Soil Association defends Foston pig farm stance

The Soil Association has denied its efforts to campaign against the proposed large-scale pig unit in Foston in Derbyshire are a cynical attempt to boost the organisation’s membership.

Soil Association chief executive Helen Browning was forced to reject the claims after NFU president Peter Kendall rounded on her following a debate at the Conservative party conference in Manchester.

At a Crop Protection Association fringe event on Tuesday (4 October), Mrs Browning said she was concerned about large-scale units being seen as the answer to increasing UK food production.

While she wanted organic producers to embrace new technology and production systems, she said the planned Midland Pig 2500-sow pig unit at Foston went against the organic movement’s principles.

 “As we run out of inputs, organic systems are the most cost-effecitve and humane in feeding the world,” she told delegates.

“Intensive is not a dirty word, but sustainable intensification needs to be looked at in a way which meets people’s needs but doesn’t do damage in the longer term.”

Mrs Browning said the Soil Association was concerned the Foston pig unit would damage mid-scale family farms in the UK, as well as posing an increased risk to animal and human health and the environment.

“Foston doesn’t meet what we are about as a movement because you are looking at animals that are inside throughout their lives,” she said.

“We are concerned about the system, as some systems when you scale them up have the potential to go wrong. [Concrete-based systems like Foston] have a higher risk of disease and environmental issues around them and they are harder to manage.”

But Mr Kendall said the plans for Foston – which include its own abattoir, an anerobic digestion plant and a high-welfare, straw-based system – were ‘fantastic’.

And he slammed the Soil Association’s campaigning against the proposals as an “attempt to gain more members”.

“The UK is only 40% self-sufficient in pigmeat,” he said. “The 2500 sows at Foston won’t make a jot of difference to where we are at the moment. It certainly won’t drive the market price down.”

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