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

‘Loophole’ allowing for deforestation on soya farms in Brazil’s Amazon

More than 400 sq miles (1,000 sq km) of Amazon rainforest has been felled to expand farms growing soya in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso in a 10-year period, despite an agreement to protect it, according to a new investigation.

In 2006, the landmark Amazon soy moratorium was introduced banning the sale of soya grown on land deforested after 2008. From 2004 to 2012, the clearing of trees in the Amazon fell by 84%.

But in recent years deforestation has climbed steeply, reaching a 15-year high last year – encouraged, campaigners say, by President Jair Bolsonaro’s anti-conservationist rhetoric and policies.

With the moratorium applying only to soya, farmers have been able to sell the crop as deforestation-free, while still clearing land for cattle, maize or other commodities.

To map the deforestation, researchers from the Brazilian NGO Instituto Centro de Vida, along with Greenpeace’s Unearthed, Ecostorm and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, looked at satellite data of land where soya was being grown in Mato Grosso state, which stretches across the southern part of the Amazon. The state grows more soya than anywhere else in Brazil.

They found that while studies show the moratorium had successfully stopped rainforest being directly converted into soya fields, deforestation had continued. Farmers were clearing land to grow commodities other than soya, with 450 sq miles of rainforest – equivalent in size to Greater Manchester – felled in Mato Grosso between 2009 and 2019, according to the research.

Holly Gibbs, professor of geography and environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US, said: “At the same time that soy farmers comply with the moratorium, they continue to deforest illegally for other purposes.”

The revelations undermine claims by supermarkets that soya is no longer linked to the loss of Amazon rainforest.

Soya is a key commodity used by dairy, cattle, pig and poultry farmers in Europe and the rest of the world to feed their livestock.

The Brazilian Association of Vegetable Oil Industries (Abiove), the main association for soya traders in Brazil, said the moratorium had resulted in significant reductions in deforestation in municipalities that produce soya.

“If soy beans are planted in polygons [an area between a specified set of coordinates] with deforestation after 2008, the entire farm is considered noncompliant with the soy moratorium,” Abiove said a statement.

Previous analysis has suggested more than 1m tonnes of soya used by UK livestock farmers to produce chicken and other food in 2019 could have been linked to deforestation.

Gibbs said pressure from soya buyers in Europe and the US was needed to stop the deforestation. “Legislation in the EU, UK and the US raises the stakes of this ongoing deforestation on soy properties. The soy industry could consider broadening the Amazon soy moratorium to close the door to all deforestation connected to soy.”

Prof Raoni Rajão, an agricultural specialist at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, said the current regulations were insufficient. “Only the specific areas where soy is grown are monitored, not the entire property. Farmers have already noticed this loophole.”

The Retail Soy Group, which represents leading retailers including Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Lidl and Waitrose, acknowledged there were limitations to the moratorium and said the new allegations “further highlight the need to have strengthened legal protections of these vital ecosystems”.

See other versions of this story here.

Feed supplier to UK farm animals still linked to Amazon deforestation

A major supplier of animal feed is still buying soya and corn from a farm linked to deforestation in the Amazon, despite having pledged to clean up its global supply chains, an investigation has revealed. Cargill, a giant agricultural multinational that sells feed to British chicken farms, buys crops from a farm growing soybeans on deforested land in the Brazilian Amazon.

An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Greenpeace Unearthed, Repórter Brasil and Ecostorm uncovered Cargill’s links with the Brazilian supplier farm, Fazenda Conquista

The farm in the Brazilian Amazon was responsible for eight sq km of deforestation since 2013, with multiple forest fires recorded in 2020. Its trading with Cargill includes supplying soya, and the farm has signed a deal to deliver 5,700 tonnes of corn to the company this year. It is not known whether the crops in question were grown on a recently deforested part of the farm.

The findings raise questions about Cargill’s due diligence process. The company has pledged not to buy soya beans from land deforested in the Amazon after 2008, and last year committed to moving faster to eliminate “commodity-driven deforestation”.

But Cargill has also been repeatedly linked to deforestation. In 2020, the Bureau and Unearthed reported 800 sq km of deforestation and 12,000 fires since 2015 on land used by Cargill soya suppliers in the Cerrado, another protected biome in Brazil.

