UK has more than 1,000 livestock mega-farms, investigation reveals

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There are much than 1,000 US-style mega-farms successful England, Wales and Northern Ireland, including immoderate holding arsenic galore arsenic a cardinal animals, according to a caller investigation.

In the US, mega-farms are defined arsenic those that clasp much than 125,000 birds reared for meat, oregon 82,000 egg-laying hens, 2,500 pigs, 700 dairy cows oregon 1,000 beef cattle. These are labelled by US officials arsenic a concentrated carnal feedlot strategy (CAFO).

By 2021, the fig of farms successful the UK that met the US explanation of a CAFO, oregon mega-farm, was 1,099, according to research.

This fig is known to beryllium an underestimate owing to the omission of Scottish data, which was unavailable due to the fact that of a cyber-attack successful 2020.

Quick Guide



What is simply a mega-farm?

There is nary ineligible explanation successful the UK of a mega-farm. The Environment Agency, and its determination counterparts, classify livestock farms arsenic "intensive" if they person clasp astatine slightest 40,000 poultry oregon 2,000 pigs oregon 750 breeding sows. In the US, larger concentrated carnal feeding operations (CAFOs) are defined arsenic those lodging 125,000 broiler chickens, 82,000 laying hens, 2,500 pigs oregon 700 dairy oregon 1,000 beef cattle. There are present 1,099 mega-farms of this size successful the UK.

Why are they controversial?

Mega-farms and intensive farms are arguable due to the fact that they necessitate keeping tens of thousands of animals successful a tiny space, which campaigners and autarkic experts accidental tin hamper their quality to explicit earthy behaviours, specified arsenic moving people and nesting. The animals are often kept indoors passim their lives, though connected immoderate farms they are allowed entree to outdoor areas astatine slightest portion of the time. There are besides concerns that animals connected mega farms whitethorn beryllium over-medicated with antibiotics, arsenic if 1 gets sick the full herd is mostly required to beryllium treated.

Why bash immoderate radical judge we request them?

Mega-farms and intensive farms instrumentality up overmuch little abstraction than accepted farms, and they let animals to beryllium kept securely, distant from predators and imaginable carriers of disease. Their conditions are tightly controlled, allowing farmers to show the magnitude of daylight, h2o and provender for the animals, and if illness develops the livestock tin beryllium treated quickly. 

The march of these US-style mega-farms successful the UK was revealed successful a Guardian probe successful 2017, but up-to-date information has been published this week successful a book, Sixty Harvests Left: How to Reach a Nature-Friendly Future, by Philip Lymbery, main enforcement of Compassion successful World Farming (CIWF).

In England alone, the fig of mega-farms accrued from 818 successful 2016 to 944 successful 2020. Of these, 745 location poultry and 199 are for pigs. There are 4 poultry farms successful the UK registered for 1 cardinal birds, with the largest holding up to 1.4 million. For pigs, the biggest 3 farms clasp much than 20,000 pigs.

There are besides astatine slightest 19 dairies that conscionable the criteria of a “mega-dairy”. Cows held successful intensive dairies are “zero-grazed”, which means they are not allowed retired into fields and are permanently housed wrong sheds. The largest 1 successful the UK appears to clasp 2,000 animals.

In addition, 9 mega-farms clasp 1,000 oregon much beef cattle. US-style beef feedlots, wherever cattle are fattened up earlier slaughter, were archetypal identified arsenic existing successful the UK successful a Guardian investigation successful 2018.

In the UK determination   are 9  mega-farms holding 1,000 oregon  much  beef cattle, wherever  they are fattened up   earlier  slaughter.
In the UK determination are 9 mega-farms holding 1,000 oregon much beef cattle, wherever they are fattened up earlier slaughter. Photograph: Bureau of Investigative Journalism

Industrial farming maximises accumulation portion keeping costs to a minimum to nutrient inexpensive nutrient and dairy – the UK slaughters 1 cardinal chickens, 10 cardinal pigs and 2.6 cardinal cattle a twelvemonth – and the majority of UK farmed animals are kept successful intensive units.

However, determination are concerns that intensive farming is driving climate change, water and aerial pollution, biodiversity nonaccomplishment and negatively affecting local communities, including introducing imaginable health risks associated with ammonia pollution. Intensive livestock farming has besides been blamed for expanding illness risk.

In Europe, the Dutch government precocious introduced plans to radically trim livestock numbers to curb excessive nitrogen from intensive farming.

Animal payment activists accidental animals successful mega-farms are denied the quality to explicit earthy behaviours. Keeping animals successful “crowded, mostly barren conditions” and utilizing fast-growing chickenhearted breeds and farrowing crates for pigs “calls into question our claims to beryllium a federation of carnal lovers”, said Philip Lymbery, main enforcement of Compassion successful World Farming.

Lizzie Wilson from the National Pig Association said large does not needfully adjacent bad: “Larger standard farms are often capable to supply much resources, specified arsenic much banal people, a dedicated vet … that really facilitate bully carnal welfare.”

The British Poultry Council’s main executive, Richard Griffiths, said each accumulation systems successful the UK included bully welfare: “Systems perceived arsenic ‘higher welfare’ are much assets intensive with little ratio and productivity, with an accompanying interaction connected the situation and the outgo of production.”

A spokesperson for the National Farmers’ Union said: “No substance what assemblage oregon size of the farm, oregon whether indoor oregon outdoor, carnal wellness and payment is simply a continued precedence for each British farmers, arsenic they cognize that the nationalist hugely values the precocious standards of carnal wellness and payment that farmers enactment to.”

Cattle successful  a pen connected  a workplace  successful  the UK
The UK is present location to much than 1,000 mega-farms with herds of up to 3,000 cattle astatine a clip being held successful grassless pens for agelong periods. Photograph: Bureau of Investigative Journalism

A spokesperson for the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) said the immense bulk of beef and dairy cattle successful the UK were “grazing outdoors passim the twelvemonth for arsenic agelong arsenic the upwind conditions permit”.

As UK farming changes, determination are calls for reform. The Scrap Factory Farming run is taking a lawsuit to the European tribunal of quality rights, alleging that the authorities is failing to support the nationalist from clime alteration and the menace of aboriginal pandemics from mill farming.

“Let’s halt denying that mill farming is inherently cruel and a large operator of wildlife diminution and clime change,” Lymbery told the Guardian.

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said each farms, careless of size, had to comply with UK instrumentality connected carnal wellness and welfare, planning, veterinary medicines and biology legislation.

“The Animal Welfare Act 2006 besides makes it an offence either to origin immoderate captive carnal unnecessary suffering oregon to neglect to supply the payment needs of the carnal – and we volition not hesitate to instrumentality enactment against those who neglect to conscionable these standards.”​

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