The growth of industrial animal farming in Spain is causing water pollution from nitrates to rise, the environmental group Greenpeace warned in a new report “Mega-farms, poison for rural Spain” on Thursday.
The number of farmed animals in Spain has jumped by more than a third since 2015 to around 560 million animals in 2020, the report said.
The extreme and uncontrolled expansion of industrial animal farming has had a “serious impact on water pollution from nitrates”, it said.
Pollution from nitrates has increased between 2016 and 2019 in most of Spain’s water tables, the report said, citing Spanish government figures.
And a third of the water tables had more than the amount of nitrate considered safe for drinking, according to a survey carried out by Greenpeace across Spain between April and September.
Nitrate is formed when nitrogen combines with oxygen or ozone. It is found in fertilizers used in agriculture and manure. Consuming high levels of nitrate can be dangerous to health, especially for infants and pregnant women.
Greenpeace accused the Spanish government of not doing enough to stop the rise of nitrate in water. It said that almost one-fourth of Spain’s land mass is considered as an “area vulnerable to nitrates”, but industrial animal farming, which produces nitrogen, has continued to grow.
“It is paradoxical to declare more and more areas vulnerable to nitrates”, but at the same time allow a “disproportionate rise” in the number of animals on farms, Greenpeace said.
The collapse of Spain’s Mar Menor, one of Europe’s largest saltwater lagoons, could be linked to the hundreds of intensive pig farms in the country, The Guardian reported this week.
Millions of fish and crustaceans washed up dead on the shores of the lagoon in August. Experts said that the fish suffocated due to a lack of oxygen caused by hundreds of tonnes of nitrates leaking into the waters.
“Pig farms have grown without any controls, creating a bubble driven by international markets and specifically exports to China,” Andrés Pedreño Cánovas, a sociology professor at the University of Murcia, told The Guardian. “But bubbles always burst, and this one will leave behind a devastated, polluted territory in crisis.”
The Animal Reader is an animal news organisation and posts daily articles about animals. If you can, please consider supporting our work.