The company exports thousands of tonnes of Brazilian soya to the UK each year for use in animal feed. Campaigners said the findings highlighted the hidden environmental costs of cheap meat.

“Meat chickens are the most intensively farmed animals in the UK with over a billion slaughtered each year,” Lindsay Duncan, the campaigns manager at World Animal Protection UK, said.

“The growing demand for cheap chicken leads to the growing demand for soy, causing large-scale deforestation and devastating environmental degradation, which destroys the natural habitats of millions of wild animals.”

As much as 80% of all soya grown across the world is fed to livestock. The UK imported about 3.5m tonnes of soya beans in 2019, with roughly half of that ending up in chicken feed.

About a quarter of the UK’s imported soya comes from Brazil, and the vast majority of that is traded by Cargill.

Cargill said: “We are committed to eliminating deforestation from our supply chains in the shortest possible time, and we are accelerating our efforts.” Responding to the findings about Fazenda Conquista, the statement continued: “If fire has been used and has impacted the native forest or any irregularity is confirmed, we will take the appropriate measures.”

The state of the land in question before 2013 is disputed: Fazenda Conquista’s management said in a statement that the farm had permission from the local environmental agency to carry out a “controlled burn” on the land because it had originally been deforested in the early 1980s.

However, satellite imagery shows that the forest had been regrowing since then, and Brazil’s deforestation monitoring programme flagged the clearing in 2013 as deforestation.

The local environment agency, Sema, confirmed it had authorised a burn on the farm in 2012 to clear pasture with some degree of regeneration. But the agency said no licences for full deforestation inside the farm had been authorised, and admitted that although it had lacked high-resolution satellite imagery prior to 2019 to identify real-time deforestation, a recent analysis suggested there had been deforestation within the property. Sema said it would investigate further.

In an independent analysis of satellite imagery, the NGO Aidenvironment also deemed the land to have been deforested. This year the farm will be blacklisted under the Soy Moratorium, a voluntary industry agreement that bars the trade in soya beans on Amazon land deforested after 2008. The Working Group for Soya, which oversees the moratorium, said it had identified an area of deforestation that had been sown with soya in the last planting season.

A reporter from the Bureau visited the farm this year and saw soya beans growing on the land.

Destruction of the Amazon rainforest has serious consequences for the climate, with experts fearing the biome might soon cross a “tipping point” at which it begins to shift from lush rainforest into a drier savannah, releasing large quantities of stored carbon into the atmosphere.

According to Brazil’s space agency, Amazon deforestation soared 22% over the 12 months to July last year.

Major British food companies have adopted “zero deforestation” certification schemes to tackle the problem but “dirty” soya linked to deforestation continues to enter supply chains.

See the Guardian story here.

How EU finance is fuelling China’s livestock sector

An Ecostorm investigation in conjunction with Eurogroup For Animals found a significant increase in EU investments flowing to the Chinese livestock sector following the introduction of new investment rules in China. Campaigners said that in the absence of sufficient animal welfare related standards in the country, this practice harms the global transition towards sustainable food systems, and fuels the public health and environmental crises the planet faces.

Our investigation revealed that in 2020, EU and EFTA-based investors owned shares worth around €4.5 billion across four of the largest Chinese meat and dairy companies: WH Group, Muyuan, Mengniu and Yili. With the introduction of new investment rules in China, investors like JP Morgan Asset Management Europe, Allianz SE and BNP Paribas significantly increased their shareholding.

In recent years, European livestock giants like Tonnies and Danone have also entered the Chinese market. Tonnies, whose core business is pork and beef processing, spent €500 million in 2019 on a slaughter and butchering centre in the Sichuan region, initially for two million pigs a year (rising to six million), while Danone earned almost €1 billion in profits from the 2021 sale of its stake in Chinese dairy company Mengniu. The Norwegian sovereign wealth fund, which holds the world’s biggest stock portfolio, also entered the market after the new rules were introduced, now owning shares worth approximately €437 million in these four companies.

Eurogroup For Animals said that the business opportunities may seem eye-watering, but a perfect storm of economic, cultural and regulatory issues that accompany EU investments into the Chinese livestock sector could lead to misery for millions of animals. 

