Vegetarianism and veganism is on the rise in the UK. Visit any major city and you will discover that in the the last five years, its offering of vegetarian restaurants will have at least doubled, if not tripled. Supermarkets are reacting to an increase in vegetarianism also, with Tesco and Sainsbury's reacting to the growing popularity of veganism in the country with their own dairy free ranges of cheese and spreads. Brands such as Oh Sheese and Violife have risen by over 100 per cent in the last 12 months.
On the surface, it looks as though the UK is a country that is moving away from a mass meat eating culture and towards a more balanced and plant inclusive lifestyle. Look away from the consumer side of food and towards the farming industry however, and its a very different story. Far from moving away from producing meat on a large scale, the UK is silently heading towards a new wave of battery farming, with nearly every county in England holding at least one industrial-scale livestock farm, with close to 800 US-style mega farms operating across the country.
Mega farms are defined by the amount of livestock they can hold. To be defined as 'mega', a farm must hold at least 125,000 broiler chickens, 82,000 laying hens, 2,500 pigs, 700 dairy cows or 1,000 beef cows. While those numbers might seem ludicrously large, many UK are extending to meet these numbers. Herefordshire's farms alone now hold over 16 million animals, meaning that the county now has 88 times factory farmed animals than it does humans. Shropshire and Norfolk follow closely, with more than 15 million and 12 million animals respectively
Think that you would noticed a huge increase in foster farms across out countryside? The fact that you haven't does not mean that they aren't happening, in fact it could mean the opposite.
When proposals were put forward for new mega farms in England a few years ago, the general public protested and shut them down. One proposal made for a farm in Lincolnshire was planned to house more than 8,000 cows, but had to be abandoned after local opposition. Another in Foston, Derbyshire, for more than 24,500 pigs was successfully derailed after protests.
Instead of stopping mega farms from emerging in the country, these victories only made plans sneakier and more difficult to stop. By taking working farms and extending them, the farms began to appear around the country without opposition and the amount of animals reared in the UK's countryside silently rose.
The current largest mega farm in the country is capable of holding 1.7 million chickens. The smell, noise and risk of disease that these huge farming structures bring, has cause locals in many parts of the UK to start waking up and fighting back against the appearance of mega farming, however much of the UK's population are still unaware that these farms exist.
These type of farms are cruel and unnatural places to keep living animals. The average animal raised by a mega farm will never step outside. They are likely to catch disease and experience intense discomfort and pain for the entirety of their short life, before being slaughtered for food, or in the case of dairy cows, dying prematurely from exhaustion.
While the culture and culinary tastes of the UK are moving towards embracing vegetarian and plant based options, and away from such a meat heavy diet, the farming industry, clearly focused on profit, is determined to move in the opposite direction.