Francisco Casero, president of the Savia Foundation, is “tired” of going to Madrid to talk about the countryside. He shares this feeling with many authorities who from his offices try to provide solutions to the rural world. In one of them the controversy was devised around the statements of the Minister of Consumption, Alberto Garzón, in the british newspaper Guardian. He expressed how industrial intensive livestock farming, represented by macro-farms, “pollute the soil, pollute the water and then export this poor quality meat from these abused animals.” And when most of the livestock sector joined the manipulated debate of the Popular Party, Vox and some of the socialist barons, politicians visited extensive livestock farms, precisely the same ones that Garzón defends.
Why the current CAP is harming pastures, dehesa and extensive livestock
“Why is the president of the Junta de Andalucía [Juan Manuel Moreno Bonilla]in an extensive estate in Granada and defends intensive farming? It is an inconsistency,” says Casero. “The politicization of livestock is an absurd issue. Extensive ranching does not have the lobby of the intensive so we are always going to lose out”, admits Ernestine Lüdeke, president of the Monte Mediterráneo Foundation (FMM).
This foundation, created in 1994 by Hans-Gerd Neglein, has its headquarters in the municipality of Santa Olalla del Cala, in the Sierra de Huelva. There, Neglein and Lüdeke direct the Dehesa de San Francisco with the aim of conserving this natural heritage against the advance of the African desert. To do this, together with the reforestation programs, they have an ecological farm with three types of livestock: merino sheep (500 units), pronghorn and retinto cattle (30 units) and Iberian pigs (170 units).
Just over 40 kilometers away, Miguel López takes a look at his 180 pigs at the Los Barbechos farm, on the outskirts of the Huelva town of Campofrío. In its 700 hectares, 65 cows also graze. López, together with his partner, Ángeles Ruiz, are in charge of Ecoibericos, a family business that has spent several generations dedicated to the breeding of the Iberian pig. “I totally agree with the minister. [Garzón]; I don’t take away a single comma,” says López, who thinks that all the controversy is “a battle that has been waged in the political spheres, but has not reached the field.”
David against Goliath
“You cannot talk about livestock as a whole because it gives rise to confusion. In this way only intensive farming is being favored,” emphasizes Casero. Family businesses such as Lüdeke or López use traditional livestock farming methods that favor sustainable development and the conservation of the dehesa. In contrast, the intensive system is the culmination of the industrialization of a livestock farm, denounces Greenpeace. Premium production in the shortest possible time to meet the needs of the market.
Organizations such as the ecologist, Friends of the Earth or the Savia Foundation have systematically denounced the environmental problems derived from intensive livestock farming, which they describe as water pollution due to leaks of nitrates, used as fertilizers, and manure, greenhouse gas emissions. and the animal abuse that occurs in the so-called macro-farms.
In the livestock sector, extensive production is a minority while, according to López, intensive production “has much more voice and the support of many agri-food organizations.” For this reason, he asks to “clarify” the type of livestock to differentiate the one that respects animal welfare and consumer health.
As an example, compared to livestock farms “where the animals live overcrowded”, the livestock load on FMM and Euroibéricos farms is insignificant: almost 4 hectares per pig, avoiding the contamination of aquifers and protecting soil fertility.
an invisible bill
Neglein also emphasizes how intensive livestock farming exacerbates deforestation in the Amazon in favor of soybean cultivation. This German, who has settled in the Sierra de Huelva since the early 1990s and who also lived in Brazil, resigns himself to the future of an ecosystem mistreated by industry. “Neither the agricultural surface of Germany nor that of Spain can supply the meat or dairy production of their countries,” he says. And the numbers back him up: Spain imported 5.8 million tons of soybeans for livestock feed from America in 2020.
The Savia Foundation sent a letter to the Vice President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, in which he urged “cleaning up the supply chains of products that cause deforestation” since “87% of the soy imported by the European Union (EU ) is intended for feed for intensive livestock”. Casero requires in his letter, among other things, that imports of raw materials meet sustainability criteria and requirements. From Brussels the response was to commit to “significantly reduce dependence on critical raw materials for feed, such as soybeans”.
The environmental impact is, for Lüdeke, “easily calculable”, but highlights the opacity to obtain data from industrial farming. On the contrary, in the extensive, “there is no trap or cardboard.” “I demonstrate my degree of sustainability,” says the president of FMM, which asks food companies for environmental and social responsibility.