China’s livestock sector is growing in the direction of greater intensification and automation, and the welfare problems associated with intensive livestock are well known and increase with scale. In addition to being detrimental to animal welfare, intensive industrial farming has a very negative impact on the environment (air, water and ground pollution), biodiversity (as related land-use changes often lead to habitat loss), public health (as intensive conditions tend to favour the spread of zoonoses and antimicrobial resistance) and climate change (as animals emit greenhouse gases, and also because of the related deforestation). Intensive farming also leads to huge volumes of waste (i.e. high level of water use, animal remains, excrement, water and soil pollution).

Without careful management and awareness of the welfare concerns associated with intensification and automation – and in the absence of further regulation in China – EU investments risk transforming China into a living laboratory for futuristic experiments in animal husbandry, with consequences that could affect the entire planet.

Read the full investigation report here 

Feeding a monster: how aquaculture is stealing food from West African communities

Working with Changing Markets and Greenpeace Africa, Ecostorm contributed key supply chain investigations and data to a major report uncovering how each year, over half a million tonnes of wild-caught fish are taken out of the oceans around West Africa and ground down into fishmeal and fish oil (FMFO) to feed farmed fish and animals in Europe and Asia.

The fish could instead provide essential protein to over 33 million people in the region each year – more than the combined populations of The Gambia, Mauritania and Senegal. In Mauritania – the country with the largest number of FMFO factories (39 factories) – over 600,000 people were forecast to be in crisis in terms of food insecurity, or worse, during the lean season in 2020.

Based on data and investigations the report reveals how West African production of FMFO has grown more than ten-fold in the past decade and highlights how Europe is a major market for West African fish oil to feed its fast-growing aquaculture sector.

Companies involved in the production and trade of West African FMFO are selling to the big European aquafeed giants, which have supply chain links to major European retailers including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Rewe, Aldi, Lidl, Carrefour, E.Leclerc and Mercadona. European food producers, traders and retailers can no longer ignore this major human rights and environmental issue.

The report calls on these companies to immediately stop sourcing FMFO from West Africa and set policies to rapidly phase out the use of wild-caught fish in farmed fish and other farmed animals. It is also calling on governments in West Africa to prioritise fish for local direct human consumption.

For more information click here.

Cargill: the company feeding the world and helping destroy the planet

When it comes to explaining the impact of America’s second biggest private company on your life, no one puts it better than the company itself.

“We are the flour in your bread,” says one of Cargill’s corporate brochures, “the wheat in your noodles, the salt on your fries. We are the corn in your tortillas, the chocolate in your dessert, the sweetener in your soft drink. We are the oil in your salad dressing and the beef, pork or chicken you eat for dinner. We are the cotton in your clothing, the backing on your carpet and the fertiliser in your field.’”

Photo: Greenpeace

In its 155 years, Cargill has insinuated itself into almost every aspect of global agribusiness, transforming the way human beings produce and consume food. It has made its owners into billionaires. And its ascent has played out to a steady backdrop of controversy, most recently the revelation that its supply chain has been linked with vast deforestation – related to extensive fires – in Brazil’s crucial Cerrado region. It is the latest in a string of scandals affecting Cargill including fatal food poisonings, deforestation, agricultural pollution and allegations of child enslaved labour.

Cargill is as controversial as it is enormous – and yet you have almost certainly never heard of it. How, then, has this corporate juggernaut managed to keep such a low profile? And what has it been doing while the rest of us have been looking elsewhere?

Ecostorm’s Lucy Michaels and Pat Thomas contributed research and reporting to this major TBIJ investigation into one of the world’s biggest food companies.

Dirty secrets of American food: Dispatches

Ecostorm contributed footage and information to a major Channel 4 Dispatches documentary examining how US food and farming methods could soon be arriving in the UK.

The programme – amongst other things – revealed how American pork is up to six times more likely to contain salmonella than British pork.

Around 13 per cent of pork samples tested for salmonella in US retail meat were positive for the bacteria, which can cause diarrhoea and vomiting.

