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

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Systems and Network Support Analyst

£26000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a rapidly expandi...

Recruitment Genius: IT Systems Support Analyst

£20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is a rapidly expandi...

Recruitment Genius: Business Travel Consultant

£20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in London, Manches...

Recruitment Genius: Stock Broker / Trainee Broker / Closer - OTE £250,000

£30000 - £250000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Stock Broker/ Trainee FX, Stoc...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

I'm pansexual – here are the five biggest misconceptions about my sexuality

Farhana Khan
 

Daniel Craig needs to get over himself – there's a reason 007 isn't a right-on geography teacher

Jane Merrick
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests