KEY STATS: What you need to know about Spain’s mega farms

Spain’s mega farms have been making headlines ever since the country’s Consumer Affairs Minister told The Guardian they were damaging the environment. Here’s how many large-scale livestock farms there are in Spain, where they are located and how much they pollute.

KEY STATS: What you need to know about Spain's mega farms
From 2007 to 2020, pork production increased by 36 percent in Spain. Stock photo: RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP)

At least 7,100 mega farms 

Mega farms, called macrogranjas in Spanish, isn’t an officially recognised word yet but has been coined by environmental groups to refer to intensive livestock facilities that house thousands of penned-in animals in an enclosed facility. 

In many ways they resemble a factory with an assembly line rather than a farm where livestock can roam free. 

According to Spain’s State Register of Pollutant Emissions and Sources (PRTR), there are 7,100 industrial facilities of this nature across Spain. 

A total of 53 percent of them – 3,392 – are large-scale poultry and pig facilities, with tens of thousands more small and medium farms accross the country. 

As things stand, cattle farms in Spain do not have to report emissions to the PRTR, something the Spanish government is reportedly working on changing.

There are 69,126 farms rearing calves in Spain, but only 3,730 of them have more than 100 cows. 

There isn’t an official figure to determine when a farm becomes a mega farm, but pig farms with more than 750 pigs and poultry facilities with more than 40,000 birds have to report their emissions.  

What’s the problem with mega farms? 

In an article in early January in The Guardian, Spain’s Consumer Affairs Minister Alberto Garzón said: “what isn’t at all sustainable is these so-called mega farms. They find a village in a depopulated part of Spain and put in 4,000, or 5,000 or 10,000 head of cattle”.

“They pollute the soil, they pollute the water and then they export this poor-quality meat from these ill-treated animals”.

His comments have caused an uproar from the Spanish meat industry, other politicians and from senior members of the ruling Socialists, causing divisions in Spain’s coalition government.

But was Garzón right? The minister was referring to mega farms in particular, not those with more sustainable models. 

From 2007 to 2020, pork production increased by 36 percent in Spain, which is the biggest pork products exporter in the world.

Last December, the EU took Spain to court for violating the limits for nitrate pollutants in water and soil caused by agro-livestock waste.

The recent environmental disaster in Murcia’s Mar Menor, where thousands of dead fish washed up on Spain’s southeastern coastline, is scientifically proven to have been largely caused by intensive farming and the ensuing eutrophication, an environmental hazard that causes aquatic ecosystems to collapse due to a lack of oxygen in the water.

READ MORE: Five stats to understand why Spain’s Mar Menor is full of dead fish

One of the other main impacts of large-scale intensive livestock farming is the emission of methane, a gas with a greenhouse effect potential about 20 times greater than CO2 according to the UN.

Spain’s mega farms produced 99 million kilos of methane in 2020, according to PRTR data.

Spain has also failed to comply with the EU’s emission limits of ammonia into the atmosphere from 2010 to 2019.

In theory, all farms in Spain that exceed the PRTR’s emission levels need to report this and get a specific authorization and environmental impact statement to continue operating.

But the discontent and concern among Spain’s rural communities is palpable, with many residents demanding an end to intensive pig farming and fearing the impact on groundwater and on their quality of life from untreated manure from the animals.

And for the animals themselves, mega farms mean a horrible life trapped indoors with often only one square metre per pig, unhealthy living conditions which cause disease, stress, cannibalism and pre-mature death. 

READ MORE: Spain’s countryside rises up against ‘pig factories’

Where are Spain’s mega farms? 

The three regions in Spain where the majority of ‘macro farms’ intended for the intensive rearing of poultry or pigs are Aragón (922), Catalonia (856) and Castilla y León (582), all in the northern half of the country. 

In Catalonia, 41 percent of aquifers are contaminated by animal waste and 142 municipalities suffer from water supply problems. In Aragón, the water of 18 percent of municipalities is contaminated by pig waste.

Of the 115 large dairy farms across Spain, 32 are in Catalonia, 19 in Castilla y León, 12 in Castilla-la Mancha and 11 in Navarra.

