The impacts of pig farming in Portugal
Between 1950 and 2000, the world population grew from 2.6 billion to 6 billion people and meat production increased from 45 billion kg/year to 233 billion kg/year. In 2050, it is estimated that the world population will rise to 9 billion people and meat production to 450 billion kg/year (SOETERS and ZWANIKKEN, 2008; BORTOLOTTI, 2014). In one day, one cow can consume up to 100 litres of water. To produce 1 kg of meat, an average of 43,000 litres of water is used (BURGIERMAN and NUNES, 2002). These figures give an idea of the impact caused by agricultural activities geared towards producing meat.
The intensification of livestock raising, and the growth in pig production, have had strong impacts on the environment, human health and animal welfare. The main impacts include: stench from hog farms; surface and ground water pollution; air pollution; the deterioration of roads; increase in risks to public health; the loss of the population’s quality of life; alterations to the image of rural places near pig farms, as they cease to attract new inhabitants and companies, which also affects property values and incentives for the diversification of the local economy (EDWARDS and LADD, 2000).
In Portugal, up until the 1950s, pigs were raised primarily for local consumption. Supplies for the market came primarily from the oak groves in the Alentejo region and, more specifically, from animals raised in outdoor pens (FERREIRA, 2012a). The outbreak of the African swine fever in 1957 gave origin to the main health concerns and prompted the development of swine science in the country, which stimulated the production of pork with lower fat content at the expense of fatty pork (FERREIRA, 2012a and b). This marked the beginning of the consolidation of the industrial fattening of pigs and the concentration of production in the regions of Montijo, Palmela, Rio Maior and Leiria, where farms specialised in factory farming – that is, raising animals indoors (BAPTISTA, 1993). Thus, pig farming in Portugal followed the international trend of reducing the number of animals and farms and concentrating production. According to the General Agricultural Census conducted in Portugal in 2009, in a 10-year period, 82,546 pig farms closed, while the number of animals dropped 505,262 (INE, 2011). With 2.5 million hogs in the country, Portugal ranked 13th in Europe and 31st in global pork production (EUROSTAT, 2011; FAOSTAT, 2011).
More recent data from 2011 indicated that there were 900,000 pigs Portugal at the time, of which 45% were in the Ribatejo and the Western region (6% of farms, which were large scale operations with a higher number of animals). The second most productive region was Beira Litoral, with many small farms (21% of pigs in 39% of the farms). Alentejo was home to 25% of pigs, which were raised on 5% of national farms (DUARTE et al., 2013).
Pig farming has become associated with heavy pollution in rivers. Because of the intensification of pig production and its concentration in certain regions, the rivers have lost their ability to regenerate themselves, and the residual waters became a serious problem that must be urgently addressed. People only became aware of the polluting of rivers by pig farms and related industrial activities and services, such as feed mills and slaughterhouses, in the 1980s, when the first academic studies on this issue were released to the public and the first popular protests were held with the support of environmental organisations. The gravest situation reported was limited to the so-called “complete cycle”, which included Montijo-Alcochete, Rio Maior-Alcobaça and the Lis River basin (FERREIRA, 2012a and b).
One of the studies on this issue was carried out by Cartaxo (1994) who, based on a comparative analysis conducted in 1985, concluded that the economic sectors that polluted the most in the country were precisely livestock raising, the agri-food and the beverage industries. In total, the waste from these sectors was the equivalent of the garbage generated by 11 million people, representing close to 46% of the total pollution load produced by all economic sectors in the country. Pig farming alone was responsible for 11% of this pollution (CARTAXO, 1994).
The pollution of the Lis River basin is the most representative and notorious case on this issue and therefore, the most emblematic one in Portugal. The Lis River basin is 40 km in length, to which one must add the river’s tributaries. It includes the municipalities of Batalha, Leiria, Marinha Grande, Ourém, Pombal and Porto de Mós, in a total of 48 parishes. Even though the practice of dumping pollution into the tributaries of the Lis River dates back to the 1960s, the pollution levels reported in the last two and a half decades is much greater than what was recorded in the previous period (FERREIRA, 2012a and b).
