Herefordshire has more than 16 million factory-farmed animals, mainly poultry – which means the county has 88 times more factory-farmed animals than it does humans. Shropshire and Norfolk follow closely, with more than 15 million and 12 million animals respectively. Nearly every county in England and Northern Ireland has at least one mega farm, and they are also scattered across Scotland and Wales.
The march of US-style mega farms – defined in the US as facilities housing 125,000 broiler chickens, 82,000 laying hens, 2,500 pigs, 700 dairy or 1,000 beef cattle – has been revealed in an investigation by the Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
Most of these farms have gone unnoticed, despite their size and the controversy surrounding them, in part because many farmers have expanded existing facilities rather than seeking new sites.
Mega farms and industrial-scale farms (that count as intensive, but not “mega” under the US definition) have previously attracted attention because of concerns raised by local residents, over smells, noise and the potential for pollution or disease outbreaks, and by animal welfare campaigners, who argue that factory-style farming in which livestock are rarely or never permitted outdoors prevents animals from expressing their natural behaviour. They also worry that mega farms are pushing smaller farmers out of business, leading to the takeover of the countryside by large agribusinesses, with the loss of traditional family-run units.