A report claiming the British dairy industry has introduced intensive indoor dairy farms “by stealth” has been slammed by the NFU.
The report, by World Animal Protection (WAP) UK, accuses developers of increasing dairy farm sizes gradually – and then applying for planning permission retrospectively.
Although no official figures exist, the study authors claim their research has shown there are nearly 100 “intensive indoor dairy farms” in the UK with a “further 43 suspected”.
“These systems can hold over 2,000 cows and now account for up to a fifth of the milk produced in the UK,” says the report.
“Cows in these systems never go outside, are pushed to their limits to produce more milk, and are at higher risk of suffering from lameness and udder infections.”
The authors claim British consumers are unaware of where their milk, cheese and cream comes from and the intensification of dairy farms is a threat to the “iconic image of cows grazing in lush fields”.
Unlike what [World Animal Protection] state there is no evidence to prove that the health and welfare of the dairy cow is compromised due to the scale or the system of the farm Sian Davies, NFU
Andrew Ayrton, a pasture-based dairy farmer from Skipton, Yorkshire, is quoted in the report saying: “Very few people are aware of intensive indoor dairy farming, and most believe that all cows go out to graze on grass.
“This way of farming causes lameness and health problems associated with standing in slurry all year. To go outdoors is a basic freedom that every cow should have.”
However, the NFU said it was “disappointed” with yet another report, which “paints a false image of the UK dairy industry”.
To make matters worse, the report is published at a time when hard-working dairy farmers are struggling with unsustainably low prices, below the cost of production.
Sian Davies, NFU chief dairy adviser, said: “UK dairy farmers take the health and welfare of their dairy cows extremely seriously and it’s not in anyone’s benefit to see this change.
“Over 90% of the milk produced and consumed in the UK is inspected for environmental, animal health and welfare and food safety standards under the Red Tractor scheme and consumers can be confident in dairy products that display the Red Tractor logo.”
She added: “It is a fact that dairy farms have increased in size over the years – we now have around 1.895 million dairy cows on 13,355 dairy farms in the UK and the average herd size is around 123 cows according to AHDB.
“Unlike what WAP state there is no evidence to prove that the health and welfare of the dairy cow is compromised due to the scale or the system of the farm. Far more important is the management of the system to best suit the needs of the cow.”
Ms Davies encouraged members of the public to learn more about dairy farming by visiting a dairy farm during Open Farm Sunday, which takes place on 5 June.