Recent complaints against pig farming have highlighted once again the sluggish enforcement of laws.
Concerned Orounda residents on Monday demanded an investigation into what they claim is the operation of two illegal pig farms in the area whose managers, they say, keep breaking the law and are polluting air and water, endangering people’s health.
The group called for the implementation of the legislation regarding pig sewage and asked the agriculture ministry to take measures to close down the farms, saying their patience has run out.
“In the past there were 30 to 40 pig farms in the area, and at the time the agriculture ministry applied a lot of pressure to build proper sewage systems on the farms, and gradually the farms stopped operating,” spokesman for the group, Yiannakis Charalambous said.
He explained that in the absence of proper treatment of pig sewage, dangerous pollutants are released into the water and air such as nitrates and methane.
This has become a problem once again when two farms were rented out in the past couple of years, and the managers, according to the protesters, don’t keep to any of the relevant laws.
“They have dumped all their sewage in ponds, and pollute the underground water,” Charalambous said. “The farms are not even built in the proper zones. They also do a lot of other things which are completely illegal. One of them is very provocative. He trespasses and says he can do whatever he likes. The question is why can they operate now and why were the owners not allowed to get away with this in the past and these people are?”
The pig farmers association says the subject needs to be seen from both sides, the farmers and the residents. Farms in the area did close down, he added, but not because there were problems with adhering to the law and they were forced to, but because the farmers were simply getting old.
“I heard it is one couple who are complaining,” Kyriakos Charalambous, consultant of the association, said. “It is a matter of building plots in the area. The people living there have known for 40 or 50 years that there are farms in the area.”
Life has changed in the past 40 to 50 years though and not all farms closed down because of the advanced age of the owners it seems.
Most pig farms are on the outskirts of Nicosia and have effectively become enclaves, surrounded by residential areas and other agricultural and farming zones, Petros Mavrommatis, head of the livestock department at the agriculture ministry said, adding that many had to close down when planning permission licences were introduced in 1990.
This much is clear, but now the story becomes murkier.
The farmers reportedly applied for a sewage licence six months ago, but according to Charalambous authorities are slow to respond. “There are several departments involved,” he explained, “it may take two or three years to get a licence because of bureaucracy.”
Until the issue with the licence is solved, he said, the farmers cannot be taken to court.
That bureaucracy is at fault became obvious when this newspaper tried to find out how the licensing works. Do farmers get a licence which they have to renew? If yes, how often does it have to be renewed?
The veterinary services commented by saying they only do checks having to do with the wellbeing of the animals, and have nothing to do with sewage. Officials at the agriculture department gave me numbers of the environment department, and a spokesman for this department said he was not sure if it was the agriculture or environment department which was responsible. According to officials from both departments, they needed permission to reply, but though I sent the necessary emails to their directors, there was no reply.
Phone calls to the persons I was asked to contact were not answered.
As the official replies were not forthcoming, I asked a farmer what is actually happening.
Christakis Neophytou, who owns one of the biggest pig farms on the island, said his farm is inspected every 15 days by the government. He has no problems with this, as his farm converts all waste into biogas, creating electricity for both his farm and the electricity authority.
Asked if he needs to periodically renew his licence, he says there is no such thing. It is a question of the government withdrawing a licence for not operating in the correct way which cannot happen in his case as everything his farm does is legal, transparent – and expensive.
“It cost half a million originally to set it up and the special machinery is expensive to run,” he said. This is, he added, why it may well be that the farmers in Orounda do not have a licence and operate illegally. These farmers may know that there is a huge delay in obtaining the permit which leaves them years to rent the places and farm in any way they want – at a low cost.
The cost of pig farming has spiralled after EU legislation introduced in 2013 and this is another factor which in recent years has driven farmers to abandon their profession or try to find ways to get around the laws.
As of January 1, 2013, pregnant sows were not allowed to be kept in individual gestation stalls, as was standard practice until then. They now have to be kept in group pens, allowing them to freely move around during their pregnancy. Until then, farmers were using ‘sow’ stalls in intensive pig farming to help with often fraught feeding times and deal with aggression such as ear-biting. But animal welfare campaigners argued sows suffered psychologically from being separated from other animals and were hit by ailments such as lameness. The stalls were so narrow and constricting that sows could only stand up to eat and then lie back down.
While animal welfare groups across Europe welcomed the move, many members at the time predicted that the cost of applying the ban will force more breeders out of the sector.
In Cyprus, the government has recently claimed that the local pig industry is still strong. The 65 swine farms operating in Cyprus are able to cover over 90 per cent of Cyprus’ needs in pork meat, said agriculture minister Costas Kadis in April, citing agriculture ministry data.
Yet, the number of farms is down from 2012, where reportedly 91 farms were inspected by the government, while demand for pork is growing.
In 2016, over 257 million pigs were slaughtered in the European Union. This was two million more than in 2015 and 5.2 million more than 10 years ago.
In 2016, the production of pork in the EU amounted to 23.4 million tonnes. This translated to 45.9 kg per each EU inhabitant and was one and a half kilogramme per person more than in 2006.