Call for More Science in Large-scale Livestock Debate

UK - The debate around large-scale livestock farming has to shift away from emotion and focus on science if UK farmers are to be given the opportunity to produce more food in a sustainable way. That is the conclusion of a conference in Edinburgh last week.
calendar icon 27 May 2013
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British Society of Animal Science (BSAS) Emeritus Professor Chris Warkup said too much emphasis had been put on the perceived welfare and environmental issues associated with large-scale production.

Instead more science had to be brought to the discussion so decisions by planners, retailers, policy-makers and consumer could be based on fact.

Speaking at BSAS’s large-scale livestock conference, Does Big Mean Bad, at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh on Thursday (23 May), Dr Warkup said: "So far the debate has been around emotion rather than evidence.

"If people are to make a rational decision about large-scale systems we need to have a subjective assessment of the evidence we do have, as well as a discussion about where more research needs to be done."

While some potential impacts of large systems still needed to be examined, Mr Warkup said it was wrong to automatically assume big meant bad.

"The debate has been side-tracked to being solely about perceptions of welfare and environmental impact, but the reality is much more than that: it’s about the sustainable competitiveness of food production.

"Both large and small farms have the ability to deliver excellent welfare and environmentally sustainability.

"The advantage of larger farms is economic sustainability thanks to economies of scale."

But any development of large-scale farms did not spell the end of small, family farms in the UK, he added.

"Small farms have a future, provided they innovate and create something which demands a premium from the marketplace.

"If you can’t benefit from economies of scale you need to get a higher price from your product, which means being a niche supplier of something such as a regional cheese.

"Large farms could also help preserve British agriculture, keeping alive the country’s industry rather than seeing us import out food from countries where producers are getting bigger and more competitive."

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