March 1, 2011
Just over a week ago, I received a phone call from Katharine Mansell, the Media Relations Manager for the U.K. World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA). What she told me was without doubt excellent news for both sustainable agriculture and public health in Western Europe. The proposal to build the Nocton Dairy, which was to be the first U.S.-style industrialized dairy in Western Europe, is officially no longer under consideration. On February 16, 2011, the farmers withdrew their application, ostensibly after continued objections from the Environmental Agency of England and Wales. However, it is clear that the advocacy campaigns undertaken by groups such as the WSPA also played a critical role in the ultimate withdrawal of the application.
While the Nocton Dairy debate received relatively little attention here in the U.S., it was a consistent topic of media coverage inthe U.K. since its initial proposal to the North Kesteven District Council in December 2009. The initial plan for the facility, formally known as the Nocton Dairy Ltd., included over 8,000 cattle almost entirely confined to large barns and featured two 24-hour milking parlors. In a statement that ended up giving ample fodder to groups opposing the dairy, one of the farmers behind the dairy noted that “cows do not belong in fields.” Soon after the proposal was made, both neighbors of the proposed facility and environmental and animal welfare groups began to express serious misgivings about the project. By April 2010, 150 MPs had signed an Early Day Motion (the equivalent of a resolution in the U.S. Congress) declaring their opposition to the construction of the dairy and stating that the House “…believes that the proposed unit is taking U.K. dairy farming in the wrong direction…” While the proposed number of cattle was eventually reduced to 3,770, serious concerns about the dairy remained.
Realizing the importance not only of preventing the construction of this particular industrial dairy, but also of preventing the further encroachment of U.S.-style industrial farm animal production in Western Europe, a number of advocacy groups came together in an unprecedented alliance of environmental, animal welfare, and rural protection groups. The WSPA, together with 38 Degrees, Compassion in World Farming, Council for the Protection of Rural England, Friends of the Earth, the Soil Association and local Lincolnshire campaign group CAFFO (Campaign Against Factory Farming Operations), created the Not in My Cuppa campaign to advocate against the construction of industrial dairy facilities. Using a broad array of strategies, ranging from successfully inviting over 50 MPs to a Not in My Cuppa reception to recruiting volunteers to dress up as cows in orange prison jumpsuits, the campaign drew continued media attention. The campaign also benefited from a large social media presence across Facebook and Twitter, and support from a number of well known British celebrities, including Stephen Fry, Twiggy, and Chrissie Hynde.
While the U.K. has very little first-hand experience with industrialized dairy farming, it was not difficult for residents to turn to the U.S. and learn more about the devastating effects that these facilities can have on communities, small scale farmers, and the environment. As part of an effort to document this impact, Katharine Mansell visited us here at the Center for a Livable Future back in November of 2010. Katharine briefed us on the situation and about their campaign so far, and we discussed the potential environmental health impacts of industrial dairy facilities. We were particularly alarmed to hear that the proposed site was situated above a limestone aquifer from which drinking water is routinely drawn.
Ultimately, the farmers were never able to address the environmental concerns associated with a dairy operation of that size. Even if the proposal had not been voluntarily withdrawn, it seems unlikely that the North Kesteven District Council would have approved it. In a final press release on the issue, the Council noted that it had recommended that the application be denied for the following six reasons:
- The failure of the applicant to fully assess alternative development sites which presented fewer environmental risks.
- The unacceptable and significant risk to groundwater quality, including the nearby public water supply.
- Significant uncertainties regarding the impacts and control of odour from the operation of the dairy, and associated land spreading, and its effects on residential amenity.
- Insufficient detail regarding the frequency, volume and duration of operational noise, including from animals, and its effects on residential amenity.
- Probable negative and adverse impacts to Bardney Limewoods Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a series of Local Wildlife Sites from increased ammonia and nitrogen deposition.
- Insufficient justification for the construction of on-site agricultural workers houses.
Given the challenges that researchers and advocates in the U.S. have faced in opposing the construction of new industrial farm animal production facilities, it is clear that what has occurred in the U.K. is no small feat. The hard work of advocates and rural residents and the dedication of government officials to the principles of environmental protection clearly paid off in this instance.
The Not in my Cuppa team would like to say how helpful the Center for a Livable Future has been to our campaign. Learning from the Center and its research gave us an added depth of knowledge and confidence in the case we were building against the spread of large-scale intensive dairy farms in the UK. We are looking forward to moving on to the next phase of the campaign, as we start trying to get the farming industry, the public and politicians talking about positive alternatives to mega dairies that work for cows, consumers and farmers alike.
The WSPA continues its campaign against industrial dairies, and continues to use novel forms of outreach. Their most recent project is a music video titled Our Love is in your cornflakes that tells the story of a farmer who has been forced to sell his beloved cow to the new mega farm which has driven him out of business.