Macro-farming in Spain by Gerrit Joel Grossjohann

Macro-farms are the ultimate exponent of industrial livestock farming. They are highly mechanised facilities with a large production capacity in a small space for the number of animals they house. It is  landless livestock farming, highly dependent on external inputs (water and feed) and generates a lot of emissions and waste. In these industrial facilities, the animals do not go out into the fields, and spend their lives cooped up and overcrowded. They are factories of meat, milk and eggs, but also of climate change, pollution and suffering. The aim of the macro-farms is clear: to obtain the highest production of meat, milk and eggs at the lowest possible cost and in the shortest possible time. To achieve this, they cram a huge number of animals into a small space, feed them largely on products from abroad – in many cases associated with deforestation and GMOs – and use all kinds of questionable techniques to maximise profits.

The main problems:

Water pollution by nitrates. 22% of our surface water and 23% of our groundwater are polluted by nitrates, mainly from industrial agriculture and livestock farming. By generating a huge amount of excrement, large-scale farms turn the agricultural fields in their vicinity into dumps for this waste. Animal excrement can be an excellent fertiliser for crops, but in large quantities with potential antibiotic and medicinal residues it becomes a dangerous poison.

Climate change.

 The agricultural sector was the only sector that increased its greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 .This was largely due to emissions from livestock, with methane emissions – the second most emitted greenhouse gas in Spain – being a clear demonstration of the contribution of livestock to the climate crisis: the agricultural sector is responsible for 63% of total methane emissions and livestock for 98% of these. Air pollution. Industrial livestock is responsible for 94% of reported ammonia emissions in 2020, 69% for pigs and 25% for poultry. Curiously and inexplicably, cattle are exempt from reporting their emissions.

Animal suffering. 

Animals on large-scale farms are confined and permanently fed indoors under strictly human-controlled conditions in order to fatten them as quickly as possible or, for example, in the case of some farms, although they can go outside, they do not have access to pasture or sufficient space to express species-specific behaviours. 

Effects on human health.

In addition to the negative consequences of overeating meat, macro-farms pose other dangers to our health due to the practices employed. The abusive use of antibiotics in animals contributes significantly to the development of resistance to these drugs in humans, and Spain is the country in Europe that uses the most antibiotics in livestock farming. The high ammonia emissions from these facilities (in addition to the nitrates in the water) also pose a serious danger to the population.

Loss of biodiversity. 

80% of the world’s agricultural land is already used to produce food for animals and not for people (in Spain the figure is 66%). The production of animal feed for industrial livestock requires large expanses of land, and the agricultural demand for animal feed production fields is causing deforesting of  the most precious forests on the planet, such as the Amazon. In addition, the water pollution resulting from this model is destroying unique ecosystems, an issue for which Spain has been sanctioned by the European Commission on several occasions.


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