Editorial: Who needs mega-farms?

We eat too much of the wrong sort of food. More cheap meat is no solution

Share
Related Topics

The plan for a "mega-farm" of 25,000 pigs in Derbyshire should make us uneasy. As should the proposals for a 1,000-cow dairy factory in Wales and for a 15,000-ton-a-year salmon farm in Galway Bay off Ireland, on which we also report today.

The Independent on Sunday opposes these steps towards the further intensification of farming, but we should be clear why.

The standards of animal welfare in these huge farms would probably be no worse than those in British agriculture generally; in some respects, they would be better. Standards of pig husbandry in the UK are higher than in some other parts of the European Union, and the proposed salmon farm intends to meet the requirements of "organic" labelling, which dictate that fish be kept at densities no greater than 1 per cent of the volume of water, for example.

Pragmatically, welfare standards are more likely to be enforced in larger units: they are easier to inspect and their owners will have a greater incentive to maintain their reputation.

That said, it would do no harm if the debate about these vast factories raised awareness of animal welfare generally. The striking statistic about the application for the 1,000-cow unit in Powys is that the cows would be inside for 250 days of the year. Again, this is better than many existing farms, including so-called zero-grazing units in which cows are kept indoors all year round, but it is a reminder that current minimum standards are set too low.

The growing intensification of pig, cattle and fish farming should also remind us that poultry farming, in particular, is already too intensive, and that progress in raising minimum standards for battery chickens and broiler sheds is being made too slowly. It would be regrettable if the attitude of Bernard Matthews, who has described his firm as "Europe's biggest turkey manufacturer", were to spread to livestock farming.

The real objection to the further industrialisation of agriculture, though, is environmental. Monoculture over vast areas of arable land reduces biodiversity, but huge concentrations of animals pose other dangers too. They are bad for the health of the animals, because diseases and parasites spread further and faster; they are bad for the local environment in that there is more and more concentrated effluent; and they are potentially more risky for human health, in that if anything goes wrong, such as the BSE problem, the scale and speed of transmission is greater.

It may be objected that our concern for the environment is typical of the London wholefood classes, and that this newspaper risks patronising those who cannot afford delicacies sourced by bijou charcuteries from farmers known personally to all their customers. That is, however, a red herring – possibly an organic one. The problem we have as a nation with food is not that it is too expensive, but that, on the whole, we eat too much of the wrong sorts of food. More cheap meat produced in conditions of cruelty is not the way forward.

At a time when we should be moving towards less intensive agriculture, seeking to minimise its environmental impact, and given that we should be consuming less meat – and more of it free range, we should now be trying to encourage diversified, smaller-scale agriculture.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor’s Letter: The Easter message

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

There is far too much sexism in the UK - but a point scoring system against other countries won't help to tackle it

Victoria Richards
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit