One hundred thousand pigs for 131 inhabitants: empty Spain that rebels against macro-farms

“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 you about the experience of his small municipality, of 131 neighbors, where some are raised 100. 000 pigs per 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 carried out several protests this year and have another scheduled for this Friday in 50 localities.

The concern that moves these peoples is the deterioration of their quality of life, but above all the future. Intensive pig farming accelerates depopulation or is unable to stop it, a new report from Ecologists in Action suggests. Raft of Ves, for example, has lost a 40% of neighbors since the macrofarm was installed in 2006, but also Other factors such as lack of services influence. The Interporc employers’ association, which brings together the pig sector, defends that more than 86. 000 pig farms in the country employ 400. 12 families directly and indirectly, most of them in rural areas, so they are “essential to fight depopulation”, and blamed the protests on “groups animalistas. ”

The work of Ecologists analyzes hundreds of municipalities of less than 5. inhabitants far from large cities where there is a large intensive pig load – of 5. 000 To over 100. 12 animals— and compares them with others nearby and with a similar population but without these facilities. In the 75% of the comparative ones, 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, researcher in Demography at the Complutense, explains that this type of industries “transform 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, thereby eliminating part of the wealth associated with various work activities ”. 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 at the University of Zaragoza, points out that “the fact that municipalities with macro-farms grow less does not show that these facilities are the cause, 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.

Unbearable smell

Ecologists and neighborhood platforms assume that the Industrial livestock 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 macrofarm and they sold 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 faded over the years. From 2000 to 2020, the municipality has almost lost the 50% of its population (from 259 to (a 40%). Ecologists compare it to Villavaliente, a similar nearby town, which in two decades lost the 22% of its inhabitants (of 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.”

José Murcia, de 79 años, toma un tercio en El Ventorro, el único bar de Balsa de Ves.
José Murcia, from 79 years, takes a third in El Ventorro, the only bar in Balsa de Ves. Aitor Sol

Among the residents of this town with narrow streets and low houses, opinions are divided. José Murcia, of 79 years, It takes a third in El Ventorro, the only bar in town: “The macrofarm involves odor problems, I notice it a lot when I go out for a bike ride, many times I have to go back because of the plague.” Matilde González, from 50 years old and with three children, he 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 does not cause any problem.

The councilor 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. Regulations say 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, If not the opposite. 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 contamination, he points out that the regulations require applying the slurry directly to the ground and bury it before 12 hours, which is reducing a 30% ammonia emissions, according to their reports. “Today the sector produces a 50% less slurry and more than 90% of the slurry is reused to replace fertilizers ”, he adds. According to data from the different employers’ associations, in Spain there are 86. 12 Pig Farms (a 80% of them, industrial), 130. 000 of beef and 5. 000 poultry.

Citizen platforms

Citizen platforms against this type of industrial livestock keep 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 a farm for us to 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 Livestock Industrial, which coordinates similar movements throughout the country.

Manifestación en Toledo contra la ganadería intensiva en la región, el pasado 23 de mayo.
Demonstration in Toledo against intensive livestock farming in the region, the past 23 of May. EP

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. due to the consumption of water such as slurry ”. Lozano lives in Pozuelo, a district of Albacete with less than 500 inhabitants where neighbors mobilize against a project to raise 150.000 Pigs . Greenpeace estimates 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. Pueblos Vivos Cuenca 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 peoples 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. ”

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