Could mega farms wipe out traditional farming in the UK?
The mega farm trend began primarily in the United States but today, its influence is growing in many developed countries around the world including the UK, where the proportion of intensive farming of livestock has grown by approximately 256% to 792% in the last six years.
Defined by the US as warehouses which contain over 40,000 birds or 2,000 pigs, there are now over 789 concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) operating in the UK.
The rise of industrial-scale farms has been met with criticism with many calling the method “cruel and unnecessary”, with animals forced to stay in overcrowded factories where the risk of disease breaking out is much higher, as well as the potential to cause ill health among consumers.
Concerns were raised last year in particular following the discovery of superbug MRSA in meat produced in the UK. Some of the most potent antibiotics used to treat life-threatening illnesses are reported to be overused in mega farms, leading to the development of bacteria resistant to even the strongest medicines today.
The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has since shown its commitment to maintaining high standard farming despite the political turbulence in the country. A spokesperson responded to critics by saying: “Leaving the EU provides us with an unprecedented opportunity to shape our farming industry so it works for the UK and helps our farmers grow more world-class food.”
However, there are fears that leaving the EU will mean that intensive farming will expand, with standards lowering in order for the country to compete with imports.
The UK in the last few years has benefited from overseas investment with US firm Cargill now a huge name in British farming with 100 independent farms across the country providing approximately 1.6 million chickens per week. The food giant is reported to have profited over £19m in 2016 from these farms.
This spells bad news for local farmers who contribute to the local communities, the local area and the overall economy. Large supermarkets are now being provided by meat produced by these agribusinesses which operate CAFOs, whilst local farmers are simply left to suffer – failing to compete with these businesses which offer livestock on a much larger scale for a cheaper price.
This has had a significant impact on consumers too. Due to rising food prices and the stagnating salaries in recent years, households are forced to spend a larger proportion of their wage on food. This means that families on a lower income have no choice other than to choose the cheaper meat produced in CAFOs.
Large agribusinesses have defended intensive farming on a large-scale claiming that it has huge benefits which include animal welfare, however it could have the potential to wipe out traditional small-scale farming in the UK.
With Brexit looming, we can only predict that the popularity of mega farms will continue to grow…