Sadly, mega animal farms are on the rise in the United Kingdom

hog farm
CC BY 2.0 USDA -- A mega hog-finishing facility in the United States, similar to the ones found throughout the UK.

Report says industrial-scale farms have increased 26% in the past six years.

Have you heard the sad news? A report released by The Guardian yesterday, together with the Bureau for Investigative Journalism, has found nearly 800 mega animal farms across the United Kingdom. Many of these have popped up quietly, undisturbed by protests, since farmers realized that expanding their current facilities is much easier than breaking new ground and risking public wrath. Now, they can be found in almost every county, with Herefordshire taking the dubious first prize:

“[It] has more than 16 million factory-farmed animals, mainly poultry – which means the county has 88 times more factory-farmed animals than it does humans.”

Mega farms are defined by their size. According to the U.S. definition of concentrated animal feeding operations (or CAFOs, as they’re commonly called), a mega farm houses 125,000 broiler chickens (for meat), 82,000 laying hens, 2,500 pigs, 700 dairy or 1,000 beef cattle. That’s a lot of animals under a single roof.

These ‘farms’, if they can be called such, are notorious for cramped, inhumane conditions that do not allow animals to practice their normal behaviors, such as foraging, exploring, rolling around, or spreading their wings, as well as excessive filth, due to the number of animals within a confined space. Undercover footage I’ve seen reveals dead animals, trampled beneath their fellow prisoners and often left to rot; in other words, these places are disgusting.

Another disturbing consequence of the filth is disease, treated preemptively by enormous quantities of antibiotics added to animal feed, which have the added benefit (in the eyes of the farmers) of fattening animals far more quickly than is natural. But, as journalist Maryn McKenna has pointed out, this practice is leading us on a reckless course toward a post-antibiotic era, when these miracle drugs will no longer work because we’ve squandered them on cheap meat.

Needless to say, more mega farms is not the news that we at TreeHugger want to hear. We work hard to promote more plant-based eating – concepts such as Weekday Vegetarianism and Reducetarianism. We write about interesting startups (like Impossible Meats and SuperMeat) that are trying to break people’s meat habits with innovative new products. We report on the rising number of vegan food products and the growing popularity of veganism – and then this comes along. It’s discouraging and demoralizing, but I suppose it just underscores the tremendous importance and necessity of our message, which has yet to become mainstream.

As Richard Griffiths, head of the UK poultry council, pointed out in The Guardian, people tend to have antiquated, idealistic ideas of what farming should look like, while consumer behavior reflects a passive acceptance of industrial farming. He makes the sad yet accurate point that, as long as people continue to expect buy cheap, industrially-produced meat, change won’t happen:

“Last year, we grew almost a billion birds, 95% indoors and 3.4% free range and 1% organic. If we tried to grow a billion birds a year organically, that would be a lot of land. It’s a balancing act, and it’s demand-driven. I don’t think we’ll see a change in systems without consumer demand. At the moment, that demand isn’t there.”

We have a long way to go. Keep plodding.

Sadly, mega animal farms are on the rise in the United Kingdom
Report says industrial-scale farms have increased 26% in the past six years.

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