It is important that everyone in the Golden Valley and surrounding countryside understands that this proposal does not exist in isolation.
Herefordshire, Shropshire and Powys have been approving applications for these sheds at a surprising rate. Processors are encouraging our farmers who are considering diversification to join them. The farmer will agree a contract with a processor for the construction of the buildings and the fitting out, the supply of feedstuffs and the purchase of the meat. It is a profitable business for the processors and attracts farmers because it require little time to operate.
So what are the main objections?
- An average broiler unit is over 100m long and more than 20m wide. It covers an acre of agricultural land and will produce 50,000 chickens every six weeks: the chickens are 35-38 days old when they are slaughtered and then it takes a week to clear out the litter and clean the sheds.
- Large quantities of toxic dust from the units are blown onto the surrounding land, into our waterways and onto our homes. This can include particles of the avian flu virus, mites, bacteria, moulds and faecal matter. Dust and bio-aerosols (living organisms) are not currently assessed for Environmental Permits in the UK. This year, avian flu has already closed down areas around broiler units in the UK. (Source: J Hartung and J. Schulz, Risks caused by bio-aerosols in poultry houses.)
- The chickens are fed on soy meal to promote rapid growth. The bulk of non-GM soy is imported from Brazil, where rainforests are being destroyed to produce crops (Source: DEFRA). Britain produces a negligible amount of soy: our climate is not suitable. Grains including wheat only form a small proportion of broiler diets. The chickens need a high protein diet to achieve the required growth rates. Grains cannot be fed directly from the farm. They must be processed at a licensed mill.(Source: European Poultry Science (and others))
- The units are built entirely from non-renewable resources: concrete, steel and prefabricated synthetic panels.
- The chickens require constant temperatures: heating in the winter and cooling in the summer. This is normally fuelled using biomass boilers. Although biomass is a renewable resource, it means valuable agricultural land is taken out of food production.
- Each broiler unit produces two tonnes of waste every day, containing toxins including arsenic and ammonia (Source: Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations). That equals 50,000 tonnes of waste in the UK each day and the total is growing as more sheds are built. The waste provides valuable fertiliser, rich in phosphorous and nitrogen, but at such quantities that our landscape cannot absorb it. What the plants do not take up may run off into streams and rivers.
- An excess of phosphorous is already threatening our rivers and waterways. There is already very significant damage to the Wye and the Lugg. The nutrients feed algae, which sucks oxygen out of the water, killing fish and other marine life. Ultimately, it can damage our drinking water, as happened in Oklahoma in the United States.
- Broiler chickens are highly susceptible to salmonella and campylobacter bacteria: see the piece broadcast by Channel 4 news. While the industry denies that it routinely uses antibiotics to control infection, the UK government has said it does not have enough information to monitor the use of drugs in practice. The use of antibiotics in farming is linked to the rise of antibiotic resistance in humans, described by science minister David Willetts as “a global challenge that is up there with climate change, water stress and environmental damage.”
- Monitoring by The Food Standard Agency shows that 65 per cent of chicken on sale in the UK is contaminated with campylobacter. Campylobacter is responsible for 460,000 cases of food poisoning and 110 deaths in the UK each year.
- There are already more than 2,000 broiler units in the UK, most of them in Herefordshire and Shropshire and in the east of England, while Powys is rapidly catching up. Between them, these units create as much phosphorous as the waste from 10 million people.
- While we have an Environment Agency permitting scheme to try to control the pollution these developments cause, the EA does not have the power to control the number of units created. That is left to the local authority through the planning system.
- Intensive farms (pig and poultry) had the lowest compliance levels with environmental obligations in 2012/2013, with 32 per cent in breach. The Environment Agency imposed fines of £77,000 on the intensive farming industry in 2012, far more than either of the much bigger landfill or chemical industries. (Source: The Environment Agency Sustainable Business Report 2012)
- The Environment Agency relies on the restrictions on farmers in Nitrate Vulnerable Zones to control the amount of poultry waste they spread on their land, but under pressure from farmers, the UK has relaxed the rules on NVZs in recent years, taking some areas out of these protected zones, allowing more waste to be spread more frequently.
- Broiler units are an eyesore, threatening the beautiful countryside, which is a valuable tourist resource to many rural areas and their immediate towns. They create noise and unpleasant odour.
- The developments generate heavy traffic on our fragile rural roads.
- Very few, if any, new jobs are created. Each of these units creates the equivalent of less than half of a full-time job: that is one poorly paid job, per two acres of land concreted over and built on.