January 11th, 2011

Proposed Linconshire Mega-Dairy Could Generate As Much Waste as London


Nocton dairy must not get planning permission, says consumer group

Brussels — Food & Water Europe has formally objected to renewed plans for the EU’s biggest dairy at Nocton, in Lincolnshire in the UK, saying that despite hundreds of pages in dozens of supporting documents, the application fails to adequately account for how the local aquifer can accommodate the massive needs of the dairy, and how to deal with annual waste levels on par with London’s.

The group questioned the economic viability of the plan for a herd of 3,700 cows (“reduced” in this second application after earlier plans were withdrawn), and said this in effect means planning officers have a dilemma: approve plans now that will inevitably lead to the full stocking level of 8,100 cows plus 650 calves in order for the business to have a chance, with all the health risks that brings for humans and animals, or approve a hugely disruptive and unpopular project that is unlikely to survive financially. The only sensible option is to reject the application.

Food & Water Watch Director Wenonah Hauter said, “It looks to us like this application fails in several respects on planning regulations, but the bigger problems revolve around adequate supply of water for the thousands of animals they want to keep and a place to put all the waste they will generate. Water from the local aquifer is already fully committed supplying homes and farms, and local farmers have withdrawn consent to spread waste on their land, so we can’t see how this is going to work. And that’s before we even talk about the impact on the local community.”

The initial number of cows at the proposed dairy will generate more waste annually than the human populations of Manchester and Derby combined, and the full herd annual waste production would exceed that of any city in the UK except London. In the U.S., despite regulation of waste, Washington, D.C.-based Food & Water Watch have found numerous instances where storage lagoons have failed and untreated waste has seeped into groundwater and town water supplies. A 2008 spill forced a town to shut off water supply for two months. With the proposed dairy at Nocton being sited over a fragile natural aquifer, this could cause huge damage to people and protected species, like newts, which are particularly sensitive to manure spills.

Negotiations are “ongoing” to secure changes to water abstraction permits to supply the factory year-round, but were not in place when the application was submitted, calling into question the operational viability of the project.

In addition, health impacts on communities living near mega-dairies include:

  • Nitrate contaminated water – Babies who drink nitrate-contaminated water run a greater risk of developing the potentially fatal “blue baby” syndrome, where their blood cells lose their ability to carry oxygen. Several studies have also linked nitrates in the drinking water to birth defects, disruption of thyroid function, and various types of cancers.
  • Water contamination – Arsenic and other toxic metals, antibiotics, pesticides, and bacterial pathogens where manure is spread on fields increase the risk of E. coli and Camplyobacter infections.
  • Dust particles and toxins from animal feces, hair, and feed can affect white cell blood counts and cause fever and respiratory illness in humans.
  • Ammonia, methane and hydrogen sulphide emissions increase the risk of skin and eye irritation, coughing and wheezing, diarrhoea, asthma, nausea, headaches, depression, and sleep loss.

EU Food Policy Advisor Eve Mitchell said, “We’re very worried about the impact on local people. Noise and smell are only the beginning. Experience in the U.S. shows that communities living near mega-dairies face a host of serious health problems, some many miles away. Given the huge opposition to the project, and the fact that it is simply not needed, we cannot see why anyone would take the risk.”

Mega-dairies have arisen thanks to farmer’s inability to get a fair price for their milk. Supermarkets are selling milk at less than cost price while increasing their profit margins and keeping consumer prices stable. Costs for farmers are going up all the while, so they lose money on every pint. “It is a scandal, and it is driving family farmers out of business,” says Mitchell. “Any outfit that comes along claiming it can succeed in those conditions will do so only by pushing more and more traditional farms to the wall, and may well fall victim to the same game down the road. If supermarkets diverted even 20% of their massive profit on milk back to farmers, we wouldn’t even be having the debate about a mega-dairy in the UK.”

Get the fully referenced copy of the 20 page objection or contact Eve Mitchell.

Food & Water Europe is a program of Food & Water Watch, Inc., a non-profit consumer NGO based in Washington, D.C., working to ensure clean water and safe food in Europe and around the world. We challenge the corporate control and abuse of our food and water resources by empowering people to take action and transforming the public consciousness about what we eat and drink.

Contact: Eve Mitchell, +44 (0)1381 610 740, emitchell(at)fweurope.org or Gabriella Zanzanaini, +32 (0)488 409 662, gzanzanaini(at)fweurope.org

Food & Water Europe is the European programme of Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit organisation based in the United States. Food & Water Europe champions healthy food and clean water for all. We stand up to corporations that put profits before people and advocate for a democracy that improves people's lives and protects our environment. https://www.foodandwatereurope.org