New research has unveiled that there are more than 1,000 US-style mega-farms in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Mega-farms are defined as those that hold more than 125,000 birds reared for meat, or 82,000 egg-laying hens, 2,500 pigs, 700 dairy cows or 1,000 beef cattle. In the US they are officially called Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO). By 2021, the number of farms in the UK that met the US definition of a CAFO was at least 1,099, according to the research. The data (which does not include Scotland) has been published in the book Sixty Harvests Left: How to Reach a Nature-Friendly Future, by Philip Lymbery, CEO of Compassion in World Farming (CIWF).
From 2016 to 2020, the number of mega-farms in England increased from 818 to 944. Of these, 745 kept chickens and hens and 199 kept pigs. There are four chicken farms in the UK registered for 1 million birds, with the largest holding up to 1.4 million. The biggest three pig farms hold more than 20,000 sows and boars. Regarding dairy farming, there are at least 19 mega-farms. The largest UK “zero-grazed” mega-dairy-farms is said to keep 2,000 animals. US-style beef feedlots, where cattle are fattened up before slaughter, were first found in the UK in a 2018 Guardian investigation.
The UK kills 1 billion chickens, 10 million pigs and 2.6 million cattle a year, most kept in intensive units. These are a leading cause of our climate crisis, are driving pollution and biodiversity loss, and are increasing the health risks associated with ammonia pollution. Factory farming, as well as web markets, are the perfect environments for the development of new emerging zoonotic diseases — such as COVID19. This is one of the main thesis of the campaign Scrap Factory Farming, which has taken the UK Government to the European Court of Human Rights for failing to protect people from the life-threatening risks posed by factory farms.