Campaigners warn against rise of the 'mega-farms': Could massive pig, fish and dairy units harm the environment?

Paul Mobbs mobbsey at
Mon May 13 16:10:32 BST 2013

Campaigners warn against rise of the 'mega-farms': Could massive pig,
fish and dairy units harm the environment? 

Cahal Milmo and Tom Levitt, The Independent, Sunday 12th May 2013

Farming in the British Isles is on the verge of a dramatic step towards
industrialisation with the establishment of "mega-farms" for salmon,
pigs and cows, which opponents claim put the environment and human
health at risk. The Government signalled its backing yesterday for
large-scale farms ahead of an announcement this week of a timetable for
plans for a 25,000-capacity pig farm in Derbyshire. A decision on a
planned 1,000-cow dairy unit in Wales is also imminent.

Pressure to meet growing demand for protein by radically increasing the
size of farms has also spread to Ireland, where the authorities are
backing plans to build one of the biggest salmon farms in the world in
Galway Bay, doubling Irish salmon production at a stroke.

Farmers and officials insist the introduction of modern facilities
offers a solution to Britain's voracious appetite for cheap meat by
increasing production while maintaining or improving animal welfare
standards and without affecting the environment.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
said: "Increasing the efficiency of food production will help us meet
rising demand for food. This can be done on any scale and in ways that
actually deliver environmental benefits. Large-scale farms are required
to meet the same environmental and animal welfare standards as all UK

But campaigners claim approval of the schemes would cause a rush towards
factory farms across the country, imperilling countryside and coastline
in a dash for cheaper food. Lord Melchett, the Soil Association's
director of policy, said: "The solution is not to create huge-scale
intensive operations that threaten our landscape, farming and rural
communities. Large-scale industrial farms may be able to produce food a
little more cheaply in the short term, mostly through reducing the
number and cost of people employed. But we will end up paying a high
price for what may be marginally cheaper food."

In the Derbyshire village of Foston, opponents claim plans for a vast
indoor pig farm represent a dramatic leap towards techniques already
employed in other parts of Europe and the US, where 100,000-capacity pig
farms are common. A petition against the farm has collected more than
25,000 signatures including the actors Sir Roger Moore and Dominic West
as well as the TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Sir Roger has
described large-scale farms as "concentration camps for animals".
Opponents claim such farms will create enormous animal welfare problems
where disease could spread quickly and the environment will struggle to
cope with the slurry.

Midland Pig Producers, the company behind the Foston proposal, says it
has worked exhaustively to ensure it meets all the concerns with
state-of-the-art air scrubbing equipment to remove odour and an
anaerobic digester to turn slurry into methane to power the farm. It
claims it will also pioneer improved welfare conditions by using new
"freedom farrowing crates" allowing sows and piglets greater movement.
"We believe farms in the UK will have to get more efficient if the
consumer's demand for British meat at a reasonable price is to be met,"
the firm says.

The National Pig Association denies Foston represents the
industrialisation of pig farming. It will, they argue, offer the chance
of increasing UK pork production as well as establishing higher welfare
standards than European or US competitors. "Big does not necessarily
mean bad in pig farming. Foston will apply technology and techniques
that ensure better animal welfare and environmental standards," a
spokesman said.

In Wales, the Government is expected to receive an inspectors' report at
the end of May on whether a Powys dairy farmer can proceed with plans to
build a 1,000-cow unit. Fraser Jones wants to triple the capacity of his
farm near Welshpool. His opponents insist the scheme's approval will
open the way for similar farms across the UK. Carol Lever of the World
Society for the Protection of Animals said: "The importance of this
decision should not be underestimated. If we allow this industrial dairy
to go ahead, it could potentially change farming and the countryside for
ever." Mr Jones defends the plan, saying: "We have gone to great lengths
to address people's concerns. The cows, which would be inside for 250
days a year, would be continually monitored and the dairy would promote
good animal welfare."

Similar arguments are being rehearsed about plans for offshore
mega-farms. Environmentalists warn that BIM's proposals to build a fish
farm off Ireland's Aran islands, capable of producing six million
organic fish a year, risks playing havoc with the ecosystem by
introducing a "huge quantity of biomass" into Atlantic waters. If
approved, the scheme will be five times larger than any existing salmon
farm off the British Isles.

Campaigners fear it will devastate wild salmon and trout stocks by
introducing parasites and polluting waters with waste from the fish. Ken
Whelan, professor of biology and environment at University College
Dublin, described it as a "giant experiment". "The concern is it is
moving very fast from a greenfield site to something bigger than
Ireland's current national production. If people are truly interested in
being sustainable, you have do it on a staged basis to be certain of the
impacts." BIM did not respond to requests for comment. Previously, it
said its proposals amounted to safe, efficient and sustainable fish

Scottish producers insisted yesterday there are no plans for similar
deepwater offshore farms in Britain but The Independent on Sunday
understands that at least one major international aquaculture company is
undertaking site feasibility studies in Scotland. An industry source
said: "There is a strong desire to explore the feasibility of offshore
farms where scales of production could be increased. The Irish situation
is being watched closely."

Too close for comfort

Residents in Foston, Derbyshire, fear their health will be at risk if
plans by Midland Pig Producers (MPP) are approved. The "mega-farm" will
exacerbate conditions for those who live in Foston, who say it is
already home to a women's prison, a Traveller site and an intensive
poultry farm.

Sue Weston, 48, and her husband Steve, 50, believe their house, valued
at nearly £500,000 six years ago and which overlooks the 70-acre MPP
site, may now be impossible to sell. "It's going to be practically in
our living room. We had the estate agent back and asked him what would
happen if it's built. He said: 'You might not get £200,000 for it. I
dare say you will never sell it.'"

Their son Tom, 19, had open-heart surgery two years ago. Mrs Weston
believes the farm will be a threat to his life. "I don't feel that I can
live here and put Tom's health at risk. Infections could be fatal to

Audrey Connors and Michael Connors put their house up for sale, but did
not get any viewings. Mrs Connors said: "We just gave up. Who wants to
buy a house with that monstrosity in front of it?"


"We are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government,
nor are we for this party nor against the other but we are
for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom,
that these may be exalted in our nation, and that goodness,
righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity with
God, and with one another, that these things may abound."
(Edward Burrough, 1659 - from 'Quaker Faith and Practice')

Paul Mobbs, Mobbs' Environmental Investigations
3 Grosvenor Road, Banbury OX16 5HN, England
tel./fax (+44/0)1295 261864
email - mobbsey at
website -
public key -

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