Forget badgers. If we really care about animal welfare, it's time to put a stop to mega-farms

Proposals for what are called mega-farms have been rejected in the past, but now a significant change of attitude seems to be taking place.

Share

There has been hectic activity in the animal activists’ warren. The Coalition of Badger Action Groups has forced a patron of the Dorset Wildlife Trust to step down, on the grounds – mistaken, as it happens – that she supports the Government’s badger cull. The RSPCA has vowed to continue its campaign of bringing errant hunt servants to court. Last year’s convictions for those prosecuted by the RSPCA for cruelty to animals in England and Wales had risen by a third last year, it reported.

Meanwhile, an incomparably greater menace to animal – and many would argue, human – welfare is creeping forward without much more than a squeak or bark of protest. Industrial-scale farms, massive factories where animals are units of production, are on their way. At a place called Foston in Derbyshire, a pig farm for 25,000 pigs, including 2,500 sows, has been proposed, and opposed, since 2011. Recently, and at a key moment in the planning process, Defra appears to have given this form of factory farming its support. In Wales, a decision on a 1,000-cow dairy farm will shortly be announced.

There have been proposals for what are called mega-farms before – a vast dairy planned for Nocton in Lincolnshire was abandoned in 2011 after objections from the Environment Agency – but a significant change of attitude now seems to be taking place. “Increasing the efficiency of food production will help us meet rising demand for food,” a Defra spokeswoman has said. “This can be done on any scale and in ways that actually deliver environmental benefits.”

If Foston goes through, we can expect increasing numbers of application for intense mass-farming on the American scale to make their way through our newly relaxed, growth-friendly planning system.

It feels like a moment of decision which will affect not only farming and the landscape, but also touches on our attitude to the food we eat and the animals that provide it. Yet, oddly, the very activists who one might expect to put pressure on the Government remain silent. It is easier, in this age of emotion and sentimentality, to gain public support by going after landowners who are beastly to badgers, or some miserable character with starving cats in a council flat.

Supporters of mega-farms point out that we import 60 per cent of our pork, much of it from countries where farming standards are less humane than in the UK. Why not redress the balance, they ask, by mass-producing cheaper meat here?

The arguments against this utilitarian approach can seem footlingly middle class – the fretful concerns of those who have never had to worry about the cost of feeding a family. Against them, the food industries lobby can also be pretty ruthless. When the Soil Association opposed the original Foston application, it received a letter from libel lawyers warning that further dissemination of their objections “would risk incurring severe liabilities”.

Yet the arguments against the mass production of meat have never been clearer. The recent horse-meat scandal has revealed what can happen when price and profit become the only criteria in the food chain. Diseases can be passed from animals to humans and all the evidence suggests that the more pigs or cattle are kept in close proximity and in large numbers, the faster diseases can mutate and the more resistant they become to antibiotics.

It might be tricky, in political and PR terms, for the RSPCA and animal rights bodies to take a stand on this issue, but the fight is more important than the plight of a few badgers and foxes.

So you’re posh, Alexander. Stop complaining

It is a tough life being an actor, as we all know, and recently a new source of angst has been revealed. Those who have come from nice middle-class families and have been privately educated are feeling increasingly misunderstood.

A few months ago, the Old Harrovian Benedict Cumberbatch stroppily revealed that he was thinking of moving to America because of “all the posh-bashing that goes on”. Now the comedian Alexander Armstrong, educated at Durham public school, has joined the toff rebellion.

“I do bitterly resent it when people of any kind are attacked because of something that is no fault of theirs,” he grumbled in a recent interview. “Why should your background be held against you?”

Even by thespian standards, it is an odd complaint. It is precisely background which, in acting as in many other walks of life, provides the privileged few with a huge advantage over everyone else. Being on the receiving end of a bit of posh-bashing now and then would seem a small price to pay.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Savvy Media Ltd: Media Sales executive - Crawley

£25k + commission + benefits: Savvy Media Ltd: Find a job you love and never h...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Solicitor NQ+ Oxford

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CORPORATE - Corporate Solicitor NQ+ An excelle...

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Muslim men pray at the East London Mosque  

Sadly, it needs to be said again: being a Muslim is not a crime

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible