• Spain accounts for 3,774 macro-complexes to meet the growing demand of the meat industry, with production that has grown by 25% since 2015 despite the fact that 11,000 facilities have closed

The controversy generated by the statements of the Minister of Consumption, Alberto Garzon, on intensive livestock farming, has brought to the forefront of today an activity of great relevance for Spain, such as the meat industry. Because, with its 28,000 million annual turnover and its 500,000 direct and indirect jobs, it boasts of being the fourth industrial sector of the country, only behind the automobile, energy and metallurgy. A ranking achieved thanks to the gradual increase in production, of no less than 7.6 million tons, thanks to some farms that have been increasing in size to meet this growing demand and also in search of profitability.

Currently, there are 3,774 industrial-sized intensive farms, also called macro-farms, which are distributed throughout Spain, fueling the debate between those who consider that they are harmful to the environment and produce lower-quality meat, and those who defend their greater efficiency, also in the care of animals and in the means to avoid ecological impacts.

Virtually nothing else is talked about. In recent days, the statements made by Minister Garzón in a British media outlet about the macro-farms have led to the controversy generated rivaling current affairs, and it is already difficult, with the latest news on the coronavirus, both because they have put the sector on a war footing, as well as for the political use that is being made of them.

However, beyond reproaches and confrontations, the noise generated has also served to delve into the reality of the meat sector, with an enormous weight on the national economy. And it is that its turnover, of 28,000 million euros, represents 2.32% of the total Gross Domestic Product (GDP), 16.2% of the industrial branch, and 4.2% of the turnover of all the Spanish industry. With nearly 3,000 companies, it generates 100,000 direct jobs and 400,000 indirect ones. Foreign sales account for 8,680 million euros, ranking only behind the United States in terms of pork exports. Europe and Asian countries are the main destinations.

According to the latest available data, meat production in Spain reached a record figure in 2020, with a total of 7.6 million tons. Pig production is in first position, with 5 million tons, followed by poultry, with 1.7 million; the vaccine, with 677,300 tons; sheep, with 114,300; the goat, with 10,100; and that of horse, which stands at 9,500.

Since 2015, the production of the meat sector has increased by 25%. And that is precisely what is most striking, because, while this powerful growth was taking place, farms have been decreasing in parallel in a clear process of concentration. In Spain there are at the moment 507,195 farms, after just during these six years no less than 11,000 have disappeared. The explanation, therefore, is simple: small livestock facilities are giving way to the so-called macro-farms, precisely those that are at the center of the controversy.

And what is a macro farm? There is no official definition, nor official figures on its quantity. But there is the State Registry of Emissions and Contaminant Sources (PRTR), in which the farms that must be registered due to their size appear. There appear the pork ones with a capacity for more than 2,000 fattening pigs of more than 30 kilos; those with more than 750 breeding sows; and poultry farms with more than 40,000 places. In total, according to the latest update, they add up to 3,774, in a ranking headed by Aragón, with 1,124; Catalonia, with 906; Castilla-León, with 623; Castilla-La Mancha, with 287; Andalusia, with 239; Murcia, with 155; Navarre, with 121; and the Valencian Community, with 105.

Critics of large-scale intensive livestock farming refer to the impact of the generation of methane, a gas with a powerful greenhouse effect, as well as the possibility that they can contaminate groundwater with nitrates if the manure is not treated properly. .

However, the general secretary of the Business Federation of Meat and Meat Industries (Fecic), Joseph Collado, defends the entire sector, including these larger facilities. As he points out, “Spain is one of the few countries that has limitations in terms of size. We are talking about farms with a maximum of 5,500 head, with the power of some communities to expand them to 7,000, very far from what people have in the head when you think of the macro-farm concept, and of course nothing compares to the six-story-high, 100,000-animal-capacity cattle complexes being built in China.

Collado justifies the increase in farm size in the search for profitability. “The smaller ones have either grown or disappeared,” he points out, and also assures that “those with 1,000 animals are more efficient than those with 100, because they have modern waste management systems and generate less impact. That is not It means that we do not continue worrying about improving the treatment of slurry or betting on renewable energies”. In addition, it defends the prestige that the sector has at an international level, “as evidenced by the fact that we are one of the main exporting powers,” he adds.

And who is behind these macro farms? The large integrators in the sector, mainly pigs, are business conglomerates directly related to the meat industry (slaughterhouses or feed factories, among others), which provide animals, food and health care to farmers.

However, the director of the National Association of Pig Livestock Producers (Anprogapor), Miguel Angel Higuera, ensures that, ultimately, the owner of the farms remains the rancher of all life. “Here -he underlines- there are no investment funds. We are talking about family farms, or even, lately, about farmers, who are interested in slurry to fertilize their land. Another thing is that they reach agreements with large companies or meat industries, to be able to survive obtaining a profitability that, with a smaller size, perhaps they would not achieve”. In addition, he rejects the term macro-farm, “because it is pejorative. We are associated with what they do in China and it has nothing to do with it.”

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Another element for controversy is the quality of the meat produced in these facilities, compared to that of extensive livestock, with animals in freedom. There, Jose Miguel Torrecillas, director of Grupo Jorge, from Zaragoza, national leader in pork exports, is clear about it. “We could not sell in markets as demanding as Europe or Asia without having very high standards. We comply with all Spanish homologations and also those of third countries, and, in addition, we constantly pass audits by our buyers. If you want to be in international markets, it is the only possibility.”

In the same sense, it is expressed Ramon Rives, manager of Avecox, Alicante’s poultry slaughterhouse, who assures that “the meat of an abused animal has no outlet”. The same opinion as Julian Huertas, from the neighboring municipality of Almoradí and one of the main producers of goats in the Valencian Community, who combines intensive farming with extensive farming. “In a time as delicate as this, in which we are suffering the onslaught of rising energy and feed costs, the least we can ask for is a little support from our authorities, and not this kind of statement. Sometimes it seems that they feed on salads of pens and paper cutlets”, he concludes.

Reference-www.elperiodico.com

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