In the culture of the click, the speed and the exorbitant production at low cost, who pays Miguel López for having an acorn-fed ham in a cellar during the months of curing? When you bet on a system of maximum profitability, extensive farmers assure, cheap meats and sausages slip easily into the shopping list. According to the Savia Foundation, intensive industrialization has saturated the European livestock sector: “93.7% of pork, 94.2% of poultry meat and 80.6% of milk and products Dairy products are produced with intensive livestock systems in macro farms”.
But, “what are the hidden costs of these products? “How much does a contaminated aquifer cost?” Casero leaves in the air. The one who was the founder of the Day Labor Commissions in 1974 is upset because “we all pay the costs “. “The damages of intensive farming are socialized and the benefits of extensive farming are not remunerated.”
The price battle: less is more
The environment pays the bill for the massive industrialization of livestock farming and Lüdeke demands greater regulation of animal welfare and even the introduction of taxes and penalties. This is his formula for finding out the real cost of products from intensive industrial farms. “You have to make them pay for the damage they cause and that this does not affect the consumer’s pocket,” he says.
The FMM markets its products under its own brand and their cost is much higher than that from the intensive system. “We are never going to win the price battle,” says López. With this fact assumed, he looks for a way to educate the consumer: less quantity and more quality. “But it seems that telling people to eat less meat is inviting them not to eat.” And it is said by someone who is dedicated to the sale of hams, shoulders, loins, sausages, sausages and other pork derivatives. He only asks for “perspective” to address the debate without short-term views.
Minister Garzón was also the center of criticism from the livestock sector when last summer he encouraged the reduction of meat consumption. He resurfaced the infantilization of the political class incapable of defending a food change based on scientific studies. And again, the contrast of the Junta de Andalucía was seen, whose members shared photographs of steaks on social networks while the website of the Ministry of Health and Families recommended “reducing the consumption of red meat”. Just like Garzón did.
López values organic production as it benefits the management of the dehesa, the raising of animals and the production of its products. In that same line, Ecovalia has launched a campaign –Look for the Green Leaf– to make society aware of the importance of buying food from organic farming.
“A matter of handling buttons”
The FMM employs seven people, all from Santa Olalla del Cala, except for the manager, Juan Luis Gázquez, who ended up moving to the town. In addition, the farm has its own training center that collaborates with different European universities and is behind various social projects that favor rural development. “The macro farms do not generate a lot of work. There is no diversification of this activity,” says Lüdeke. “What examples are there of a macro-farm promoting rural tourism, for example?” asks Casero.
“The macro farms do not fix the population to the territory; perhaps they fix a family,” says López, who exemplifies that a company with 1,000 mother cows can employ two people. “It’s a matter of pushing buttons since everything is automated.” The mechanization of the systems means that the people needed to handle large numbers of animals are scarce. Lüdeke calculates that a single person can intensively control 3,000 head of cattle while the extensive ratio is two people for about 200.
Thus, the tasks derived from traditional livestock exploitation are forgotten, the visions of the future cloudy and the towns empty. In a letter addressed to Moreno Bonilla last August, Casero asked the president of the Junta de Andalucía to defend the extensive ranchers: “They are desperate and ruined, and they leave their farms depressed (without generational change) because they feel powerless in the face of the economic ordeal they have been suffering for decades”.
“Guardians of the Meadow”
Extensive livestock farming also has a public function that goes unnoticed: forest management. The management of livestock acts as a firewall and “in those places where we are, there are hardly any fires,” says the president of FMM.
“Extensive livestock farming is more important for the conservation of the dehesa than for meat production. The profitability of organic meat production is not sustained, but it must be maintained through strategic commitments such as ‘biodiversity year 2030’ and ‘ from farm to table,'” says Casero. But in many political forums, complying with the Sustainable Development Goals is nothing more than putting a badge on your lapel.
“The extensive rancher is not paid to provide oxygen!” López points out. Holm oaks abound on its land, which “clean the air, nourish the land, provide food… without trees there are no acorns, an essential fruit for quality ham”. “Extensive livestock farming defends the use of natural space and its conservation,” says Lüdeke.
Without the work of people like Hans-Gerd Neglein, Ernestine Lüdeke and Miguel López, who dignify the rural world, the dehesa would be bare in front of the fire. These ranchers emphasize that the extensive system produces “ecological and high-quality food.” Also, they say, it fixes the population through job creation and generates wealth, thanks to diversification into other sectors such as rural tourism or hospitality. Their work is not paid or recognized, while intensive industrial farming pulls the strings of the sector.