Photo by Marji Beach and licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The rise of nearly 800 mega-farms raises serious concerns over animal welfare, antibiotic resistance and environmental pollution. But it also poses a threat to everything that the rewilding movement stands for.
An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and The Guardian has revealed that the UK now has 789 mega-farms or CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations).
Mega-farms are hailed by some advocates for producing more meat in a smaller space, making it cheaper for the consumer. Each chicken for example has the equivalent of one A4 sized sheet of paper for space. Freeing up space for rewilding? While organic and free-range farming operations occupy more land space, mega-farms have a far more detrimental impact on the environment overall.
Ghost acres are a poignant example of this. In ‘Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat’ Philip Lymbery of Compassion in World Farming states that to feed one 892m2 chicken shed that produces 150,000 chickens per year, 90 hectares (around 222 acres) of arable land is needed to produce the cereal to feed the birds. It is a hugely inefficient use of land and a farming system in which less food comes out than what is put in. Although grazing animals outside does take up more space, these animals are converting crop that we are unable to eat and is therefore more efficient for producing food. Approximately 40% of the proteins fed to livestock are soy beans in the UK. The Food Standards Agency estimates that 20% of feed crop for animal agriculture is imported. A report by Friends of the Earth found that 78% of imported soy bean and 34% of soy meal came from Brazil, 47% soy meal from Argentina and some originated from Paraguay. This is having devastating impacts on the local environment of the exporting nations through conversion of rainforest into soy plantations leading to sharp biodiversity loss, degraded soils, pesticide pollution and impacts on the water supplies available for local people.
This is not in line with the rewilder’s code – destruction of the natural world in biodiversity hotspots, such as the Amazon rainforest in Brazil is the very antithesis of the rewilding movement. Promoting the rewilding of land in the UK cannot come at the expense of great wildernesses across the planet.