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Revealed: Shocking rise in US-style megafarms across the UK

News Section Icon Published 13/02/2024

drone shot of rows and rows of poultry sheds
Intensive poultry farm

Today (13th February), we’ve launched a new investigation, in The Times, which reveals a shocking 20% increase in the number of US-style megafarms – large-scale intensive farming units – compared with 2016 figures.

The full picture of all the UK factory farm data has been pulled together into an interactive map. It illustrates the startlingly high numbers of livestock reared indoors or without access to pasture, in the biggest farming units across the UK, at any one time.

The release of the data coincides with the 10th anniversary of ‘Farmageddon - The True Cost of Meat’ written by our Global CEO, Philip Lymbery, and reveals that the UK Government continues to allow the controversial industrial factory farming sector to expand, despite its negative impact to animal, human and environmental health.

Factory farm hotspots

The map shows ‘hotspot’ counties where large numbers of dairy cows, laying hens, broiler chickens and pigs are permanently housed indoors or without access to pasture, as well as overall numbers of confined livestock per region. Surprisingly, many counties associated with open green pastures and extensive grazing are in fact some of the areas with the highest numbers of confined farm animals. Lincolnshire, Shropshire, Norfolk, ranked first, second and third respectively with Herefordshire and North Yorkshire also making the top ten.

Cumulatively the figure for the top three counties shows they have capacity to confine over 86 million animals. Excluding a minority kept in higher welfare conditions for example RSPCA Assured indoor chicken, pigmeat or eggs, these animals are likely to suffer from a plethora of health and welfare issues due to breeding for high performance and living in barren and caged or overcrowded conditions.

Mapping out the problem

Comparing these results with data from 2016 reveals a concerning trend in the growth of intensive agriculture in rural areas. In 2016, there were at total of 974 pig and poultry US-style mega farms in the UK compared with 1,176 in 2023 – an increase of 20% over a seven-year period. In addition, our data shows that the UK’s largest, intensive farms that require Environmental Permitting Regulations to rear pigs and poultry have increased by 12% between 2016 and 2023 across the UK.

Whilst the UK often claims to have the highest standards in animal welfare worldwide, around 85% of farm animals – over one billion animals – are kept in factory farms per year. In these farms, animals can spend their lives in barren barns or cages, suffering from overcrowding, often lacking access to fresh air and natural daylight.

Factory farming puts us all at risk

The rise of factory farming, enabling the production of ‘cheap’ meat, has led to overconsumption in many countries around the world including the UK with diets high in red and processed meat linked to a number of serious health-related conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer.

Keeping hundreds of thousands of animals in cramped and crowded spaces creates the perfect breeding ground for diseases to spread and evolve. Consequently, animals are often routinely medicated with antibiotics to avoid disease, contributing to antibiotic resistance. Intensive factory farms also increase the risk of zoonotic diseases such as Avian and Swine flu, creating future pandemics.

The current agricultural system is also driving climate change, impacting on nature and is the main cause of river pollution.

The spread of industrial farming must stop

Anthony Field, Head of our UK Office said: “Megafarms are often hidden from public view. This Investigation shines a spotlight on their rising numbers, clearly illustrating the desperate, broken, and unsustainable food system we have created.

“Enough is enough. The spread of industrial farming must stop. This intensive method of producing food must be revised in line with the UK Government-commissioned National Food Strategy, with farmers given help to transition to a more sustainable land use.

“Local government is on the front line in granting planning permission for new units but unfortunately, they are often not aware that animal welfare and climate change issues can be a material consideration in every planning decision.

“We urge the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to strengthen the law and issue guidance for local government to urgently clear this matter up.

Take action

Explore our interactive map and find out where your county is ranked.

Please call on the Minister responsible for planning in your nation to strengthen the law to take it beyond doubt that animal welfare and climate change can be material considerations in every single planning decision. This will ensure that, where communities are overwhelmed by factory farms, local authorities can reject planning applications for even more, to protect the future of your area.


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