The 1987 State of the Environment and Land Planning Report identifies the Lis as one of the most polluted rivers in the country. There are two sampling sites in its hydrographic basin: one near the Arrabalde Bridge and the second in Monte Real. Over the past few decades, the National Information System of Water Resources has classified the quality of the water of the Lis River as poor or very poor. The water was classified as reasonable only in 2006 and 2007; in 2010 and 2011, it was once against classified as “poor quality” (FERREIRA, 2012a).
The situation was diagnosed as being so catastrophic that it became known in social media as the “Suinobyl Disaster” – an allusion to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster (FERREIRA, 2011). In response to this situation, namely the environmental impacts, local associations were created that work together with national organisations and popular movements to pressure business organisations and state institutions to find a solution to the serious problem of the pollution of the Lis River.
This issue remains unresolved even today. In early March 2017, the Recilis company, which owns 100% of Valoragudo, the company responsible for the construction of the wastewater treatment station (Estação de Tratamento de Esgotos Sanitários, ETES) in Lis, admitted that there are still problems with the treatment of the waste from pig farms, even after temporary connections to channel the waste to the domestic sewage system were made, and they will continue to exist until the ETES becomes operational. The president of the city council of Batalha reacted and defended holding the ones responsible accountable. Then, when the date for the beginning of the construction of the ETES was postponed once again, the Municipality of Leiria announced it was going to request that an “urgent” meeting of the Lis ETES monitoring committee be held (SILVA, 2017).
On May 22, 2017, the Comissão de Ambiente e Defesa da Ribeira dos Milagres (CADRM, or the Environment and Defence of the Ribeira dos Milagres Committee) held a demonstration to demand the clean-up of the Lis River after tests on the water of the river that flows through the city of Leiria revealed that the pollution was continuing to get worse (ESQUERDA.NET, 2017; LUSA, 2017; DL, 2017).
The pollution of the Maior River, in the district of Santarém, was identified as the second most serious case in the country. With an extension of 54 km, the country’s largest river converges into the same bed as the Alcobertas stream. Its headwaters are located in the Serra dos Candeeiros and it runs through the villages of Fráguas and Ribeira de Fráguas and connects to the Almoster stream (CIDADANIA RM, 2010).
The earliest protests against the pollution of the Maior River date back to 1974, in the village of Póvoas,in the parish of Fráguas. The main pig farms belonged to Suinvest, Ltda., in Quinta do Capitão; Agropecuária Valinhos in Vale da Rosa;and Agropecuária Valinhos in Casal Larojo. These farms have been the target of criticism for failing to comply with legislation, as stipulated in the Livestock Effluents Management Plan (or the Plano de Gestão de Efluentes Pecuários, PGEP, in Portuguese).
On March 7, 2017, a seminar was held in Santarém to present the intermunicipal project under the title of “Building synergies in the livestock industry”. Activists from the four municipalities along the Maior River – Rio Maior, Santarém, Cartaxo and Azambuja – participated in the seminar, where the problems of water pollution and the deterioration of the population’s quality of life caused by the animal farms were discussed (O RIBATEJO, 2017).
In April 2017, the Comunidade Intermunicipal da Região de Leiria (Intermunicipal Community of the Leiria Region) approved a motion demanding that the construction of the water treatment station commence immediately (LUSA, 2017).
Castro Verde (Beja) is another important case. There, the attempt to set up pig farms was met with strong resistance from the local population, which organised a petition in 2008 to stop the company from obtaining the permit to operate in this area of production. Other exemplary cases on this issue are the ones of Póvoas and Rio Maior (Santarém), where the pollution caused by pig farming not only sparked popular protest, but also made it on the agenda of debate in the Assembly of the Republic (MOVIMENTO CÍVICO AR PURO, 2012a, 2012b). There is also the case of Torres Vedras, where the local population has been filing complaints on the stench from pig farming since 1998. In this case, the Environment Ministry and the local administration were even condemned in 2009 and forced to resolve the problem. However, nothing has been done about it until now (OD, 2014).
