Blog Posts: Factory farms

October 2nd, 2018

A 20,000-cow Dairy Farm in Europe? No way!

by David Sánchez

Noviercas is a small village of 158 inhabitants in Northeast Spain. It is located in the province of Soria, inside a region known as the “Spanish Siberia” because of the low population density, less than 8 people per square kilometer.

This village became famous when the co-op Valle del Odieta announced last year their intentions to build a 20,000-cow factory farm in the village. It would be the biggest dairy farm in Europe and the project immediately became controversial for all the potential impacts it could bring to the area and to the farming sector.

Farmers are leading the opposition, as they estimate this factory farm would destroy 700 direct jobs, one third of the dairy farms in the region. It would produce around 368,000 tons of manure per year, the equivalent of the waste produced by a city of 4.4 million people. And the farm would consume between 4 and 6.35 million liters of water per day, more than the total consumption of the city of Soria (40,000 inhabitants). Impacts on the environment and local communities can be huge.

This farm has nothing to do with the European model of livestock farming. We have witnessed fierce resistance to previous dairy mega factory farms with 8,000 thousand cows in the UK or even actions of civil disobedience against a 1,000-cow farm in France.

We cannot allow this model, imported from the US, to come to Europe. Impacts of these huge factory farms are well documented and are reason enough to ask for a ban. Stopping this farm would be a really symbolic step against the invasion of factory farms in Europe to defend a sustainable and social model of farming.

You can read more about it here in English, Spanish and French.

We will campaign with our allies to stop this project. Stay tuned!

March 21st, 2017

Spain, A Country Full of Manure


By David Sánchez

Over the last few decades, small- and medium-scale farms raising livestock have given way to factory farms that confine thousands of cows, pigs and chickens in tightly packed facilities. Uncontrolled agribusiness power and misguided public policies have pressed livestock producers to become significantly larger and to adopt more intensive practices, which come with a host of environmental and public health impacts that are borne by consumers and communities.

Spain and its pork meat industry is a clear example, as we expose in a new report released today. Spain is the third largest exporter of pork after China and the United States and has the largest pig population in the EU—over 28 million animals. Production and exports are growing as a result of high industry consolidation and low production costs. But that means that the industry is getting concentrated in just a few hands, with the number of farms diminishing rapidly and farmers getting squeezed in the process. Between 1999 and 2013, 180,000 pig farms disappeared in the country, with a massive impact in rural communities.

Read the full article…

May 16th, 2016

You Said It: Factory Farms Have Got To Go

By Eve Mitchell

ChristinafromOrkneyonFishFarmingFoodandWaterEuropeI asked for it, and I got it. Lucky me!

I asked people all over the UK what they think about factory farming. From Orkney to the Isle of Wight, you’ve got stories. Some of them are sad, and some of them are wise, but all of them show why we need to make sure the last factory farm to get planning permission really was the last factory farm.

Too cruel

We’re known the world over as a nation of animal lovers, and boy did you tell me that rules out meat factories. Christina from Orkney tells it like it is: “Factory farming is cruel; really cruel.”

Eva from Cambridge knows it’s also about respect for the animals. She says, “Their lives are very short compared with the lives of their wild counterparts. If we take their lives at an early age, the least we can do is give them a good life while it lasts.”

Read the full article…

May 13th, 2016

Quiet Win Keeps Factory Farms in Check

By Eve Mitchell

We're Stoppint Factory FarmsUK Government silliness just took a big hit. Thank goodness.

Those of you with long memories will know about ongoing UK plans to let business regulate itself. From the Business Focus on Enforcement, to the Red Tape Challenge, to the current Cutting Red Tape project, it’s pretty much the same story: The government asks Big Business if it would like less enforcement of fewer regulations, and, no surprise, Big Business says, “Yes, please!”

Read the full article…

January 20th, 2016

Nitrogen On The Table, Nitrates In The Tap

By David Sánchez

FoodandWaterEuropeDangerousNitrogenFactoryFarmsNitrogen is a basic component of our food and a vital nutrient for plants and crops to grow. But high concentrations are harmful to people and nature. Last week, the presentation of a scientific report in the European Parliament, “Nitrogen on the Table”, tried to call attention to this problem. In this report, the authors considered the major benefits of reduced meat and dairy consumption in Europe, since so far more focus has been put on the supply side, developing technological solutions. And I fully agree; we need to reduce European consumption of meat and dairy, and we need to look beyond those “miraculous” technological solutions.

But I always have some concerns when the political debate focuses too much on individual solutions, like reducing meat consumption. For me, that means we are missing one key question: Who is really causing the mess?

Read the full article…

December 20th, 2013

Clones, the Commission and Ethical Contortionism

By Eve Mitchell

The European Commission’s proposed Directives on clones in the food chain fall woefully short of what citizens want and the Parliament demands.

The draft laws are not all they appear to be at first glance. One draft Directive “provisionally prohibits” cloning farm animals and the sale of farm clones or clone embryos. The other “provisionally prohibits” the sale and import of food from clones. Once enshrined in law the Directives would be reviewed to enable any “improvements” in cloning techniques that reduce animal suffering to be taken into account in future regulation.

Any prohibition of cloning is welcome, based as it is on the acknowledgement that cloning for food is unwanted and unconscionably cruel, but it‘s not enough.

