Investigation reveals spread of UK livestock ‘mega-farms’

Factory farming poses a threat to humanity “as big as climate change”, a major new book reveals.

Taking its title from a chilling warning made by the United Nations that the world’s soils could be gone within a lifetime, Sixty Harvests Left, by Philip Lymbery, uncovers how the food industry threatens our world. Put simply, without soils there will be no food: game over. And time is running out. 

Ecostorm contributed key research and investigative material for the book, including data which reveals how US-style mega-farm numbers have risen to more than a thousand. In the US, 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. These are labelled by US officials as a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO).

By 2021, the number of farms in the UK that met the US definition of a CAFO, or mega-farm, was 1,099, according to research.

In England alone, our research found, the number of mega-farms increased from 818 in 2016 to 944 in 2020. Of these, 745 house poultry and 199 are for pigs. There are four poultry farms in the UK registered for 1 million birds, with the largest holding up to 1.4 million. For pigs, the biggest three farms hold more than 20,000 pigs.

There are also at least 19 dairies that meet the criteria of a “mega-dairy”. Cows held in intensive dairies are “zero-grazed”, which means they are not allowed out into fields and are permanently housed inside sheds. The largest one in the UK appears to hold 2,000 animals.

In addition, nine mega-farms hold 1,000 or more beef cattle. US-style beef feedlots, where cattle are fattened up before slaughter, were first identified as existing in the UK in a Guardian investigation in 2018.

Read the full investigation here