Overcrowding at pig farms threatens public health

Plans are under way in Megala Kalyvia, Trikala, in Thessaly, central Greece, to build a huge pig farm that some say poses serious risks to public health and the environment. Scientists, environmental groups and local residents have asserted that, for unknown reasons, Greece is embarking on a method of production that has proven in practice to create major problems. The rest of Europe is still dealing with repeated food scandals because of intensive methods of animal husbandry. Countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands, where there are very large farms, are not coping with their environmental effects. About 8,500 breeding sows are to be accommodated on an 80-hectare property. In practice, this means that about 100,000 pigs in narrow cages will be housed in the area, which includes buildings and infrastructure. Hellas Farm, a subsidiary of Creta Farm, originally applied for a license for 12,500 sows, but after long deliberation, the Trikala prefectural council approved only 1,500. However, the council has only advisory powers, and the applicants appealed to the Environment Ministry, which approved the construction of a unit to accommodate 8,500 sows. A few days ago, a group of pig breeders in Thessaly took recourse to the Council of State, asking it to rule on the compatibility of such farms with the protection of the environment. Hellas Farm issued a statement that the units would be set up using the strictest health criteria and that both the Environment and Agriculture ministries had approved the environmental studies. However, the European Union does not fund units with more than 600 sows, and nowhere in the rest of Europe is such a large farm to be found. Prominent Veterinarian Apostolos Rantsios, told Kathimerini that animal diseases are rampant in large units such as these. «When these diseases do appear, we have to slaughter a large number in order to wipe out the disease because the animals are housed so closely together. Of course, this also puts consumers’ health at risk,» he said. Then there is the problem of the pollution of the water table, which is already in trouble in Thessaly. «If something goes wrong, Thessaly’s water table will be polluted with pathogenic microbes,» added Rantsios. Even if this does not happen, overcrowding will have repercussions on the much-vaunted quality of pork. «Crowding contributes to the spread of epidemics and the loss of a large number of animals is costly, therefore the use of antibiotics is almost mandatory,» said Vangelis Stoyiannis, president of the New Ecology organization (which belongs to Friends of the Earth). The operation of the pig farm itself causes additional problems. In Denmark, for example, the largest producer of pork in the EU, and where pigs outnumber people but pig farms are generally small, there is a major waste management problem and, because of this, an effort is being made to close larger farms. «These farms produce a large amount of dioxins and the technology to deal with them costs nearly as much as the entire farm,» said Stoyiannis. «Even processed waste, as the owners themselves reported in the environmental study, will be 600 mgl – triple the amount of waste produced by a city. If there is no problem with such a large amount of pollution, one wonders why we process urban waste,» he added. In the proposed Greek farm, there will be four hectares of open waste-processing areas, where about 60-70 percent of the nitrous matter they contain will be absorbed. Another 15 hectares will be planted with poplar and eucalyptus trees as a soil filter. The poplars will take some years to absorb and process all this «fertilizer.» As for the eucalyptus, it will be difficult for them to withstand the low temperatures of Thessaly’s winters, according to New Democracy Deputy for Trikala S. Hatzigakis. But the fact is that only someone who has been in the vicinity of a pig farm knows what it means to have 19 hectares of pig-breeding waste just 1,375 meters from a residential area. But the fact is that only someone who has been in the vicinity of a pig farm knows what it means to have 19 hectares of pig-breeding waste just 1,375 meters from a residential area.

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