Thousands of British cattle reared for supermarket beef are being fattened in industrial-scale units where livestock have little or no access to pasture. Research by the Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has established that the UK is now home to a number of industrial-scale fattening units with herds of up to 3, cattle at a time being held in grassless pens for extended periods rather than being grazed or barn-reared. But the practice of intensive beef farming in the UK has not previously been widely acknowledged — and the findings have sparked the latest clash over the future of British farming. The beef industry says that the scale of operations involved enables farmers to rear cattle efficiently and profitably, and ensure high welfare standards.
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Livestock buildingsVIDEO ON THE TOPIC: What intensive farming means -- for the animals and for the environment. (BBC Countryfile)
Thousands of British cattle reared for supermarket beef are being fattened in industrial-scale units where livestock have little or no access to pasture. Research by the Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has established that the UK is now home to a number of industrial-scale fattening units with herds of up to 3, cattle at a time being held in grassless pens for extended periods rather than being grazed or barn-reared.
But the practice of intensive beef farming in the UK has not previously been widely acknowledged — and the findings have sparked the latest clash over the future of British farming. The beef industry says that the scale of operations involved enables farmers to rear cattle efficiently and profitably, and ensure high welfare standards.
In contrast to large intensive pig and poultry farms, industrial beef units do not require a government permit, and there are no official records held by DEFRA on how many intensive beef units are in operation. But the Guardian and the Bureau has identified nearly a dozen operating across England, including at sites in Kent, Northamptonshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.
The largest farms fatten up to 6, cattle a year. Drone footage and satellite images reveal how thousands of cattle are being kept at some sites in outdoor pens, known as corrals, sometimes surrounded by walls, fences or straw bales. Although the cattle will have spent time grazing in fields prior to fattening, some will be confined in pens for around a quarter of their lives, until they are slaughtered.
Supermarket demand is believed to be, at least in part, driving the trend. In addition, some smaller and medium-scale beef producers have struggled to farm profitably in recent years, with sometimes tight margins and fluctuating costs.
Most of the units identified are believed to have grown incrementally, rather than setting up from scratch. A number of retailers, including the Co-op, Lidl and Waitrose, are among those found to be sourcing beef from UK intensive industrial scale farms, most of which are privately owned but sell to beef processing companies, which in turn supply retailers.
What they want is specification, size of cuts, size to fit certain packaging, size of roasts — this has all become incredibly important.
Although the number of beef units is tiny in comparison with intensive poultry or pig farms, the latest findings have further fuelled fears that the UK could be embracing industrial-scale practices.
More than two-thirds of UK farmland is under grass for sound environmental reasons and the major justifications for keeping cattle and eating red meat are that they produce high quality protein and healthy fats from land that is not suitable for growing crops.
As a result they go out of business. Beef production in the UK typically involves three distinct stages - calf rearing, growing and fattening - with many farms specialising in one part of the rearing process. Cattle may move between a number of different farms during their lifecycle. A smaller number of farms rear cattle from birth and keep them on the same farm until being sent to the abattoir.
Many are fed specialist diets designed to encourage weight gain. Such practices are not permitted in the UK. Despite acknowledging the arrival of intensive beef farming in the UK, experts reject the notion that the British beef sector will see a wholesale shift towards farming on a US-scale.
Absolutely — some beef producers are already doing this. The Cattle Tracing System can provide figures on the number of holdings split by premised type e. Agricultural Holding, Slaughterhouse, Market etc. However, it does not hold any data in respect of the feeding practices on the holdings.
The farm is run under a bespoke environmental management plan in conjunction with Natural England. For clarification the length of grazing season is weather dependent, once the grass stops growing the cattle need to be yarded and fed a forage based ration in accordance with animal welfare and best practice.
They have strict processes in place and will thoroughly investigate any evidence of non-conformity to ensure that any problems are immediately addressed. Some in the beef industry itself have expressed unease about the intensive farming system. Evidence compiled by the Bureau and Guardian suggests that most intensive beef farms appear to operate to high welfare standards. Facebook Twitter Pinterest.
Topics Environment Animals farmed. Farming Meat The meat industry Agriculture Food news. Reuse this content. Most popular.
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