Over 1m animals in UK Mega-Farms

New research shows there are over 1,000 US-style megafarms in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, some with up to 1 million animals.

In the United States, a megafarm is defined as a megafarm with 125,000 or more broilers or 82,000 or more laying hens, 2,500 or more pigs, 700 or more dairy cows, or 1,000 or more beef cattle. These are called Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) by US authorities.

By 2021, there will be 1,099 farms in the UK meeting the US definition of a CAFO or mega farm. This figure is known to be an underestimate as it omits data for Scotland, which was unavailable due to cyberattacks in 2020.

The rise of these US-style mega-farms in the UK was revealed in a 2017 Guardian survey, with updated data from the book Sixty Harvests Left: How to Reach a Nature-Friendly Future, published this week and presented by Executive Philip Lymbery, Director of Compassion in World Farming (CIWF).

In the UK alone, the number of mega-farms has increased from 818 in 2016 to 944 in 2020. Of these, 745 are for poultry and 199 are for pigs.

The UK has four poultry farms with 1 million registered birds, the largest with 1.4 million. As for pigs, three big farms have over 20,000 of his pigs. Additionally, there are at least 19 dairy farms that meet the criteria for ‘mega dairy’. Cows raised on intensive dairy farms are not pastured. The largest in the UK seems to house over 2,000.

In addition, on nine large farms he raises more than 1,000 beef cattle. American-style cattle fattening before slaughter was first spotted in the UK in a 2018 Guardian survey. Industrial agriculture maximizes production while minimizing costs and producing cheap meat and dairy products.

In the UK, 1 billion chickens, 10 million pigs and 2.6 million cattle are slaughtered each year.

Environmental concerns

However, there are concerns that intensive agriculture will cause climate change, water and air pollution, loss of biodiversity, and negative impacts on local communities, including the introduction of potential health risks associated with ammonia pollution.

Intensive livestock farming has also been implicated in increasing the risk of disease. The Dutch government recently introduced a program to drastically reduce livestock to curb excess nitrogen from intensive farming.

Animal rights activists say Mega Farm animals are denied the ability to express natural behavior. Compassion in World Farming CEO Philip Limbery says it keeps animals “overcrowded and largely barren” and uses fast-growing chicken breeds and pig farrowing sheds.

Lizzie Wilson from the National Pig Association said big does not necessarily equal bad: “Larger scale farms are often able to provide more resources, such as more stock people, a dedicated vet etc that actually facilitates good animal welfare.”

The British Poultry Council`s chief executive, Richard Griffiths, said all production systems in the UK included good welfare: “Systems perceived as `higher welfare` are more resource intensive with lower efficiency and productivity, with an accompanying impact on the environment and the cost of production.”

A spokesperson for the National Farmers` Union said: “No matter what sector or size of the farm, or whether indoor or outdoor, animal health and welfare is a continued priority for all British farmers, as they know that the public hugely values the high standards of animal health and welfare that farmers work to.”

The country`s hog supply in the second half of this year is guaranteed and hog prices will not rise continuously and substantially, Chen Guanghua, an official with the ministry, said earlier. A spokesperson for the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) said the vast majority of beef and dairy cattle in the UK were “grazing outdoors throughout the year for as long as the weather conditions permit”.

The Scrap Factory Farming Campaign

As UK farming changes, there are calls for reform. The Scrap Factory Farming campaign is taking a case to the European court of human rights, alleging that the government is failing to protect the public from climate change and the threat of future pandemics from factory farming. “Let`s stop denying that factory farming is inherently cruel and a major driver of wildlife decline and climate change,” Lymbery told the Guardian.

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said all farms, regardless of size, must comply with the UK Animal Health and Welfare, Planning, Veterinary Medicine and Environmental Act. “The Animal Welfare Act 2006 also makes it a crime to cause unnecessary suffering to an animal in captivity or to neglect animal welfare. We will take action.”

Related article: UK animal feed market report

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Source: Guardian

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