MPP award dismissed by animal rights group

The animal rights organisation that has spearheaded the campaign against Midland Pig Producers’ proposed farm in Foston, Derbyshire, has dismissed the company’s recent success at the Compassion in World Farming’s Good Farm Awards (CIWF), calling it a “grudging concession”.

Midland Pig Producers (MPP) was awarded a Good Sow Award at Compassion in World Farming’s (CIWF) Good Farm Animal Welfare Awards recently in the annual awards that recognise companies committed to improving the welfare standards of farmed animals. The Awards are widely respected across the food and farming industries.

Katy Read, CIWF’s head of food business, said: “We are looking for incremental and sustainable change and we were delighted to reward MPP for significant improvements.”

MPP was recognised for its pioneering technology and commitment to enhance the quality of life of its pigs and deliver the highest standards of animal rearing. This included an innovative Freedom Farrower crate, which allows sows the freedom to turn around 360 degrees and which has received international acclaim for optimising animal wellbeing, and delivering significantly reduced mortality rates and improved growth patterns.

Read said MPP was a “fantastic example” that CIWF could trumpet in its work abroad, particularly as the focus of next year’s awards widens to include European producers and retailers. She said showcasing producers such as MPP and Dent, which won a Good Pig Award, demonstrated it was possible to make improvements to animal welfare on a larger scale and increase the baseline standards.

“What MPP is doing is a significant step forward,” she said. “Ideally we’d like to see all pigs reared outside, but we recognise that it’s not possible at the scale that pigs are farmed in the UK.”

Martin Barker, managing director of MPP, said the award represented the “highest seal of approval in terms of animal welfare” and was official recognition of the hard work the company has undertaken to develop more ethical methods of pig production. He said: “In our view, top-rate animal welfare is not just ‘nice to do’, it’s a ‘must do’ – a view shared by other producers, judging by the international orders we have received already.

“As one of agriculture’s most forward-thinking businesses, we believe our strong focus on pioneering new methods of animal welfare is good news for everybody – for the pigs, the farmers and the consumer – and will help to inspire long-lasting improvements in pig production in this country.”

However, animal rights group Pig Business, which has opposed MPP’s plans to develop a 2,500 sows and 20,000 piglet farm at Foston, Derbyshire and marshalled a high-profile campaign and petition against it, dismissed the achievement.

Film-maker and director of Pig Business Tracy Worcester said: “The fact that MPP plans a farrowing stall that gives fractionally more space to the sows while they suckle their piglets than the previous one should not be seen as a breakthrough – it is a grudging concession; the pigs will still live a life of misery, crammed into a small space, standing on concrete slats and never seeing the light of day. It is not the way anyone would want their dog to be treated, so why treat a pig this way? Pigs should be free to fulfill their natural behaviour by roaming with their piglets either indoors with fresh air and natural light or outside.

“Pigs in this intensity of production will still need to be given antibiotics to keep them alive, which results in antibiotic-resistant bacteria threatening the health of all those living nearby and the general population, as diseases like salmonella and campylobacter and other pathogens spread to wider communities.

“We will continue to support the local Foston residents in their protests against this proposal. They have made it clear they don’t want this factory farm imposed upon their community. The County Council has received over 20,000 objections so far and we hope they will take these and the scientific evidence regarding the health risks into consideration when making their decision.

However, MPP has already stated that its odour-reduction technology reduces the requirement for antibiotic or veterinary intervention, as it reduces health problems, and that bespoke slurry flushing systems, which allow straw to be used with slatted floors, provide increased comfort for the pigs and give them the opportunity to forage and nest.

The Soil Association, which has also been a vociferous opponent of the Foston proposals, and large-scale developments said: “The fact that MPP has been awarded a CIWF award for its specific work on improving slatted farrowing crates – which are banned in organic systems – does not affect the reasons why we are objecting to their large-scale proposal in Foston, Derbyshire.

“We have compiled scientific evidence from around the world, which suggests that raising pigs on this scale could risk having a serious impact on human health. We are objecting to the proposal on the grounds that the extremely high number of pigs housed in one location may increase the level of disease on the holding and, over time, that may pose a threat to the local community at the very least.”