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The Spanish say ‘no’ to macro cattle farms

May 14, 2021
topic:Sustainable Agriculture
tags:#Sustainable Agriculture, #Greenpeace Spain, #cattle ranching, #water pollution, #petition
by:Magdalena Rojo
With its famous delicacies, such as chorizos and various kinds of ham, Spain is one of the nations with the highest rates of meat consumption in Europe. A lot of its meat is grown in macro farms whose operation is not sustainable for the environment. The Spanish public and two NGOs , Greenpeace Spain and Association Hacendera, are calling for stricter legislation around mass cattle ranching.

Noviercas is a village of around 150 inhabitants in the northwestern region of Castilla y León. Areas around Noviercas are now of interest to the Spanish company Valle de Odieta, which intends to run a farm of more than 23,000 animals in the area. It would be the biggest cow farm in Europe and the fifth largest globally. 

The company presented the project of the industrial farm four years ago, when they asked the Duero Hydrographic Confederation (DHC) for a water concession. Back then, the request was declined and the process of granting concessions was stopped.  

In January this year, the company requested authorisation from DHC to investigate the groundwater in the area and thus obtain the concession of water for exploitation. Greenpeace Spain estimates that the use of water to support the farm would be between four to six million liters daily

"A period of allegations was opened and we requested the denial of the authorization. We cannot put such a scarce and precious public resource into private hands," Begoña Izquierdo from Association Hacendera told FairPlanet.

Only a few days ago, the DHC denied the permission to investigate the groundwater for the possible installation of the farm. The local newspaper Noticias de Navarra informed that despite this denial, the company Valle de Odieta is not giving up

Apart from the exploitation of water resources, Greenpeace Spain and Association Hacendera also warn that industrial farming of this volume would produce enormous quantities of CO2 - around 574,200 tones. It is the same amount of emissions as that of 122,000 cars circulating in one year. Areas that belong to Natura 2000 - a network of nature protection areas in the territory of the European Union - would also be put in danger. 

Greenpeace Spain protests

The farm in Noviercas would not be the first one run by Valle de Odieta. The company has been operating a farm in the municipality of Caparroso in the Northern region of Navarra since 2009. The number of cows originally approved for this farm by the local government was 3,500. 

Since 2014, this macro farm has accumulated no less than 19 complaints from various public bodies of the Government of Navarra. Up until now, they have resulted in eleven sanctioning procedures for breaking various regulations of environmental protection. The company was sanctioned in two cases. The reasons behind the complaints vary from raising more cattle than allowed, establishing unauthorised farm service constructions, and the fact the farm represents a threat to endangered species living in the areas of the protected zones.

At the occasion of Water Day this March, Greenpeace Spain organised a peaceful protest against the company's activities in Navarra. Environmental activists returned one thousand liters of water contaminated by nitrates to the company facilities. 

The organisation is running a petition titled No a las macrogranjas! (No to macro farms!), which has collected almost 130,000 signatures in two months. "The response to our event was an immense social opposition. Our protest fuelled and encouraged local social upheaval that had not yet taken off, despite years seeing the harmful and unpunished behavior of this company,” Luís Ferreirim, the person coordinating agriculture initiatives in Greenpeace Spain, told FairPlanet. “Other groups are carrying out more complaints and launching other initiatives.” 

"The issue has reached the Parliament of Navarra, which approved a moratorium on this type of exploitations afterwards," Ferreirim added. 

The goal of Greenpeace Spain is to get half a million Spanish people sign their petition in order to pressure national government bodies to act to stop macro exploitation in the country. 

Ferreirim elaborated on what legislative changes are necessary according to Greenpeace, stating that, "We need more ambitious legislation that goes to the root of the problem: industrial agriculture and livestock. It must have quantitative and temporary objectives to reduce nitrogen emissions to the environment, as well as mandatory measures for polluting sectors and a reduction of the thresholds from which it is considered pollution." 

Association Hacendera also points out flaws in the current laws and their implementation. Begoña Izquierdo stated that, "Even though on paper, these kinds of farms need to fulfill a lot of conditions to minimise their impact on the environment, administrations do not have human nor material capacity to control if they do fulfill the required norms.” 

Reduction in meat consumption and legislative amendments are urgently needed

It is not only the civil sector that has been keeping an eye on the situation of industrial farming in Spain. Last July, the European Commission called on Spain to comply with the Nitrates Directive (1991). The Directive is in place to protect surface and groundwater from contamination by agricultural activities, and requires that the authorities take measures to prevent such pollution. European Union member states across the continent prepare their action programs in order to achieve their goals in eliminating water pollution from the agricultural sector.

The Commission addressed a letter of formal notice to Spain at the end of 2018. While there has been some progress, the European Commission again called on Spain to ensure further measures and actions are taken to achieve the objectives of the Directive. 

Agriculture remains the main reason for contamination of rivers, lakes and other water sources in Europe, and Spain is not the only country that the EU has been tackling for potential breaches of the Nitrates Directive. Some cases have already gone to the Court of Justice of the EU. Now, Spain is also facing this possibility if the situation in the country does not change.

Both Greenpeace Spain and Association Hacendera agree that the current state of affairs is a consequence of the lifestyle of many Spanish people, as well as of the agricultural and legal systems. 

"In the first place, rich countries such as Spain, should drastically reduce meat consumption," Ferreirim from Greenpeace Spain states. His organisation defends ecological farming that could provide enough meat if it is consumed occasionally. 

"Even if the farm was the cleanest in the world, we would not agree with the project in Noviercas because it represents an economic model that is the opposite of what we consider to be a sustainable development model that protects life and the health of people, animals and territory,” Izquierdo of Association Hacendera explained. “It is also in a radical opposition to the European guidelines that advocate the urgent and drastic reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.” 

“We do not want a macro-industrial livestock exploitation because it privatises resources such as water and territory for the benefit of a private company, “ she added. “We also are against the exploitation and mistreatment of animals.”

Valle de Odieta did not respond to FairPlanet’s request for comments.

Image: Socially Responsible Agricultural Project

Article written by:
Magdalena Rojo
Hacendera volunteers compiling signatures to support the cause against the construction of a macro cow farm of Noviercas.
© Association Hacendera
Hacendera volunteers compiling signatures to support the cause against the construction of a macro cow farm of Noviercas.
Water sample from a pond in Caparroso, where the sewage from the Caparroso farm is spilled. The amount of nitrates was 10 times more than the amount allowed by law.
© Association Hacendera
Water sample from a pond in Caparroso, where the sewage from the Caparroso farm is spilled. The amount of nitrates was 10 times more than the amount allowed by law.
Greenpeace Spain and Association Hacendera have launched a campaign calling for the cancellation of plans to establish an industrial cattle farm in the vicinity of Noviercas village in the northwestern region of Castilla y León.
© Greenpeace Spain
Hacendera in Noviercas being filmed for the news for the national TV channel \'La 1\'.
© Association Hacendera
Hacendera in Noviercas being filmed for the news for the national TV channel "La 1".