In January 2016, the government affirmed that Portugal’s actions to put an end to pollution from the agriculture and livestock industry still fall short of its needs and that the revision of the National Strategy for Agricultural and Agro-industrial Waste (ENEAPAI, for its acronym in Portuguese) is urgent.
In March 2017, the government created an inter-ministerial working group whose objective is to elaborate by June a plan of action on the problem of agricultural and agro-industrial waste in Portuguese rivers (DIÁRIO DE LEIRIA, 2016).
BAPTISTA, Fernando, O. A política agrária do Estado Novo. Porto: Edições Afrontamento, 1993.
BORTOLOTTI, Plínio. O que polui mais: um carro ou uma vaca? O Povo, Colunas, Menu Político, 31 de ago. de 2014.
CARTAXO, Leonor. Inspeção do ambiente: poluição–casos práticos. Seminário: SIDDAMB, Universidade de Alicante, 6-10 jul. 1994.
CIDADANIA RM. O Rio Maior. Blog Cidadania RM, 5 jan. 2010.
DIÁRIO DE LEIRIA. Governo quer revisão urgente da estratégia contra a poluição pecuária, 24 mar. 2016.
DUARTE, E. D.; FRAGOSO, R.; CARVALHO, A. R. BATFARM. Project: moving farms towards a cleaner rural environment. Seminário: A Suinicultura e o Ambiente, 19 nov. 2013.
EDWARDS, Bob; LADD, Anthony. Environmental justice swine production and farm loss in north Caroline. Sociological, n. 20, p. 263-2000, 2000.
EUROSTAT. Pig farming statistics, Comissão Europeia, 2011.
FAOSTAT. Live animals: pig. Food and Agriculture Organization-FAO for the United Nations, 2011.
FERREIRA, José, G. Saneamento básico: fatores sociais no insucesso de uma política adiada, o caso de Lis. Tese de doutoramento em Sociologia no Instituto de Ciências Sociais da Universidade de Lisboa, 2012a.
FERREIRA, José, G. Façam o milagre! Poluição, media e protesto ambiental na bacia do Lis.VII Congresso Português de Sociologia. Universidade do Porto: Faculdade de Psicologia e Ciências da Educação, Porto, 19-22 jun. 2012b.
FERREIRA, José Gomes. Milagres, suinicultura e poluição hídrica na agenda dos media. VII Congresso Ibérico sobre Gestión y Planificación Del Agua Rios Ibéricos + 10. Mirando al futuro trás 10 años de DMA, Talavera de la Reina, 16-19 fev. 2011.
INE. Recenseamento geral da agricultura em 2009. Lisboa: Instituto Nacional de Estatística, 2011.
MOVIMENTO CÍVICO AR PURO. Moradores de Póvoas protestam contra poluição suinícola. Blog MC Ar Puro, 11 mai. 2012a.
MOVIMENTO CÍVICO AR PURO. Poluição suinícola em Póvoas chega ao Parlamento. Blog MC Ar Puro, 18 mai. 2012b.
SOETERS, Karen; ZWANIKKEN, Gertjan. Meat the truth. Documentário, 2008.
June 30, 2017.
The intensification of agriculture and livestock raising, including pig farming, is causing serious harm to the environment, human health and animal welfare. Due to the intensification of this industry and its concentration in certain regions, rivers have lost their capacity to regenerate. The hazards to human health generated by the heavy pollution from the dumping of the waste from pig farms into the rivers began to be felt in Portugal in the 1970s. Pollution from pig farming affects primarily two regions located along the Montijo-Alcochete and Rio Maior-Alcobaça axes; in the latter, it is particularly concentrated in the Lis River basin. Numerous local groups and environmental organisations have since been created and are mobilising against pig farming.