E. coli, another potentially harmful bacterium, was also found in 60 per cent of pork, 70 per cent of beef, 80 per cent of chicken and 90 per cent of turkey products destined for American shops and supermarkets.

For more information and to watch the film click here

15 years undercover on the trail of the global meat industry

Some 70 billion land animals are produced globally for food each year, an estimated two thirds of them reared in intensive conditions. Ecostorm co-founder and food journalist Andrew Wasley has spent the past decade and a half probing the multiple impacts of this kind of industrial farming.

His journey has taken him to farms of all sizes, from traditional smallholdings to huge Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) run by some of the world’s biggest food conglomerates. It’s also led him into abattoirs and meat processing plants, livestock markets, ports and food factories in numerous countries.

Many of the issues he’s covered – food safety, antibiotic resistance and superbugs, animal welfare, exploitation of workers, pollution, deforestation – were probably more marginal concerns just twenty or thirty years ago. Today they have jumped up the global agenda and now command the attention of a concerned public as well as politicians.

The Covid-19 crisis has also prompted a renewed interest in the links between animal and human disease, public health, and in farming and food production more widely.

It was this that finally prompted him to write the inside story of the fifteen years he’s spent reporting on the global meat machine.

Photo: We Animals Media

Investigating “Big Ag” isn’t easy. In common with other globalised sectors, it’s dominated by huge but little known corporations where big money and vested interests prevail, along with a culture of secrecy and a widespread lack of accountability. Shining a light on the industry’s murkier corners often requires months of research, sourcing secret or suppressed data and documents, working with whistleblowers and undercover filming.

As well as telling some of the behind-the-scenes stories behind the headlines, he’s highlighted some of the many environmental impacts connected to industrial meat production. Soy, for example, is a staple in animal feed, with up to 90% of the global crop used to feed livestock. But it has been linked to deforestation and human rights abuses in places such as Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina.

Other feed inputs are sourced from the marine environment, including fishmeal. Although prized for its nutritional value – it contains omega-3 fatty acids, beneficial to humans and animals – the fishmeal trade has been responsible for a host of environmental and social problems, including pollution, health issues, overfishing, and impacts on ecosystems and wildlife, in Peru and elsewhere.

It’s here, and in other equally remote places, away from the spotlight and the scrutiny, that many of the real costs of the global appetite for intensively farmed meat are felt. Lives and livelihoods ruined, environments trashed and futures blighted. And it’s often invisible to the outside world.

Read the full piece here on Medium and in The Guardian.

Revealed: critically important antibiotics in use on UK pig farms

Ecostorm contributed to a major new investigation that has uncovered how antibiotics classed as being critically important to human health are still being used on UK pig farms.

The overuse of antibiotics in farms contributes to antibiotic resistance and helps to create the conditions for superbugs to emerge, posing a threat to human health. The World Health Organisation recommends that antibiotics of highest critical importance to humans should not be used in farming.

The investigation, which also documented a number of welfare concerns, follows a series of stories Ecostorm has worked on in recent years highlighting the links between intensive farming and the spread of antibiotic resistant superbugs.

Previously, working with Guardian Films, Ecostorm highlighted how pork sold by several leading British supermarkets was found to be contaminated with a strain of the superbug MRSA linked to the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms.

Livestock-associated MRSA CC398, which originates in animals, was found in pork products sold in Sainsbury’s, Asda, the Co-operative and Tesco. Of the 100 packets of pork chops, bacon and gammon tested in the investigation, nine – eight Danish and one Irish – were found to have been infected with CC398.

CC398 in meat, which poses little risk to the British public, can be transmitted by touching infected meat products or coming into contact with contaminated livestock or people, although it can be killed through cooking.

Many people carry the bacteria without any signs of illness, but some have developed skin complaints, and the bug can cause life-threatening infections, including pneumonia and blood poisoning. Experts warn that the superbug has emerged as a result of antibiotic use in intensive farming and there is evidence that the UK could be at risk of a wider health crisis unless the issue is tackled by the authorities.

Moves to ban antibiotic pollution from pharma factories

The Indian government is to limit the amount of antibiotic residue permitted in wastewater released by drug factories, after a series of investigations by Changing Markets and Ecostorm, and related stories by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

draft bill published in January introduced limits on the concentrations of antibiotics found in the waste discharged by pharmaceutical factories into rivers and the surrounding environment. Experts believe anything above these limits fuels the creation of drug-resistant bacteria, or superbugs.

