A group of ranchers has assaulted this Monday the City Hall of Lorca (96,000 inhabitants, Murcia) and has prevented the holding of the municipal plenary session, in which a modification of the General Urban Planning Plan (PGOU) was expected to be approved to move away from the urban area the new pig farms, one of the main economic sources of the municipality.
Some 30 farmers have overcome the municipal police barrier set up in front of the Local Development Center of the Murcian town and have violently broken into the facilities. The mayor of the city, Diego José Mateos (PSOE), has described the events as an “attack against democracy that is reminiscent of the assault on the Capitol [de Estados Unidos] from January”. The eviction of the hotheads has occurred about three hours after they entered by force.
The events occurred when a small group of farmers broke away from a demonstration called by the Lorca Pig Health Defense Association (Adespolorca), which brings together some 800 farmers. Its spokesman, Francisco Román, explained this afternoon in a telephone conversation with EL PAÍS that the protest was organized due to the impossibility of reaching an agreement with the mayor, the socialist Diego José Mateos, to delay the debate on the controversial motion.
What was the new rule, and why are farmers opposed to it?
Back in July 2020 all municipal groups, without exception, declared themselves in favour of the General Urban Development Plan to extend the distances of large intensive farms from towns, schools, health centres, watercourses and natural springs. This General Plan has spent more than a year being tweaked and altered before it was due to be ratified this morning.
“During this time, the state and regional governments have approved sectoral regulations on the environment and animal welfare that we are obliged to include in the text”, explained Gloria Martín, Councillor for the Green Party Izquierda Unida-Verdes. “The large pig industry in Campo de Cartagena and its deposits of slurry – a mixture of faeces, urine and food waste – which allegedly do not comply with the regulations and pollute the groundwater, has been decisive for the European Commission to warn in 2018 of the impact that nitrates were having on the extreme pollution of the Mar Menor”.
An ongoing court case to prosecute those responsible for polluting the Murcia lagoon will now focus on a group of 40 farmers who were watering their crops illegally and irresponsibly. While it can generally be accepted that restrictions on the ability of industrial farms to pollute the Mar Menor further are a good thing, the points of controversy as pig farmers see it concern the distances that the new rule will require pig farms to be built from municipal structures.
As the draft law states: “The new pig farms may not be installed within 1,500 metres of the urban land of the nucleus of Lorca, the nuclei of districts, schools, health centres and medical offices; less than 500 metres from catalogued springs or natural sources; less than 100 metres from ramblas or streams included in the Inventory of streams in the Region of Murcia”.
These distances restrict the number of new pig farms that can be built and where they can be placed, limiting the expansion of the industrial agriculture sector in Lorca.
Lorca accounts for 50% of all pig production in the Region of Murcia, which has increased by 17.7% since 2015, encouraged by the swine flu crisis in China. The existing pig farms and farmers will not be affected by the new regulations, which only apply to new farms. The area’s one thousand farms already house more than a million pigs, which have a devastating effect on the local environment by using huge amounts of precious water from desalination plants and pumping water contaminated with slurry back into rivers and waterways.
The farmers have been criticised for using extreme violence against the police inside the Development Centre when voicing their opposition to this new law: “Look how they grab the policeman with the grey hair in the assault on Lorca Town Hall”, said one commentator on Twitter, before asking, “Is nothing going to happen to them?”.