A front-page story in The Independent newspaper about the rise in so-called “mega-dairies” has been criticised by the NFU for reporting claims with no basis in fact.
The story appeared on Monday morning (23 November) under the headline ‘Plummeting milk price prompts ‘stealth’ rise of 2,000-cow ‘mega-dairies’ in UK’.
The article claimed that low milk prices had led to the “spread of intensified milk-production methods”, which was resulting in environmental and animal welfare problems.
It suggested there were now 20 “American-style factory dairies” across the country with herds of 700 or more cows kept year-round inside – although it admitted these figures were not official.
In a separate editorial article, the paper suggested that planning rows such as the one at Nocton in Lincolnshire had encouraged farmers to grow their herds on a more incremental basis, so their scale was hidden from public view.
“Neighbours discover what is happening only when the stench of slurry from the huge herds becomes all-pervasive, the fields become open sewers, and local roads are clogged with milk tankers and silage trailers,” it said.
In a letter to the newspaper, NFU dairy board chairman Rob Harrison said linking scale and housing to low welfare was “a lazy assumption with no basis in fact.”
“There is any amount of evidence, including European Food Safety Authority (EFSA reports), that state it is the quality of management and stockmanship which is the decisive factor when it comes to welfare, not the size of the farm,” he wrote.
“It is in every farmer’s interest that their cows are well looked after.”
Mr Harrison explained that the average herd size in the UK was 124 cows which proved there was, and will remain to be, a wide variety in the size of dairy farms across the country.
“All dairy farms under the Red Tractor scheme are independently inspected on a regular basis so consumers can be assured that dairy farmers produce milk to the highest environmental and animal welfare standards – and this is regardless of system.
“So if consumers want to do the right thing they should buy dairy products proudly displaying the Red Tractor logo.”