The growth in superbugs is one of the biggest public health crises facing the world today. Nearly 60,000 newborns a year die from superbug infections in India. If resistance keeps rising people could once again die from common infections, while procedures such as Caesareans, hip replacements and chemotherapy could become impossible to carry out.

Most of the world’s antibiotics are made in factories in India and China, but for over a decade studies have repeatedly shown that these facilities leak antibiotic waste, known as effluent, into the environment. Until now there have been no regulations to curb poor production methods.

TBIJ published a series of stories on drug manufacturers releasing antibiotic wastewater into the environment in 2016 and 2017, published with the Wire in India and The Times and the i newspapers in the UK. We also showed that NHS trusts were buying drugs from factories leaking antibiotic effluent.

In 2016, on-the-ground research by Ecostorm, and subsequent analysis of water samples under the supervision of Dr. Mark Holmes from the University of Cambridge, found high levels of drug-resistant bacteria at sites in three Indian cities: Hyderabad, New Delhi and Chennai.

Out of 34 sites tested, 16 were found to be harbouring bacteria resistant to antibiotics. At four of the sites, resistance to three major classes of antibiotics was detected, including antibiotics of ‘last resort’, those used to treat infections that fail to respond to all other medicines.

Read more here

Is Cargill the ‘worst company in the world’?

US environmental group Mighty Earth announced this month that it had named Minnesota-based Cargill as the “Worst Company in the World” due to its alleged unscrupulous business practices, links to environmental destruction, and repeated incidents of standing in the way of global progress on sustainability. Mighty Earth’s new report – which draws on a series of major Ecostorm investigations, footage and photography – documents decades of apparent bad acts by the company and highlights the need for urgent action.

Ecostorm, working with Mighty Earth, has carried out major field investigations and reporting in South America in recent years, resulting in global coverage, including the New York Times .

“As one of the largest companies in the world, Cargill has a responsibility to address its outsized impact,” Mighty Earth CEO Glenn Hurowitz said. “Mighty Earth runs campaigns around the globe to advocate for sustainable business practices, and Cargill kept showing up when our investigations identified bad actors. Whether we were working on palm oil in Southeast Asia, cocoa farming in West Africa, or soy cultivation in South America, Cargill was always there, ready to thwart progress and impede joint conservation efforts. Given their ubiquity and obstinance, we decided it was time to take a closer look at their checkered past.”

For months, Mighty Earth has engaged in discussions with Cargill, including at the CEO level, to address the report’s findings and seek long-term solutions. Mighty Earth has served as a key convener for other sectors – including rubber, chocolate, and palm oil – as those companies sought to improve their environmental standards and impacts. However, Cargill has refused, time and time again, to substantively address the problems Mighty Earth identified. Instead, Cargill continues to prioritize the deforesters in its supply chains over the climate or their customers’ sustainability demands.

The release of Mighty Earth’s groundbreaking report kicks-off a multimillion-dollar, multi-year campaign targeting Cargill and its customers that will urge the agribusiness giant to eliminate deforestation and human rights abuses from its supply chain. To launch the campaign, local Mighty Earth activists and allies including Minnesota Clean Water Action honoured Cargill for its dubious distinction with a rally outside Cargill headquarters in Minnesota at which it awarded the company a “thumbs down” placard.

Full story here

Meet the world’s biggest meat company you’ve never heard of

Ecostorm contributed research and reporting to a major new investigation into the world’s biggest meat company – JBS. A collaboration between the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the Guardian and Reporter Brasil, the series highlighted how the company’s beef supply chain has been linked to deforestation.

If you eat meat, you probably buy products made by one Brazilian company. A company with such power it can openly admit to having bribed more than 1,000 politicians and continue to grow despite scandal after scandal. And you’ve probably never heard of it.

Meat is now the new commodity, controlled by just a handful of gigantic firms which together wield unprecedented control over global food production. The Bureau has been investigating the biggest of all: JBS, a Brazilian company which slaughters a staggering 13 million animals every single day and has annual revenue of $50bn.

