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This little piggy went to Foston’s mega pig farm

Victoria Martindale
168135711 300x199 This little piggy went to Foston’s mega pig farm

(Getty Images)

This little piggy went to market. This little piggy stayed home. This little piggy had roast beef while this little piggy had none. And this little piggy went wee, wee, wee all the way to Jim Leavesley’s mega pig farm.

If there are peals of laughter, Mr Leavesley is certainly laughing. He is ranked number 50 on the 2012 rich list and is worth an estimated £85 million. He lists trading in military equipment, royal cement mixers and commercial vehicles among his business interests.

Mr Leavesley likes to dabble in a spot of pig farming on the side too. And for his next move he plans to build an intensive pig farm in the middle of the picturesque village of Foston, Derbyshire.

There’s nothing all that new about intensive pig farms. Since the 1960s, UK farmers have been adopting intensive systems of farming in an effort to produce the highest output at the lowest cost. But the mammoth project that Mr Leavesley wants to roll out would house around 25,000 pigs. That’s nearly 40 times the size of today’s average pig farm, herding the UK in a brusque trot towards all mechanized, workerless American-style mass protein manufacturing plants.

Whether this figure will achieve the impact it deserves is unlikely. Who has ever seen a thousand pigs under one roof, let alone 25,000? It only underlines how removed we seem to have become from today’s farming practices. But while this tycoon may well be able to afford it, will he produce meat at a price that the rest of us can really afford?

Take a look at Mr Leavesley’s plans and it really does seem a green, environmentally-friendly, animal-loving mecca of pig farms. Midland Pig Producers Ltd, Mr Leavesley’s pig company, claims to champion animal welfare and reassures us that development on the Greenfield site will be sympathetically designed.

But the real triumph of this wonder plan has got to be the anaerobic biodigestor. It is another design culled from America that will sieve off the stinky slurry and generate enough environmentally-friendly electricity for the unit to run on with any surplus powering the village. The proposal is endorsed by The National Pig Association who claim it is a ‘neighbour-friendly modest venture’ - while the National Farmers Union believe that the ‘UK needs super farms’.

A commitment to renewable energy is certainly something to be welcomed, however the environmental benefits of this particular credential have come under question. All the same, I’m still left perplexed by what makes Mr Leavesley so complacent about parking the UK’s biggest biogas power station at people’s front door; a potentially explosive experiment even before any energy has so much as hummed its way into the National Grid.

According to lawyer Michael Mansfield QC, the pigs will be ‘driven insane’ by the pitiful barren conditions and ‘hellish’ confinement they will be forced to spend their abbreviated lives in. Not just the neighbours then.

Modern farming insists it is committed to improving animal welfare standards but trapping sows on a production conveyor belt and preventing them from mothering and nursing their piglets doesn’t exactly scream high animal welfare.

When the world is coming round to the realisation that a meat-based diet is an unsustainable solution to the pressures of an overpopulated world, and even our own MPs are pleading with us to eat less meat, it begs the question why another livestock farm of any magnitude is being given any consideration at all.

Equally baffling is imagining how an area of outstanding natural beauty, home to bat roosts and protected species like the Great Crested Newt, could be preserved from anything but total obliteration by 30 acres of industrial corrugated iron units, no matter how artfully tweaked the landscaping. The already gloomy outlook for our national wildlife is further doomed by the development and pollution of more precious natural space. Meanwhile Derbyshire’s tourist industry will flounder amidst a struggling local economy that bears some of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

And then there are the threats to our health, squatting astride the steel bars and festooned in the acrid air that the workers and locals will be constantly breathing in. Actually, some experts believe that the health of all of pork consumers could be complimentarily compromised from the spread of antibiotic resistance due to the overuse of drugs requisite in such overcrowded conditions burdening yet more pricey pressure upon our beat health service and suffering upon patients and their families. Until one day swine flu, the virulent virus that proliferates so profusely in these fusty factory complexes sneezes forth across our gullible globe.

No wonder then that the plans have been met with squeals of outrage at every step of the application process. The trouble with the super-rich is that they really do believe that money can buy them everything. And up to a point they’re right. Money will buy Mr Leavesley all the pigs he wants, all the machinery, all the power and control too. But he’s not buying into the kind of authentic animal husbandry you and I are thinking of, but is merely adding another industrial process to his list.

As the decision over Foston’s pig farm draws closer, it represents the antithesis of the principles upon which the future of UK farming should be based. Intensive farms could come at a public health, environmental and animal cost that no amount of money should be able to buy.

Foston’s amounts to little more than an ostentatious symbol of private wealth; a pompous conduit to indulge the wanton whims of one millionaire magnate but that is out of touch with the values and responsibilities of our society. If this proposal gets the go ahead then Mr Leavesley will have bagged himself a few more million but the rest of us will have gained cheap chops at a very expensive price.

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