Part 5 - An inhumane industry?
The critics paint a different picture, saying cheap meat comes at a cost for society at large. Intensively-farmed animals suffer more disease and other health problems, they say, also pointing to the stress created by early weaning and confinement, which can lead to animals starting to injure and cannibalise each other.
The campaign group Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) believes intensive farming is inhumane, and cannot be justified by efficiency arguments. It has launched a campaign highlighting what it calls the UK's factory farming hotspots. According to CIWF there are nearly 17 million factory farmed animals in Herefordshire, 15 million in Shropshire and 12 million in Norfolk.
“Bringing animals off the land and cramming them into factory farms is not only cruel to animals but also has far reaching effects on human health, wildlife and the planet,” said the organisation’s campaigns director Emma Slawinski who said it sounded like "a space-saving idea but this ignores the fact that vast amounts of land are used elsewhere to grow food for them – often in huge crop fields doused in chemical pesticides and fertilisers – squeezing wildlife out, as industrial farming methods sweep the planet.”
Farms can be breeding grounds for food poisoning bugs such as campylobacter, E.coli and salmonella. In intensive farms the close proximity of the animals can mean diseases spread quickly. This has historically meant the widespread use of antibiotics, the use of such drugs by poultry farmers had dropped significantly in recent years.
Industrial-scale farming also produces huge amounts of manure, carcasses, silage and dirty water, all of which can have significant environmental impacts even when disposed of properly. People living in the shadows of megafarms complain of lorries clogging up local roads as they transport grain and waste, and picturesque rural areas being spoiled by foul smells and ugly buildings.
The Bureau’s findings regarding the growth of intensive farms highlighted a “hugely worrying trend”, said Zac Goldsmith, MP for Richmond.
“American-style agribusiness comes with serious environmental and animal welfare implications, as well as posing a threat to our small and family farmers,” said Goldsmith, who previously described plans for a US-style mega-dairy in Lincolnshire as “squalid”.
“Even more importantly, the continued overuse of antibiotics on intensive farms is contributing to widespread antibiotic resistance and consequently the biggest human health threat we face."