Why the victory over the Nocton super-dairy is only the beginning

| 13th April 2011
The fight against the controversial super-dairy in Lincolnshire may have been won but there's still much to do in order to keep British dairy farming humane, sustainable and natural, argues Suzi Morris

2010 saw a proposal advanced for an intensive 8,100-cow US-style ‘mega-dairy’ in Lincolnshire; on a scale unprecedented anywhere in western Europe, and which, by its very size, represented a tipping point for the future of Britain’s dairy industry. Our smaller-scale, predominantly pasture-based dairy farmers, under whose stewardship Britain’s dairy cows have grazed countryside pastures for generations, were already sliding out of business at an accelerating rate.

The Nocton mega-dairy, which threatened to flood the market with millions of litres of industrially produced milk every year, represented a nail in the coffin for struggling, pasture-based farmers. By allowing the Nocton dairy on such a watershed scale, all such industrial operations would become acceptable.

Britain is a world beacon for farm animal welfare. British people no longer tolerate battery cages for laying hens, and have rejected cruel farrowing crates for pregnant sows. So it is unthinkable that we should sleepwalk into the same trap as the United States – where the landscape is littered with gigantic ‘concentrated animal feeding operations’ that intensively confine dairy cows in their thousands; where consumers are utterly disconnected from the provenance of their food; and where thousands of rural communities have been destroyed.

Even before the Nocton Dairy developers catapulted the dairy question onto centre stage, the intensification by stealth of Britain’s dairy industry was a great concern to WSPA. As an international organisation, we were also alarmed by the rise in applications for gigantic dairy facilities in the agricultural powerhouses of India and China, and even in fellow ‘beacon’ countries such as New Zealand. But, we also knew that these industrial systems were increasingly recognised as unsustainable environmentally and ethically in the United States – the birthplace of factory farming – and that American people were finally waking up to the horror of what their livestock industry had become.

So, although WSPA’s campaign was never just about the Nocton mega-dairy, Nocton was the catalyst - and the Not in My Cuppa campaign was born. Not In My Cuppa was conceived as an easily accessible vehicle for harnessing consumer voice and measurably demonstrating – to food business, to policy makers, to the planning authorities and to the pro-intensification farming lobby – British people’s concerns about dairy intensification and their rejection of ‘factory milk from battery cows’. The first wave of the campaign established that 61 per cent of British consumers would never knowingly buy ‘factory milk from battery cows’ (WSPA/MORI) and saw over 30,000 people use digital and social media to say ‘Not In My Cuppa!’, with a rolling programme of media-friendly initiatives, from a viral comedy film to celebrity tweeting, designed to build momentum and numbers.

At the parliamentary level, some 200 MPs, peers, Ministers and shadow Ministers have engaged with or taken part in Not In My Cuppa. Some by attending campaign briefings and receptions at Westminster, some by signing Early Day Motion 942 ‘…opposing the establishment of intensive dairy units, which would take British dairy farming in the wrong direction…’, and others by tabling written or oral Parliamentary Questions.

Working with industry

Within a highly diverse animal welfare movement, WSPA is a pro-farming organisation that works hard to engage positively with the agriculture sector globally, to promote humane and sustainable farming. So, while Not In My Cuppa found itself on the opposite side of the intensification divide from the NFU, the campaign was a platform for engaging with ‘conventional’ dairy farmers. These farmers share our belief that pasture is fundamental to welfare, sustainability and food security and they oppose the intensive confinement of dairy cows and the quest for ever-greater milk yields. For these men and women Nocton was a threat to their businesses, and the NFU, by supporting the Nocton proposals, was failing to represent their smaller-scale interests.

Bringing those farmers together with concerned parliamentarians and consumers via the vehicle of Not In My Cuppa has been a key success of the campaign, and fundamental to a number of leading supermarkets saying that they had ‘no plans’ to carry Nocton milk on their shelves.

Nocton Dairies’ controversial and divisive proposals were finally withdrawn several months ago, defeated by environmental, welfare and consumer concern. But this campaigning success is merely a milestone rather than a victory, since the future of British dairy farming still hangs in the balance. Smaller-scale, ‘conventional’ dairy-farmers are struggling to survive in an industry increasingly under pressure to embrace more intensive systems chasing ever-higher milk yields. These intensive systems are environmentally unsustainable, do not promote genuine food security, threaten the fabric of rural communities, burn out and discard their cows at an ever-young age, and certainly do not place true animal welfare at their heart.

As global demand for animal produce increases, it has never been more important for Britain to showcase sustainable, environmental and welfare-friendly ways forward for livestock farming. Not In My Cuppa recognises that the consumer is key. As one dairy farmer put it, on hearing of Nocton Dairies’ demise, ‘Our powerful consumer has spoken.’

Where next?

Not In My Cuppa is emphatically not about knocking down intensive applications one by one; but, rather, creating a nationwide climate of interest and concern where livestock industrialisation simply cannot gain ground. It is also building consumer knowledge and appetite for humane, sustainable, pasture-based dairy farming. So, in 2011 Not In My Cuppa will be supporting farmers in building farmer-led advocacy in partnership with national consumer and community groups. It will reach for 200,000 consumer sign-ups and bring that consumer and community pressure to bear on food business. Our message is keep British dairy farming humane, sustainable and natural. So, why not sign up at notinmycuppa.com and be part of the story!

Suzi Morris is the UK Director of WSPA


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