Vast, USA-style ‘megafarms’ are on the rise in Lancashire, new statistics have revealed.
Statistics collated by the Bureau for Investigative Journalism show that 22 megafarms – defined as a farm with 40,000 poultry, 2,000 pigs or 700 sows or more – have been licenced for Central Lancashire alone.
Across the whole of Lancashire and Cumbria, 63 megafarms have been given permits, while across England, Wales and Northern Ireland the number of megafarms has risen overall by 25 per cent since 2011 to 792.
The majority of megafarms in Lancashire are poultry farms, with bigger farms concentrated in the Wyre and Fylde areas, but there are also several large-scale pig farms.
Farmers say that the tough economic climate and tight food safety regulations mean that megafarms are an economic necessity, but animal welfare charities have expressed concern over the new trend.
Among the farming operations termed ‘intensive’ under the current UK figures is Moss Rose Piggeries in the Fylde countryside close to the M55 on the outskirts of Blackpool.
Established for more than six decades and run by father and son Raymond and Wayne Baguley, it falls into that category as it houses some 2,300 pigs.
But Raymond, who founded the business back in 1954 and at 83 in still very much involved in the day-to-day operation, says welfare of the animals in the families’ charge has always been essential to the operation – and that the rules in place via the various agencies involved would allow nothing less.
“I have always been a great believer that the pigs need to be looked after – the best attention allows them to thrive and thriving pigs means successful business for us.” he said.
“Certainly at this time of year, we keep them outdoors as much as we can and the number in each pen is very strictly regulated.”
Until just under 20 years ago, there was a breeding operation at Moss Rose, but since 1999, Raymond and Wayne – who employ three staff at the piggeries – take pigs from a specialist breeder elsewhere in Fylde at 40 kilos weight and then keep them until they have grown to 115 kilos, which usually takes a few months.
Then they go off to an abattoir at Colne, which supplies bacon to a major supermarket chain.
“The animals’ welfare and the whole operation here has to be maintained to he highest possible standard,” said Wayne, 58, who has spent his entire life working in the family business.
“The pigs have scheduled inspections by vets four times a year and a quality assurance inspector can call at any time.
“Even after the animals have gone to slaughter, if the slightest problem is highlighted at the abattoir, we know we can have an inspector here to see us in less than two hours.
“Health and safety is very important – some might say it has gone too far in some cases but the rules are there and it is vital to the business that we adhere to them.”
But the issue of megafarms has raised concern with some animal welfare campaigners.
Emma Slawinski, director of campaigns at the Compassion in World Farming organisation (CIWF), said: “Around 70 per cent of farm animals in the UK are kept in factory farms.
“These intensive systems prioritise production above all else – raising animals in intense confinement, where they are unable to carry out their natural behaviours to create vast quantities of seemingly cheap meat, milk and eggs. But factory farming comes at a cost. Factory farming is highly dependent on large quantities of precious resources, such as grain-based feed, water, energy and medication.
“Some suggest intensive agriculture is the solution to feeding a growing population when in fact, it is highly inefficient. For every 100 food calories of edible crops fed to livestock, we get back just 30 calories in the form of meat and dairy; a 70 per cent loss.
“We encourage consumers to reduce their meat consumption and purchase higher welfare meat, eggs and dairy – cage-free, free-range and organic. Shoppers should look out for welfare labels such as Soil Association and RSPCA Assured when purchasing animal products, to help support humane and efficient farming solutions.”
Babs Murphy, Chief Executive of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said: “The rich farming heritage in Lancashire has resulted in the establishment of a wealth of successful businesses.
“It is a significant sector which not only produces the food we eat it supports a number of industries including food processing, packaging and freight.
“It also underpins an important supply chain in its own right and keeps many firms in work such as vets, plumbers and electricians.”
Carl Hudspith, The North West regional communications adviser for the National Farmers’ Union, said: “Statistics from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) show that total number of poultry in the UK increased by three per cent to almost 173 million birds in 2016, compared with 2015.
“The UK’s self-sufficiency in food has fallen from 75 per cent in 1991 to 61 per cent now so this increase is good news for the British public, who want to buy more British food.
“This increase would have been achieved under a range of farming systems, including free-range poultry meat and egg production.
“Lancashire is home to a diverse range of farming businesses, including many free-range poultry farms.
“The new research claiming a rise in what is termed intensive farming do not cover any poultry businesses under 40,000 birds established during that period, so it therefore does not follow that there has necessarily been a rise in intensive farming in the region over this period.
“British farmers produce high quality food to exacting welfare and environmental standards.
“The significant factor is not the size of the farm but the quality of management and stockmanship that farm operates to. Farmers work to UK and EU environmental regulations, not USA environmental regulations, and these regulations are some of the highest in the world.
“For example, applicants for environmental permits have to carry out a full environmental impact assessment, demonstrating that any proposed development will not cause problems with odour, noise and emissions.”
Alison Moss, Lancashire County Council Trading Standards Principal Officer for Animal Health and Agriculture, said: “We make around 200 visits a year to farms to check that they are complying with regulations under the Animal Health Act, Animal Welfare Act, and various other European Regulations which cover diverse aspects of the business from record keeping, identification, medicines, and to ensure the hygiene of animal feed. These laws are in place to safeguard the health and welfare of livestock, prevent the spread of disease, and ensure food safety.
“One of our key roles is to assist the Animal and Plant Health Agency by investigating, and if necessary pursuing prosecutions, if their inspections find any problems. We also investigate any reports we receive directly when people raise concerns about animal health issues and farming practices.”
Total number of megafarms in Central Lancashire
Fylde - 6
Preston - 2
Chorley - 4
Lancaster - 1
Wyre - 6
South Ribble - 2
Ribble Valley - 1