Location of large farms in the poultry and pig sector that report emissions in Spain. Source: Spanish Environment Ministry

The largest farms for rearing cows for meat production are in Castilla y León (1,268) and Extremadura (1,157).

Livestock farming is responsible for some 2.5 million jobs in the country and accounts for €9 billion ($10 billion) in annual exports, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Spanish government divided over proposed menstruation leave bill

Talk of abortion policy reform and proposed menstrual leave has dominated Spanish discourse this week, but it’s also dividing Spain’s coalition government.

Spanish government divided over proposed menstruation leave bill

Spain’s PSOE-fronted coalition government recently outlined proposals that have dominated public discourse in the country.

But the legislation, which would allow women over the age of 16 to get abortions without the permission of their parents and introduce ‘menstruation leave’ for those suffering serious period pains, has not only divided Spanish society but the government itself.

The proposals would make Spain a leader in the Western world, and the first European Union member state to introduce menstrual leave, and changes to abortion law would overturn a 2015 law passed by the conservative People’s Party that forced women aged 16 and 17 to obtain parental consent.

The wide-ranging bill would also end VAT on menstrual products, increase the free distribution of them in schools, and allow between three and five days of leave each month for women who experience particularly painful periods.

READ MORE: What are Spain’s abortion laws for foreign residents and visitors?

Menstrual leave

Ángela Rodríguez, the Secretary of State for Equality, told Spanish newspaper El Periódico in March that “it’s important to be clear about what a painful period is – we’re not talking about slight discomfort, but about serious symptoms such as diarrhoea, fever and bad headaches.”

“When there’s a problem that can’t be solved medically, we think it’s very sensible to have temporary sick leave,” she added.

Cabinet politics

The proposals are slated for approval in cabinet next week, and judging by reports in the Spanish media this week, it is far from reaching a consensus. It is believed the intra-cabinet tensions stem not from the changes to abortion and contraception accessibility, but rather the proposed menstrual leave.

The junior coalition partner in government, Podemos, largely supports the bill, but it is believed some in the PSOE ranks are more sceptical about the symbolism and employment effects of the proposed period pain policy.

Vice President and Minister of Economic Affairs, Nadia Calviño, said this week: “Let me repeat it very clearly: this government believes and is absolutely committed to gender equality and we will never adopt measures that may result in a stigmatisation of women.”

Yet Second Vice President and Minister of Labour, Yolanda Díaz, who is viewed as further to the left than President Pedro Sánchez and other PSOE cabinet ministers, is reportedly “absolutely in favour” of the measure to reform Spain’s “deeply masculinised” labour market.

Sources in the Spanish media have this week also reported that some PSOE cabinet ministers feel the proposed paid leave not only plays up to stereotypes of women, or stigmatises them, like Calviño says, but also places them at a disadvantage in the world of work.

Minister of Inclusion, Social Security and Migration, José Luis Escrivá, stated that while the government should seek to improve women’s employment protections, it should also seek to boost their participation in the labour market under “better conditions.”

In that vein, some feel menstrual leave could be used a form of of employment discrimination similarly to how pregnancy has been historically, and the policy would, in that sense, actually be more regressive than progressive in enshrining women’s workplace rights. 

READ MORE: Spain eyes free contraception for under-25’s

Trade unions

Trade unions are also sceptical of the menstrual leave legislation. Cristina Antoñanzas, deputy secretary of UGT, one of Spain’s largest trade unions, has echoed those in the cabinet who feel the proposals could “stigmatise women.” She added that “it does women a disservice.”

Public opinion

A survey run by INTIMINA found that 67 percent of Spanish women are in favour of regulating menstrual leave, but also that 75 percent fear it is “a double-edged sword” that could generate labor discrimination.

The survey also found that 88 percent of women who suffer from disabling and frequent period pain have gone to work despite it. Seventy-one percent admitted that they have normalised working with pain.

Cabinet showdown

The proposed menstrual leave policy will be debated in cabinet next week when the Council of Ministers debates and approves the broader abortion and contraception reforms. According to sources in the Spanish media, and many cabinet ministers themselves, it seems a consensus on menstruation leave is a long way off.