By DOMINIC WEST
When public figures speak out about animal welfare issues, their views tend to be received with weary sighs. But the way we treat our livestock is not just a moral question. Industrial farming is making us ill.
Across Europe, in countries including Germany, Romania and Britain too, industrial pork production is on the rise. It is subsidised by our taxes, and yet no politician has ever asked us if we want it.
Thankfully, people power is on the march. Last Wednesday, I joined some of the locals who are objecting to plans for an industrial pig farm near the village of Foston in Derbyshire.
I grew up in Derbyshire and my uncle was once a small-scale pig farmer – just the sort of person who would be put out of business by a development like this.
Despite 6,500 objections, including one from the Environment Agency, Midland Pig Producers (MPP) is seeking planning consent to build one of the largest pig farms in British history, capable of housing 25,000 animals.
MPP is owned by the Leavesley family who live a comfortable ten miles from the site and whose 20 million annual turnover comes from property development, military surplus, salvage and farming.
I went to the site, which is set among picturesque fields, to lend my support to campaigners in advance of a residents’ meeting in nearby Burton upon Trent this Thursday at which experts will explain the potential impact of the development.
I heard locals’ fears of increased heavy lorry movements, noise, smells and the health risks from the antibiotics often given to intensively farmed pigs to keep them healthy in their overcrowded and stressful environment.
Some villagers want to move away but can’t sell their houses.
Also trapped, a few yards downwind from the proposed factory farm boundary, are 250 women incarcerated in Foston Hall jail. Outside the gates, we handed a few copies of the film The Dark Side Of Factory Farming to guards and visitors in the hope that they and the inmates would take the time to find out about what the building of such a large pig farm would mean for them.
Right now, half of all antibiotics in the UK are used on farm animals and 60 per cent of those are given to pigs. The overuse of antibiotics in intensive farming means that these creatures provide a breeding ground for the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of diseases such as MRSA, E.coli and salmonella, which pass from animals to humans.
Ominously, scientists have just discovered a new MRSA strain, said to be present on as many as three per cent of dairy farms in the UK. There have already been 12 cases.
Factory farms are central to all this. When statistics at one hospital in the Netherlands were analysed, it was found that 80 per cent of MRSA cases there were caused by a strain which had evolved on factory pig farms and which is now spreading globally to other farms and from animals to humans too.
In one village of 500 people in America, at the heart of which was a huge pig farm, one in every ten people visited their local doctor with symptoms including skin lesions the size of cricket balls. While investigating these conditions, the doctor himself died of MRSA.
What really bothers me is that even though these health concerns are well known, what Europe’s politicians are doing is worse than nothing: the EU is encouraging factory farms.
To help former Eastern Bloc nations catch up with more productive farms in the West, loans from the EU-funded Bank for Reconstruction and Development have been used to subsidise US-style industrial pig farming.
As shown in the film Pig Business, one of their