Good stockmanship, not the size of the unit, is the key to achieving high standards of health and welfare, the National Pig Association has insisted in response to media articles focusing on the increase in the number of large farms in the UK.
A number of media outlets have carried stories based on an investigation into the ‘Rise of the Mega Farm’ in the UK by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
The original article by the BIJ, which has been followed up in the national and local media, says there are now ‘nearly 1,700 intensive poultry and pig farms licensed by the Environment Agency’, with the number having increased by a quarter in the last six years. The EA sets the thresholds for intensive installations with 40,000 poultry places and 2,000 pig places or 750 sows.
The article claims the rise in intensive farming has been fuelled by ‘Britain’s demand for cheap meat, especially chicken’. The article quotes ‘critics’ who say factory farms ‘blight local communities, subject animals to prolonged distress and push out small producers – and that we do not need the vast quantities of meat we consume’.
But it also quotes industry figures who explain the reasons behind the trend towards larger units, inlcuding NPA chief executive Zoë Davies, who is quoted as saying farmers had to operate intensive systems to compete with cheap European imports.
She pointed out that larger farms have to meet many different regulations to get an EA permit and that the biggest farms have excellent resources to maintain welfare standards, such as specialist vets on site. She reiterated that there was limited consumer demand for free-range meat.
The NPA also sent the following statement to the BIJ ahead of publication of the story.
NPA senior policy advisor Georgina Crayford said: “Operations rearing 2,500 finisher pigs or 750 sows are often small family-run farms. Larger farms are, rightly so, strictly regulated to ensure the risk of damage to environment is minimised.
“NPA would like to emphasise that it is not the size of the farm that has the biggest impact on animal health and welfare, but the quality of the stockmanship.”