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Realism needed in pig farm row

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 18/06/2015

To be honest, the idea of having the UK's biggest pig farm with 30,000 animals on your doorstep is not one that would appeal to very many people
To be honest, the idea of having the UK's biggest pig farm with 30,000 animals on your doorstep is not one that would appeal to very many people

To be honest, the idea of having the UK's biggest pig farm with 30,000 animals on your doorstep is not one that would appeal to very many people. So, inevitably, there is bound to be a large element of Not In My Back Yard feeling among the 2,000 objectors to the proposed development in the countryside around Newtownabbey.

The objections have been couched differently, ranging over the environmental impact, the welfare of the pigs, the increased traffic and what might happen if there was a flood or a fire at the farm.

These are legitimate issues to raise and ones which the planners must take into consideration when deciding whether or not to give the project the green light. There is no doubting the strength of the opposition, with that huge number of objections lodged with the planners and another 175,000 signatures on an anti-farm Facebook petition. The farmer involved, Derek Hall, is equally determined to press ahead and will be investing £6m in the farm, which he says will actually improve animal welfare. He already rears 10,000 pigs in the general area, which by anyone's standards is a huge operation.

The fact that his family have been farming in the area for three generations shows that this is no fly-by-night operation and that he must have been doing something right in his years of operation.

But in these days, when social media campaigns can build up huge momentum and create a substantial court of public opinion, he - and his specially hired public relations firm - have an unenviable task in trying to win the argument, although he has been very transparent about his plans and willing to meet opponents and supporters alike.

The fact that local authorities now have increased planning powers creates a new tension. Councillors may feel more answerable to their electorates than the previous 'faceless' planners who took their decisions in virtual anonymity.

There has to be an element of realism about this debate. We are big consumers of pork products, which just don't miraculously appear on our supermarket shelves. The demand is predicted to increase as the population grows and many will feel that the products are best produced under the animal husbandry regimes which exist in our hugely important agricultural industry, rather than in some less regulated foreign country.

Belfast Telegraph

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