NEWS

Loopholes in new livestock law

A bill recently submitted by the Agricultural Development and Food Ministry will legalize unauthorized installations for livestock breeding units built before March 20, 2003, exempting them from demolition and fines as long as they have environmental approval. This move solves a chronic problem, but it also offers loopholes to land-grabbers and to those working in the land-use arena. The provision is aimed at resolving the problems encountered by livestock breeders, particularly goat breeders, who have set up their units in areas where they cannot acquire building permits. Ministry officials say many of these structures were built without a license, precluding their owners from applying to have their electricity turned on or otherwise upgraded. In other words, they cannot have the refrigerators and other equipment necessary for a modern livestock farm. Access to utilities Although the provision refers to all livestock units, it mostly applies to goat breeders, since 90 percent of them do not have a building permit and therefore access to utilities. Nor can they apply to European Union programs for funds to upgrade their facilities. According to one ministry official, given the shortage of livestock products, the breeders should be given every encouragement to upgrade. So if the provision is ratified it will allow thousands of livestock breeders to legalize their facilities – that is, avoid demolition – without having paid for a building permit. However, the ministry notes that the owners will have to prove the installations are worth legalizing. They must fulfill environmental conditions and acquire a founding license. Environmental approval is granted by the prefecture or region, while the license to set up and operate a livestock business is granted by a six-member committee comprising a number of services. So, for livestock breeders to benefit from the new amendment, their installations must fulfill certain conditions or else be renovated in order to do so. «Essentially, only those who are able to set up a unit from scratch on the same site will be granted a permit,» said a ministry official. No approval will be given to installations near urban areas, since the law forbids it, particularly within the prefecture of Attica. The cutoff date of March 20, 2003 is not intended to target particular breeders but was the date the Joint Ministerial Decrees were signed determining the way the Environment Ministry is to approve environmental conditions. Second-class citizens Yet the change comes with its own problems. It seeks to provide legal status after the event. This automatically separates people into two categories: Those who obey the law and sometimes suffer for it, and those who break it and, after the law’s re-evaluation, come out better off. In addition, the provision in question simply absolves the livestock breeders of having to apply for a building permit and paying a fine, but leaves a number of loopholes. According to Law 1650/86 and subsequent amendments to it, human activities are divided into three categories, according to their effect on the environment. Conditions for environmental approval depend on the category. Livestock breeding units with fewer than 150 goats, 750 chickens or five sows automatically go in Category 3, requiring simply the submission of documents indicating that environmental conditions are satisfied. These conditions are verified by the local mayor, and only when he or she raises objections are the applications referred to the prefect. So perhaps it is not very difficult for someone to legalize an installation when the matter can be settled within the local community. The prefectural departments of agriculture or agricultural development, which also belong to the prefecture, have this data at their disposal in order to allocate subsidies, but as they themselves admit, they only verify the number of animals, not their state of health or the conditions they are kept in. «If, for example, a well has been drilled illegally on the site, that will also be legalized under this provision,» an official said. Given these proceedings, one wonders what checks there will be if the approval is given for a stable or for something else, or above all, whether the stable will not eventually be turned into something else. Another problem, given the shortage of meat and livestock products in general in Greece, is the fact that a large number of livestock breeders are not in a position to modernize their folds and other installations. In a country where land use is not specified – where there are no specific livestock zones, where the definition of a forest and its differentiation from grazing land and ownership remains a mystery and changes at will, where there is no national land register – things are very hard. The question of where it is possible to set up a livestock breeding unit is a difficult one to answer, but according to some sources, the implementation of this specific provision could create more problems than it solves.