Non-profit organisation Humane Being is launching what it says is the first legal fight against factory farming in the world.
Arguing that the UK government is not doing enough to eradicate intensive farming, the group, backed by an impressive legal team, has issued a letter before action to the government.
The group’s campaign Scrap Factory Farming seeks to bring an end to the farming practice while improving animal welfare and minimising the risks of zoonotic diseases and future pandemics.
The campaign is supported by PETA, Greenpeace, Animal Aid, Viva!, and Friends of the Earth.
In the UK, according to the Environment Agency’s classification, farms are considered “intensive” if they house a minimum of 40,000 poultry birds, 2,000 pigs, or 750 sows.
Shockingly, 73% of the animals farmed in the UK are kept in these overcrowded, stifling conditions. On top of this, 95% of the chickens raised here endure life in these intensive indoor units. And this kind of farming is on the rise. Since 2011, there has been a 26% rise in intensive pig and poultry farms. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the UK now houses at least 789 mega-farms.
Last year in March, the UK even lost its grade A classification for animal welfare, dropping to grade B in the Animal Protection Index (API). Yet, the government continually repeats its apparent “commitment” to “raising standards of animal welfare at home and abroad”.
Not only does intensive factory farming subject animals to cruel and inhumane conditions, but it also increases the risk of disease. A whitepaper published by Humane Society International (HSI) recently warned of the risks of factory farming. It says the intensification and industrialisation of animal agriculture significantly contribute to the spread of disease. Specifically the spread of zoonotic diseases.
The whitepaper identified five key pandemic risks associated with factory farming. The HSI said that the increase in concentrated facilities that confine animals indoors causes novel viral strains to generate and disease to spread. Elsewhere it commented that widespread land-use change bringing wild and domestic species together can cause disease transfer. The whitepaper expressed that this disease transfer also becomes more likely with live animal markets and agricultural fairs. It also highlighted that the “unprecedented” global trade of live animals gives novel pathogens the chance to spread globally.
The move to ban intensive farming also has widespread public support. A OnePoll survey commissioned by the vegan charity Viva! surveyed 2000 Britons on the issue. It found that 85% wish to see an immediate ban on intensive farming methods.
Lawyers representing Humane Being first brought forward the group’s concerns back in December 2020. However, the response received was lackluster, and no change ensued.
Now the group’s legal team is being led by human rights lawyer Michael Mansfield QC, alongside barristers Lorna Hackett and Philip Rule. On 27 April, the legal team at Hackett & Dabbs LLP issued a letter before action to George Eustice, the secretary of state for environment, food, and rural affairs.
In the letter, the organisation argues that the government is failing to protect citizens from the health risks around factory farming. It states that the conditions within which the animals in these farms are raised cause extreme suffering. It also explains that scrapping factory farming can aid in tackling the climate emergency.
In preparation for a potential legal fight, the organisation has crowdfunded £25,000, with a target of raising a total of £60,000. Humane Being has stated that if the response they receive is unsatisfactory, they will apply to the court for a judicial review.
Speaking to Plant Based News (PBN), David Finney, a spokesperson for Scrap Factory Farming, said: “We’re sitting on a pandemic timebomb. Three out of every four new and emerging diseases in people come from animals”. Finney went on to explain that factory farming, where animals are kept in “cramped” and “filthy” conditions is the “perfect breeding ground” for these diseases.
He added: “We may get control of COVID-19. But, we are doing nothing about the conditions that created it in the first place. Another pandemic is just waiting to happen”.
Commenting on the case, Lorna Hackett of Hackett & Dabbs LLP said to Surge: “This case, which we believe to be a global first, starts with a key mitigator; the banning of cruel factory farming. Factory Farming breeds and risks incidences of disease, posing a health risk that the authorities cannot continue to ignore”.
While a DEFRA spokesperson recently told the Byline Times that “all animals” are protected by “comprehensive and robust animal health, welfare and environmental legislation,” it is clear that animals and indeed humans are not protected through the practice of factory farming.
Increasingly, scientists are highlighting the serious dangers associated with intensive factory farming. Yet, the UK government is still failing to make good on its promise to be a “global leader” for animal welfare.
That said, while slow, there is growing support for change in Parliament. Recently, a coalition of 16 MPs from the SNP, Green Party, Labour, and Liberal Democrats voiced support to end intensive factory farming methods. SNP’s Dr. Lisa Cameron tabled the Early Day Motion back in March, and 16 MPs signed it. Following this, a virtual roundtable discussing the ban was held on 15 April, held by Viva, where MPs and experts alike discussed what a ban could look like.
In a statement commenting on the need for urgent change, Juliet Gellatley, director of Viva!,said: “No country can claim to be a world leader in animal welfare and continue to allow the practice of intensive factory farming. Aside from the issues of animal welfare, it holds a very real and inherent risk of the spread and mutation of potentially lethal viruses”.
She added: “We strongly urge the Government to listen to Parliament and the will of the people, and outlaw the abhorrent practice of factory farming in the UK for good.”.
As the deadline for a DEFRA response to Humane Being looms, court action will likely go ahead.
For more information about the Scrap Factory Farming campaign and the case, head over here.