When it comes to scandals, you can take your pick — during its rapid rise to become the world’s biggest meatpacker, JBS and its network of subsidiaries have been linked to allegations of high-level corruption, modern-day “slave labour” practices, illegal deforestation, animal welfare violations and major hygiene breaches. In 2017 its holding company agreed to pay one of the biggest fines in global corporate history — $3.2bn — after admitting bribing hundreds of politicians. Yet the company’s products remain on supermarket shelves across the world, and its global dominance only looks set to grow further.

In a two-part investigation published this month, the Bureau revealed in partnership with the Guardian and Repórter Brasil that Amazon deforestation and dirty meat are very much part of how JBS has done business. Today we lift the lid on the company itself, and ask: what is the true cost of cheap meat?

Uncovering Europe’s “fish feedlots”

This year saw Ecostorm continue its global investigations into industrial farming, with undercover investigators gathering video and other evidence that was subsequently used by UK NGO Compassion in World Farming to highlight conditions on fish farms across Europe. The group said what we discovered – related to species sea bass, sea bream and trout -highlighted how farmed fish can be kept in appalling conditions.

CIWF reported: “Confined to concrete tanks on land or in floating ocean nets by the thousands, these fish spend their short, miserable lives swimming in cramped waters where disease and parasites can thrive. Dead fish were found floating in tanks as live ones swam around them.”

“Equally shocking is the cruel way fish are killed. Sea bass and sea bream are commonly dumped into large buckets of ice slurry, where they thrash about, fighting for their lives, as ice gets lodged in their gills and they struggle to breathe. They can remain conscious throughout this ordeal, and many are still alive when they are packaged for sale.”

“Our team also witnessed trout flailing about in pools of bloody water after having their throats cut, a clear sign that the stunning system wasn’t working properly. This kind of suffering is illegal according to European law, which mandates animals should not suffer unnecessarily while being killed.”

“Not all European countries farm sea bass, sea bream and trout, but these fish are found on supermarket shelves across the continent. There are producers, like some in the UK and Netherlands, who are using more humane slaughter methods for fish but these practices need to be written into national legislation and cover all species.”

Footage reveals spread of UK intensive beef farming

Ecostorm obtained dramatic drone footage and other video evidence central to a major new investigation by the Guardian that highlighted the spread of industrial scale beef production across the UK. 

The investigation highlighted how thousands of British cattle reared for supermarket beef are being fattened in industrial-scale units where livestock have little or no access to pasture. Research by the Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has established that the UK is now home to a number of industrial-scale fattening units with herds of up to 3,000 cattle at a time being held in grassless pens for extended periods rather than being grazed or barn-reared.

Intensive beef farms, known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are commonplace in the US. But the practice of intensive beef farming in the UK has not previously been widely acknowledged – and the findings have sparked the latest clash over the future of British farming

The beef industry says that the scale of operations involved enables farmers to rear cattle efficiently and profitably, and ensure high welfare standards. But critics say there are welfare and environmental concerns around this style of farming, and believe that the farms are evidence of a wider intensification of the UK’s livestock sector which is not being sufficiently debated, and which may have an impact on small farmers.

In contrast to large intensive pig and poultry farms, industrial beef units do not require a government permit, and there are no official records held by DEFRA on how many intensive beef units are in operation. But the Guardian and the Bureau has identified nearly a dozen operating across England, including at sites in Kent, Northamptonshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. The largest farms fatten up to 6,000 cattle a year.

Read the full report here

The real cost of green energy – Dispatches

Ecostorm produced and directed this month’s major Dispatches investigation into ‘green energy’.  We worked with reporter Antony Barnett to investigate a subsidised renewable energy industry that turns trees into fuel, and asked whether burning wood instead of coal is really an environmentally friendly answer to climate change.

In the Channel 4 programme, we travelled to the forestlands of the south-eastern United States to find one source of this controversial ‘carbon-neutral’ fuel, and the biodiverse wetlands of Virginia and North Carolina, where millions of tonnes of wood are harvested and processed into pellets, which are burnt in one of Britain’s largest power stations. 

More info here
To read an Ecologist article on the programme see here