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US-style 'mega' Foston pig farm could still be halted says Soil Association

Ecologist

1st November, 2011

Proposals for a large-scale pig farm in Foston, Derbyshire, could herald new era of US-style factory farming in the UK but face concerns from government health officials

Plans for a giant pig farm of up to 25,000 animals in Foston, Derbyshire, could still be blocked, say campaigners.

It was thought that the main hurdle to approval for the controversial farm had been passed last week after environment officials gave the project the all-clear.

However, government health officials also told the local council they have concerns about air pollution from the farm.

'Those living up to 150m downwind of an intensive swine [pig] farming installation could be at risk of adverse human health effects associated with exposure to multi-drug resistant organisms,' says a letter from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) to South Derbyshire District Council.

It goes onto say that the planning application for the pig farm did not provide enough information about the risks to the public from emissions of ammonia gas from livestock and slurry, of bioaerosols (airborne particles containing living organisms, fragments and toxins) from the farm or emissions from the biogas plant.

The company behind the proposal, Midland Pig Producers Ltd, insist any odours from the farm will be prevented from escaping.

'The Foston Farm will have three separate systems to remove the ammonia - or 'smell' - causing elements at source, as recommended by the Health Protection Agency. These systems will also clean the air of airborne particles, making the air coming out of the units, we believe, actually cleaner than the air going in,' said a spokesperson for Midland Pig Producers.

New era of US-style factory farming
 
As well as human health concerns, campaign groups including the Soil Association fear it will herald the beginning of bigger factory-farming projects in the pig, poultry and dairy sector.

Plans for a 8,000-cow dairy farm in Lincolnshire (later reduced to 4,000) were bitterly opposed over fears it would accelerate the demise of smaller family-run dairy farms as well as leading to an influx of US-style 'mega' dairy farms.

The plans were eventually dropped in February this year after objections from The Environment Agency. It said it was not satisfied tens of thousands of tonnes of slurry produced by the cows could be safely disposed of and that the farm posed an 'unacceptable risk to groundwater supplies'.

While officials from the Agency did initially have concerns about the latest pig farm proposal, they have now issued a statement saying any risks of groundwater pollution from pig slurry would be 'sufficiently low and could be mitigated'.

Officials from Derbyshire County Council, who have final say over the Foston pig farm, are expected to decide by December. Campaigners hope concerns about air pollution will be enough to at least delay approval of the farm.

'We urge the South Derbyshire District Councillors to take this damming evidence from the HPA and the views of 13,000 members of the public who have opposed this development on board when discussing this issue at their meeting tomorrow,' says Emma Hockridge, Soil Association head of policy.

'There is still time for members of the public to make their voice heard on the planning proposal,' she adds.

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