Yes, factory farming does indeed exist to a certain extent even on the picturesque island of Menorca. Although its produce might be seen as more ‘ethically’ sourced; produced and elaborated locally, the artisan procedure doesn’t mean the system is any different from any other form of farming. It’s still animal exploitation.
While sitting in my garden a beautiful brown cow with plastic number tags on either ear popped it’s head over the wall. It was one of the beef cows that roam and graze on the land surrounding our house. These cows are one of the ‘lucky’ ones I thought. This got me thinking as to whether factory farming actually existed in Menorca?
Images of happy cows grazing in the beautiful serene Menorquin countryside convey such an idyllic life or.. is it all just an illusion?
The consumption of meat, fish and dairy and the use of animal based ingredients for most traditional dishes, pastries and cakes, savory and sweet is embedded in the food culture of Menorca.
Surprisingly the locally produced fruit and vegetables haven’t been marketed so passionately but locally produced beer, flour, oil, honey, wine and shoes all proudly claim the ‘Made in Menorca’ tag putting them at the high end of the ‘ethical’ artisan market.
The locally produced cheese, being the number one seller, is certified as a Protected Designation of Origin. A huge marketing scheme has been underway for many years offering appealing products to the ‘ethical’ and wealthy tourist. Tourism is big business especially when it comes to locally produced products.
With artisan food being a huge niche market, sadly, locally produced meat and cheese has been marketed intensively throughout the Balearic Islands.
Apart from the Balearic government promoting Menorca as a holiday hotspot it has been promoting its traditional legacy of artisan meat and dairy products, along with its love for seafood and the renowned caldereta dish, for decades now. 99% of restaurant menus revolve around the traditional meat, fish and dairy based diet. Due to tourist demand since the 70’s Menorcas gastronomic/ artisan food products have grown in popularity with farmhouses opening up all over the island to sell directly to the public.
But not only can you buy the produce directly from the farmers themselves, you can witness the ‘authenticity’ of the cheese making process, largely unchanged since centuries past and preserving methods passed down generation to generation. Popular with tourists, there are many organized trails offering cheese routes where you can sample the dairy farms ‘cheese handmade by natural processes’.
The dairy industry in Menorca is in fact quite a large scale operation. Over the years dairy farms have centralised their businesses providing milk to bigger companies which then make cheese to export and sell all over the world.
According to the menorca preservation fund most of the food consumed by the locals is imported while 42% (mostly dairy products) of the total food produced on the island is in fact exported.
“Menorca has strong ties with the cattle industry so beef and dairy farms occupy most of Menorca’s farming land, leaving only roughly 5% for the production of fruit and vegetables”.
Intensive dairy farming in Menorca is encouraged by the Balearic Government as it continues to provide incentives to the islanders dairy farmers to increase their herd. However, according to the local ecological group GOB, less cows are needed as the waste matter produced is not being sufficiently absorbed and concerns have been raised about the protection of the ‘Migjorn’ water source. The environmental consequences are a sure sign that unsustainable farming systems exist.
Evidence of pig and chicken factory farming is also apparent on the island. You only have to walk along the cami de cavalls near Ferreries to hear and smell the pigs cooped up in a large industrial shed. As we drive along the picturesque country roads surrounded by flowing green fields with milking cows grazing along the horizon, we sense a moment of nostalgia to the times when we drank fresh milk and ate cheese that isn’t industrialised and bought from the supermarket. We miss the authenticity of our food.
But does this mean that the fact that the milking cows can graze on real grass for a certain amount of hours a day aren’t part of a system or a factory of farming? Even though they are still forcibly impregnated continuously throughout their short lives to have their babies systematically taken away from them as soon as the baby is born so we can extract their milk? Or that they are still hooked up to milking machines hour after hour every day and then slaughtered after 5 or 6 years when they could actually live up to 20 years old. These techniques are all the same, in small scale factory farming as in intensive industrialised farming.
It seems that Menorca is the perfect place to promote environmentally, socially and economically productive agricultural systems based on the production of local, traditional produce. The relationship between the production of local produce from pigs, cows, sheeps and chickens and the consumer is inherently installed. With signs of growth in the organic market and the new regenerative method of farming around the world it looks like the island of Menorca will continue to promote ‘environmentally friendly’, ‘sustainable’, ‘healthy’ animal based produce for many years to come.