Fionn Bridges, Science Editor
Controversy surrounding the proposed industrial scale pig farm in Newtownabbey has dwindled since locals began objecting in May, but opposition to construction remains strong.
The proposed pig farm would be the largest of its kind in the UK and Ireland, and would house upwards of 30,000 pigs, with this plan to increase output proposed by Farmer Derek Hall. Originally proposed in late 2014, this was in response to Sainsbury’s 20×20 strategy, a commitment by the brand to deliver 100% of its pork from British farms. Over six months later, on the 25th of August, the Shared Environmental Service for Northern Ireland concluded that “further information is required to assess potential impacts on the selection [of] features”. These would include 4 pig sheds, a silo bay, an attenuation lagoon and several staff buildings.
Antrim and Newtownabbey Council are still in dialogue with the owners of Halls Pig Farm, and couple with the Northern Ireland Environmental Agency in order to decide whether the farm will be built, and the specifics of its construction if it is given the go ahead.
A quick search online indicates a heavy amount of opposition to the farm. The Facebook group ‘Stop the Newtownabbey Pig Factory’ has over 2,000 members, the council admitted they could no longer “individually respond” to the 2,000+ objection letters they received. Musician Brian May and actors Jenny Seagrove and Martin Shaw have additionally objected. Halls Pig Farm have attempted to address these concerns by meeting with local residents, and putting up a website that details the benefits of a larger farm, which include include additional space for pigs, better ventilation systems and cleaner produce.
There are three overriding schools of concern; environmental factors, health risks and moral implications. Local residents fear noise and light pollution from a facility that runs 24 hours a day, and the eyesore of a towering factory paired with a long construction process. Sites that contain lagoons, silos and pig houses are also potential hotbeds for bio aerosols, antibiotic resistant bacteria and ammonia, as well as construction and continued maintenance releasing dust particles and vehicle fumes into the surrounding area. One letter of opposition noted that ‘The UK HPA states “People with pre-existing lung and heart disease, the elderly and children are particularly sensitive to particulate air pollution. “It’s clear upon reading these letters that local residents are as informed about the machinations of factory farming as those proposing it themselves.
There are additional concerns about surrounding roads being dominated by machinery and delivery trucks, the potential return of foot and mouth disease, and mutating bacteria. The factory has also been cited as a fire hazard, with comparisons being drawn to a far smaller factory in Strabane, which caught fire in August this year leaving 400 pigs dead.
The moral aspect of the debate has been spearheaded by former ‘Queen’ member, Brian May. Mr May spoke out against the “cruel and degrading” treatment of animals, calling it the ‘antithesis of humane farming’, additionally warning about the rise of factory farms in the USA and their negative impact on rural farmers. Moral factors will probably not weigh heavily on the debate, as the Antrim and Newtownabbey Council must decide whether the benefits of increased output and work outweigh the many potential risks a factory farm would bring.