Misplaced fears over “mega-farms” are an increasing threat the future of food production in the UK, warns the National Pig Association (NPA).
The group said it was concerned by opposition to so-called mega-farms which meant even planning applications for traditional part-time pig units were now meeting opposition.
It highlighted a “growing trend” for vegan groups and other single-interest lobby groups to become involved in planning applications, using misinformation to frighten local residents into opposing new and replacement pig farms.
Since the failed attempt to build a US-style “super dairy” at Nocton in Lincolnshire three years ago, vegan groups have pounced on all proposed livestock housing developments, describing them as “mega farms” and “factory farms”, it added.
But the NPA said there were no “mega” pig farms in Britain and no applications to build any.
Most pig applications were for modest-sized pig units that will be part of a traditional mixed farm, where the pigs eat the grain grown on the farm and provide organic manure for the crops, in place of chemical fertilisers.
“In the past, pig farmers who wanted to build a new pig unit, usually to replace inefficient old buildings, could work constructively with local residents to address any concerns they might have,” said NPA general manager Zoe Davies.
“But now they are being targeted by aggressive single-issue organisations with no local connections. We have even heard of pig farmers who have received threatening phone calls and emails from the other side of the world, accusing them of being ‘factory farmers’, which they most certainly are not.”
The NPA said a building for 1,500 finisher pigs falls far short of being a “mega farm”, being a modest venture that will not provide a living income on its own, but will add a small extra income to a farm business that might otherwise struggle to be sustainable.
In the USA, most pigs are born on breeding units housing 5,000-10,000 sows – more than double even the largest breeding units in Britain and more than 10 times the size of an average British breeding unit.
But even applications for larger pig units that will operate as stand-alone businesses bear no comparison to those being constructed in the States, it added.
And unlike most of Europe’s key pig-producing countries, Britain has a very small pig population, so the problem of local pig density does not arise.
NPA chairman Richard Longthorp said the association intended to produce a leaflet for planning authorities and local residents, putting the size of new developments in perspective.
“I would urge all planning authorities to recognise that investment in farming is essential to keep the countryside alive,” said Mr Longthorp.
“And people who live in villages but drive into towns and cities every day to work should consider the needs of those who work in the rural economy and who keep the countryside alive while they are away during the day.
“They should remember that pig farms employ a huge number of people indirectly, including hauliers, millers, meat plants, electricians, plumbers and builders.”
Britain already imports about 60% of its pork and pork products – usually from less welfare-friendly farms – and the NPA said this figure is set to rise unless farmers are encouraged to invest in new more efficient and environmentally-friendly buildings.