The draft laws do not prohibit the sale of food from the offspring of clones, which renders them next to useless in the real world. The Commission emphasises, “[C]loning is so expensive that its use for food production is not lucrative.” This is a tacit admission that the proposed measures don’t actually tackle the real problem – food from cloned offspring. Read the full article…

March 22nd, 2013

UK Focus: Three Questions for the NFU on GM Animal Feed

By Eve Mitchell, Food & Water Europe

Click to see a larger image.

Click to see a larger image.

Watching UK’s National Farmers Union (NFU) President Peter Kendall testify to the UK Parliamentary Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ inquiry into horse meat contamination of the EU beef supply on March 5, I was struck again by the inconsistencies in the NFU approach when it comes to GM animal feed.

I have three questions for the NFU:

1) In his testimony, Mr. Kendall repeated the position that short supply chains are the answer to predictable control of our meat supply and regaining consumer confidence. How does this tally with the repeated insistence that UK livestock farmers need industrial GM feed from the Americas traded through complex international commodity markets?

Much is made about the allegedly dwindling availability of non-GM soy (known in the UK as soya), but the non-GM soya industry itself paints a rather different picture. On February 26, Augusto Freire, Managing Director of Cert-ID (a company certifying non-GM soya supplies), said, “20-25% of Brazilian soybean production is free from genetic modification for the 2012/13 crop. China’s and India’s soy production is 100% Non-GMO….Estimates for 2013 are strongly up compared to earlier years due to adoption of the CERT ID and ProTerra [non-GM certification] programs by new operators in Brazil, as well as increased demand in Europe.”

In the current climate, before supply and demand reduce the cost of non-GM feed, it may well be a bit more expensive per tonne, but according to our calculations if non-GM feed costs an extra £14/tonne (about $21.00), this works out to be a mere 3p/dozen eggs (about 5 cents). Mr. Kendall asks, “Are we going to produce chickens in this country that are non-GM, but buy them in from Asia because they are 20% cheaper and they are fed on GM [feed]?” Is he perhaps confusing feed costs with the poor animal husbandry that keeps meat from many non-European factory farms cheap?

We also need to be careful in working out how much animal feed is actually GM – any amount of GM feed comingled with an otherwise non-GM shipment means the entire quantity, and all subsequent feed bags, are labelled GM. This does not mean that feed is anything like 100% GM, and in fact the bulk of any animal feed is probably non-GM.

2) If, as Mr. Kendall says, UK farmers need “confidence” in the market to invest and improve UK beef production levels, why does this logic not apply to the farmers in Brazil already growing non-GM soya but unable to risk the costs of certification without confirmed advance orders from the EU to ensure they gets a return?

Augusto Freire notes, “An additional volume of Brazilian soy meal representing 1.5 million metric tonnes of soybeans could have been certified [as non-GM] if EU buyers had expressed their demand early in the year.” The non-GM soya is there, and more can be grown, we just need to say we want it. It’s not hard.

Consumer demand should boost confidence enough to take this step. A 2010 GfK/NOP poll showed fewer than 40% of supermarket shoppers were aware that imported GM animal feed fuels British factory farming, and 89% wanted these products to be clearly labelled. In January of this year the UK Food Standards Agency published research showing again that two-thirds of respondents want all use of GM feed to be labelled. Even among those undecided about GM food and crops respondents felt “some form of labelling should be in place to help them determine GM content and avoid choosing foods containing GM if they so wish”. Overall there is a clear indication this need to identify GM use applies to animal products in particular. People don’t want GM feed in the food chain, and they want clear labels to help them see where it is – or isn’t.

3) I completely agree that there is, as Mr. Kendall told the Committee, “too much focus on price” in the food industry. If this is the case, why are industrial crops feeding industrial megafarm production to produce cheap meat worthy of such vocal support?

True, there are vested interests on both sides of the discussion, and there are rumours that Indian soya is less desirable than Brazilian. Overall we’d be far better off moving away from the industrial meat model. Yet this does not explain why supermarkets can’t do their part in delivering what the market demands now by placing clear orders for non-GM soya (or non-GM fed products) to give Brazilian farmers the confidence they need to grow and certify non-GM crops. The NFU position invokes the market, but goes directly against the basics of supply and demand. The more non-GM feed is demanded, the more will be supplied, and the costs will come down—unless vested interests interfere with the market. Large supermarkets and dairies in other parts of Europe seem to be able to manage it, so it is very difficult to see why the UK is different.

Mr. Kendall told the NFU 2013 conference, “Today I want to talk about a pact with the great British consumer to get things changed…We now need supermarkets to stop scouring the world for the cheapest products they can find and start sourcing high quality, traceable, product from farmers here at home…That may mean more dedicated supply groups. It will certainly mean longer-term thinking and a shorter supply chain.” We agree, and we’re here to help.

Mr. Kendall, if you truly “Do not want food safety and standards to be politicised,” as you told the Committee, why do you say GM skepticism is “directly comparable to Nazi book-burning in the 1930’s”? Why do you not support your members in providing what the market clearly wants?

The situation with regard to GM animal feed looks increasingly like lucrative supply lines controlled by shippers and importers, not farmers, attempting to force an end to non-GM supplies on an unwilling market. The NFU position, which wedges farmers uncomfortably between their market and these vested interests, remains very difficult to understand. The sooner the NFU applies the logic it uses in the meat chain to the feed chain, the sooner consumers will begin to regain confidence in our food.

Mr. Kendall also told your 2013 conference consumers should demand answers from the people they buy from. We agree European consumers can and should get what they want.

This action is a good first step.


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