They call them confinement units or CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feedlot Operations) and they can house up to 36,000 cattle indoors all year round. Despite protests, they are now growing "by stealth." So what's the situation in Italy?
We spoke about this subject a few months ago at Cheese, comparing what's happening in France with the first signs, as yet unmonitored, of the same phenomenon in Italy. We are referring to "mega-dairies" which, according to a report published in The Independent yesterday, are being operated by an increasing number of British dairy farmers, some of whom are struggling on account of the ongoing milk-price crisis. The dairies are based on the US-style model of super-intensive dairy farms in which cattle are kept indoors all year round. Farmers who have adopted the model insist that it's sustainable, economically viable and welfare-friendly for a struggling sector of British agriculture buffeted by the winds of global trade and the cut-throat nature of the competition between supermarket chains. Backers of these "mega-dairies" point to evidence showing how animal health can be improved with the constant surveillance and management of the units with round-the-clock monitoring by herdsmen and veterinary care.
But campaigners warn that this new industrialized model of milk production could help bring about the end of traditional dairy farming, pointing to the experience in the United States where intensive dairy farms-known as confinement units-are increasingly common. Those housing 700 cows or more are classified as CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feedlot Operations) and the largest in America house up to 36,000 cows at a time.
The first attempt to take CAFO-style farming to Britain ended in uproar five years ago. Plans for an intensive 8,100-cow "mega-dairy" at Nocton, Lincolnshire, had to be abandoned. But campaigners are concerned that despite this setback, the industry has been intensifying "by stealth"-slowly building up larger farms. Official figures on the number of dairy farms operating intensively are vague-estimates range between five and 10 per cent of the total. Neither the National Farmers Union nor the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) hold a definitive record of numbers. But the British newspaper's investigation identified dozens of such farms operating across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Island, pinpointing-for the first time-at least 50 confinement units, and 20 CAFO-style facilities. The largest units hold over 2,000 cows, in comparison to the average UK herd size of around 125.
The crisis that is creating this situation is centered around the fact that many farmers are forced to sell milk for less than it costs them to produce it. Figures released earlier this year revealed that whilst many farmers were receiving 23.66 pence per liter of milk-and some as little as 19p-it was costing them 28p and 32p per liter to produce. The result has been incidences where milk is being sold in supermarkets for less per liter than mineral water and losses that many farmers cannot afford. The number of UK dairy farmers has continued to plummet. From more than 25,000 nationally in 2000, it now stands at less than 10,000 in England and Wales with an average of one leaving the sector every day over the last year.
Source: Agrapress, The Independent