integrated Environmental Quality Management Act (GICA), at the regional level, to previously grant an environmental concession or authorization for their installation based on their size. This newspaper has not found any regulations in this regard in the Community of Madrid.

The Valencian Community is another of the autonomies that does not have a particular regulation on macro-farms. It has only established a procedure for the personnel of livestock farms, animal transport, slaughter and zoological centers to obtain adequate training in animal welfare.

In the region of A Limia (Ourense), poultry and pig farms generate tons of excrement that accumulate untreated and cause episodes of serious contamination by cyanobacteria every year in the Limia river and its reservoirs. Despite this, the Galician Government has not approved any regulations either.

With information from Juan Navarro, Mar López, María Fabra, Eva Saiz, Mikel Ormazabal Y Silvia R. Pontevedra.

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