The figures show an increase of about 9 million animals since 2013 and there are growing concerns about the environmental impact of an industry that produced more than 4m tonnes of pork products and generated €6bn ($6.86bn) last year.
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 ground water, 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.
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