Many longtime German residents complain that the rapid growth of huge industrial pig breeding farms has — along with the tourism trade — destroyed the rural charms of northern Germany. Other area residents insist factory farming may be the region’s only remaining opportunity to create additional jobs.
Writing for Spiegel Online, Markus Deggerich claims Europe’s largest pig-breeding farm is currently being built near Wietzow, between the German villages of Alt Tellin and Neu Plötz. When the farm goes into operation, about 10,000 breeding sows will be housed in crowded conditions, producing at least 250,000 piglets a year and tons of foul smelling slurry.
Deggerich claims there are large industrial pig farms from the Netherlands all the way across Germany, along with citizens’ initiatives that have mobilized against them, including the large-scale use of antibiotics on factory farms, from Stocksee on the northern Holstein region to Bad Dürrheim in the Black Forest.
Deggerich notes Adriaan Straathof, one of Europe’s biggest pig breeders, began factory farming in his native Netherlands, but because of massive protests he expanded to the northeastern German state of Saxony-Anwalt, until opposition also grew there. Now he has moved to the far northeastern corner of Germany, “where tourism has long outpaced agriculture as a generator of jobs.”
The disputes between supporters and opponents in the area centers on which is more economically sound: the tourism trade or large scale pig farming. The conflict involves structural change in rural communities by powerful businessmen armed with millions in subsidized investments and political support.
According to Deggerich, those who oppose the pig farm are mainly newcomers from Western Germany who arrived after 1989 with money to settle in the depopulated region. Now they are at odds with the long-time residents, who see the pig-breeding operation as possibly their last chance to find a job.
Five hundred scientists recently submitted a petition against factory farms to the German federal government, and a mass demonstration was scheduled at the International Green Week, the world’s largest agricultural fair in Berlin.
Frank Karstädt, the mayor of Alt Tellinand and owner of the Storchenbar Bar, believes that the area cannot survive on tourism alone. He hopes that the pig-breeding operation will generate tax revenue and more jobs. “There have always been pigs in the area,” he says, adding that, with an unemployment rate of 17 percent in the region, every job counts.
But when a survey list was posted at the Storchenbar Bar, 60 percent of village respondents indicated opposition to the pig operation. However, supporters outnumbered the opposition on the town council, with five members voting for the pig farm facility and four against it.
The Storchenbar Bar was recently the target of an attack when unknown perpetrators smashed some of the windows. One farm building has also been burned down, and a local resident who previously voted against the pig factory on the town council received a nighttime visit from two young men who smashed his garden gate and threatened him.
“What’s Happening Is A Catastrophe”
According to Helmut Klüter, a geography professor at the University of Greifswald, sustainable tourism could support a lot more people in the rural area of northern Germany, but only with the kind of “traditional pig farming that would fit into the idyllic rural settings depicted in tourism brochures.”
What is happening in the northeast, says Klüter, “has to be called a catastrophe.” In an area where lakes, forests and fields ought to be attracting vacationers, “dead zones” are being created, Klüter says. Factory farms, he adds, destroy the balance among humans, animals and the plant world.
Deggerich points out that despite Europe’s pork market being saturated, this development continues. Small farms are disappearing, and are being replaced by huge factory farm operations. Deggerich writes that in the last 10 years, more than half, 81,000 small pig farmers in Germany have gone out of business. The trend is moving toward fewer and larger feed lots, and Adriaan Straathof was one of the first to recognize the trend.