There are now enough pigs in Spain that technically everyone could have one, and there’d be pigs to spare. Spanish environmental ministry figures reveal that the country now has 50 million oinking piggies, which is about 3.5 million more than the number of humans. That’s the first recorded time the nation has had more pigs than people.
Spain’s hog explosion has been driven by annual demand for millions of tons of pork products like its famously delicious jamón ibérico, the most expensive varieties of which can go for hundreds of dollars a pound. And it’s been pretty bad for the environment and caused a number of food safety scandals, according to the Guardian:
The soaring pig population is a key factor in making livestock the fourth-largest generator of greenhouse gas emissions after transport, electricity generation and industry.
Pig farming also consumes vast quantities of water in a country frequently affected by drought. With each pig consuming 15 litres a day, altogether the industry uses more water than the cities of Zaragoza, Seville and Alicante combined. Nitrates from the animals’ waste products are also beginning to contaminate groundwater, environmentalists say.
Pork production has also been hit by a series of food safety scandals. This year a police investigation was triggered when a customer returned a worm-riddled ham to a branch of the French supermarket chain Carrefour. Police uncovered a network of unscrupulous suppliers and more than 50 tonnes of ham that was destined for the incinerator but instead has been relabelled with new sell-by dates.
Ham production in Spain has long had an association with animal welfare —as the Atlantic noted in 2011, scientific research has shown stressed livestock experience muscle glycogen breakdown and their meat is often full of stress hormones. Jamón production also relies on a complicated ecological balancing act on the part of Spanish farmers.
However, as the Guardian wrote, there’s been a recorded increase of nine million hogs since 2013, demand habitually exceeds supply, and the Spanish pork sector has become much more industrialized. (Globally, meat production and factory farms in particular are huge sources of pollutants and greenhouse gas, though cattle is by far the worst variety of livestock for the environment.)
Spain, though, is second fiddle to Denmark, which earlier this year was reported by European statistical agency Eurostat to have 215 pigs for every 100 residents.