18 February 2011

Plans to build Britain’s first ‘mega-dairy’ axed amid environmental fears

Nocton Dairies, who envisioned a 4,000 cow dairy farm in Lincolnshire, has withdrawn their plans after objections from the Environment Agency. The farm would have been the first of its kind in Britain, and raised objections from local residents, environmental and animal welfare groups, Parliament members and celebrities.

According to The Ecologist, the Environmental Agency said the farm posed an ‘unacceptable risk to groundwater supplies’ and also they could not be satisfied that slurry produced by the cows would be safely disposed of.

The two farmers behind the scheme, David Barnes and Peter Willes, had originally planned the herd to be 8,000 but had reduced numbers to try and ensure approval by local authorities. They admitted defeat claiming it was ‘impossible to provide the reassurances required by the Environmental Agency that livestock farming is an appropriate use of land at this site.’ Barnes and Willes still hope to see ‘U.S. style’ dairy farming in the U.K. and asked people to stand up to opponents of the system. In an interview with The Guardian at the weekend (before the plans were pulled), Willes said:
"The fault," he said, "is not the consumers or even the supermarkets, it's probably our own. Dairy farmers have spent years selling this image of a cheery cow with a daisy in her mouth leaping about a green field, but cows don't live like that. So we can't complain because we have been a bit reclusive and have lost a lot of connections between the public and our farms."But this is not new, just bigger. And greener, more sustainable – the carbon footprint will the lowest of any dairy in Britain – we will recycle waste and use renewable energy. People have been saying it's terrible that our cows will be indoors for six months of a year, but most British cows are. Otherwise, their pastures would be destroyed."The cow is the centre of all of this, the space she has, where she wants to lie down, where she wants her water trough, it's all the best research. We will have sand beds because it's been proven cows are more comfortable on sand. It will be cleaned three times a day. A cow costs around £1,600 – that's £6m worth we will be investing in, so the whole dairy is designed around what is best for that cow. Otherwise we get no milk."

In the same article, Philip Lymberry, Chief executive of Compassion in World Farming, countered:
"Holsteins are bred to produce high yields and on this uber-scale you are pushing them to their physical limits while denying them access to grazing. The issue is a very large number of cows will be on concrete and sand and denied access to pasture for much of their lives. Cows belong in fields. The price of milk is screwed to the floor, but driving the industry to factory farming and down the lowest price cul-de-sac will not help. You can buy a litre of milk for half the price of a litre of fizzy water and that's clearly not right; the retailers have a part to play here."

But this victory may be shortlived for the residents of Britain - David Alvis, another farmer, is reportedly looking to set up a large dairy in Cambridgeshire, and the Soil Association (part of an alliance, also including Compassion in World Farming and Friends of the Earth) are currently battling a proposal for an intensive indoor pig unit in Derbyshire.

Bev Hahler | @redhotvegan
Bev, a vegetarian since she was 14 years old, became more interested in veganism several years ago after studying Agro-business as part of an Ecology degree. She has a gorgeous daughter in second grade who has been a vegetarian her whole life (lucky girl). Follow Bev on her blog and Facebook.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/49873984@N03