There is real progress being made for farm animal welfare in the European Union. The New Year will see us celebrate a ban on barren battery cages for laying hens. The long-term use of cruel sow stalls for pregnant pigs will be banned the year after. Veal crates – narrow premature confines for calves – are already history.
However, factory farming’s new frontier is the US-style mega-dairy. I saw dozens of these recently in California’s Central Valley and they were far from pretty. Thousands of cows crowded on dirt; not a blade of grass anywhere. This is what is known as ‘zero-grazing’.
We were pleased that, after months of campaigning, a proposal for a 3,700 cow mega-dairy in Lincolnshire, UK was withdrawn. The average dairy herd in Britain is currently about a hundred cows. We were deeply disappointed when Powys County Council ignored strong opposition to agree a 1,000 cow mega-dairy at Leighton near Welshpool. It is a set-back that has only strengthened our resolve to oppose this new threat, not just in the UK, but across Europe.
I don’t believe that big always means bad; intensification is the real crux of the issue. Britain’s biggest breeding pig farm, for example, is run along extensive lines with the sows kept outdoors. But highly intensive farming methods often go hand-in-hand with scale, as is the case with mega-dairies and meat chicken farms.
Some in government seem to have fallen in love with the term, ‘sustainable intensification’. It’s an oxymoron, gobbledygook, a contradiction in terms. Increased intensification is the route to diminished sustainability and to yet more animal welfare problems.
It’s hard to see how it can be sustainable to keep animals permanently indoors; especially when it involves moving dairy cows off pasture and onto feed grown elsewhere, often with copious fossil-fuel based fertilisers and chemical pesticides.
Despite the undoubted progress in Europe, 80% of farm animals continue to be factory farmed. That is why we’ve launched our new campaign, Filthy Business. To draw attention to the fact that factory farming is still very real in Europe. And that our taxes are paying for it!
By far the greatest proportion of factory farmed animals in Europe is intensively reared poultry. Next come pigs. Numerically, dairy cows make up a very small proportion of the total of animals factory farmed.
Estimates for intensive dairying – where the cows are permanently housed (zero-grazed) on farms big or small – are hard to come by. An industry estimate for intensive dairying in the UK suggests less than 10% of cows are permanently housed; we estimate that the overall figure for Europe is similar. If anyone has better estimates, we’d be glad to hear from you. Estimate or not, one thing is clear; if we don’t fight mega-dairies, if we don’t expose ‘sustainable intensification’ for the nonsense that it is, yet more animals and the quality of our food will suffer.
The battle for food sense is well and truly on. Help us fight the Filthy Business of factory farming. Help us ensure a better future for Europe’s farmers, farm animals and our food.