Over 50 UK Members of Parliament joined us last night for a briefing on the mega-dairy issue. The Westminster event, hosted by Austin Mitchell MP, and organised jointly by Compassion and WSPA, underlined the strength of feeling against the proposal to build an 8,100 dairy cow unit in Lincolnshire, England, where the animals will be housed indoors for much if not all the time.
It was particularly pertinent to hear the speech from Neil Derwent, a South West dairy farmer, opposed to these type of developments. It underscored the fact that this issue represents a defining moment for the future of farming and the countryside. Do we want cows in the countryside, or in industrial-scale sites? Do we want to support sustainable, manageable, people-based dairying, or do we want to see the upsurge in mega-dairies and the consequent hastening of closure for even more family farmers in this country? Do we want to see milk on our supermarket shelves viewed with a similar suspicion by consumers to battery eggs? The feeling in the room was that we have to act now to stop the impending march of factory farming into dairy farming.
And there is the cruel irony. Over 40 years ago, a dairy farmer, Peter Roberts, from Hampshire became concerned at the rise in factory farming for pigs and poultry. He founded Compassion in World Farming, which has been instrumental in achieving Europe-wide reforms on some of the worst forms of intensive farming; the veal crate for calves and the barren battery cage for laying hens. At just the moment when pig, veal and poultry farming is going down the road of being less intensive, the dairy sector is threatening to become more intensive. Factory farming is catching up with Peter’s beloved dairy cows.
And let’s remind ourselves of the top-line effect of putting 8,000 cows into industrial-style sheds, as is proposed in Lincolnshire:
• It would go against the findings of a recent report by the expert European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which makes it clear that the health of dairy cows can suffer if they are denied pasture.
• 8,000 cows would produce the effluent equivalent to a city almost the size of Bristol.
• It would replace more than 60-80 average-sized dairy farms; and would turn a further downward screw on the profitability of family farms.
The bottom line is that cows belong in fields; it’s as simple as that. We are at a pivotal moment in history for animal welfare, our countryside and indeed the farming community. Your support for our campaign, ‘cows belong in fields’, will help define that future. And help prevent the run-away train that mega-dairies are likely to represent if let loose; colliding with profound consequences into the health of our countryside, the prosperity of family farms, and, of course, the welfare of our cows.
My speech from last night is available to watch below. It was filmed by a member of the audience, and has been split so that we can include the video we showed as well.