The recent publicity given to the proposal for a new 'mega-farm' for pigs in Foston, Derbyshire has highlighted the question of whether big is bad when it comes to farm size.
Compassion in World Farming would like to reiterate that we see the trend toward larger-scale industrialized farming as a real concern. When it comes to animal well-being, scale per se may not be the issue; however, it often indicates a serious underlying threat to animal welfare. Large farms can also pose health risks and, in some cases, have negative effects on the environment.
What about the Foston pig farm proposal?
A proposal has recently been submitted for a pig farm at Foston in Derbyshire. It plans to house 2,500 sows and their offspring on one site; the sheer scale brings concerns over divorcing animals from the land and the effect of so many pigs in one place.
Does the UK have big pig farms already?
According to industry sources, the UK's biggest pig breeding farm has 3,500 sows, whilst an outdoor-based farm on a similar scale is also operating. In this latter case, whilst the scale is a concern, the welfare of the pigs is more positive.
Why isn't Compassion campaigning against the Foston proposal?
Compassion does not support moves to develop 'mega farms' and believes that the economic interests of the wider farming community, animal welfare and the environment are best served by farming on a smaller and more sustainable scale.
The proposal includes a commitment to meet or exceed RSPCA welfare standards for pigs. This includes using a fully free farrowing system with no confinement for mothering sows; and providing enough straw for comfort and avoiding mutilations, such as tail docking and tooth clipping, for all its pigs. So, yes the scale is a concern for us, but the direction of travel for animal welfare is towards a more extensive, albeit indoor environment for the pigs.
Commenting on the proposal, Compassion in World Farming's Chief Executive, Philip Lymbery, said:
"Ideally, we would like to see all pigs kept outdoors on a free range basis. Sadly, most pigs in the UK are not outdoors and are often kept in conditions of utter deprivation; mother pigs confined in 'farrowing' crates so narrow they cannot turn around, their piglets mutilated and often kept without straw or other bedding. We are concerned at the sheer scale and the indoor nature of the proposed pig farm at Foston, but the commitments to meet or exceed RSPCA welfare standards would be a welfare advance for the pigs concerned. We urge those planning the farm at Foston to retain their intended welfare standards but to break the proposal up into a number of smaller farms."
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