Fionn Bridges, Science Editor
In October of 2015 The Gown looked into the benefits and costs of a new factory farm being built in Newtownabbey. As new details have surfaced, with various high profile figures declaring their support of those resisting the plan, whether the project will be greenlit remains unclear.
The biggest change since last October is the proposed size of the factory farm. Whereas Mr Hall, the Antrim farmer behind the idea, originally applied for a farm site capable of housing over 30,000 pigs, this has now halved to 15,000 pigs. Initially, a spokesperson for Mr Hall claimed that the only sustainable size for a project of this nature would be 30,000 pigs, leading to disillusionment within the opposition, who fear the communication between the two parties up to this point may have been distorted.
This reduction in scale could be attributed to a number of factors. The immediate resistance to the idea, manifested by the 856 letters of objection and an online petition with 200,000 signatures, may have impacted the enthusiasm of potential investors and business partners. Additionally, politicians like Stewart Dickson of the Alliance Party, Stephen Ross of the DUP, and Pam Cameron of the DUP have all voiced their concern about the farm, and have offered to speak against it at the pre-determination hearing. Whilst Mr Hall has attempted to better the potential farms reputation by employing a PR firms services, it is likely discouraging when the PR firm you have hired does not wish to be named on the website they created for you.
The economic benefits of the Factory Farm have also been called into question. One argument Mr Hall’s team would often return to, is the pork would be used to ‘feed Northern Ireland’. This has been questioned by the reveal that over £10m of Northern Irish Pork was ‘provisionally approved for export to China’ last November, with protesters citing this source as evidence that the Government moves to export much of the pork produced in 2016. Additionally, the cold efficiency of factory farming reduces the amount of human labour needed in food production and preparation, shrinking the potential agricultural job pool in Northern Ireland.
Despite the number of pigs being halved in the January amendment of Mr Halls application, the number of staff on site has actually risen. This has been categorized as an attempt to increase animal welfare within the farm site, but again the farms opposition fear that earlier information exchanged with those supporting it may have been manipulated or withheld.
Many protesters believe that the application, due to the potential back lash of openly supporting or resisting the project, will be left in the rafters until the May elections have finished. Last week Councillor Billy Ashe, mayor of Mid and East Antrim, walked out of a public meeting regarding fracking and the construction of an Oil Well in Antrim. On the 18thof February, a peaceful protest in Woodburn near the proposed farm site was broken up by an unusually large police presence, who then moved to block the entire right of way from the public for some time. Footage of the event surfaced on YouTube, only to be taken down a few days later. As protestors are feeling increasingly isolated or conspired against by high profile figures, the future of the Newtownabbey Pig Farm remains unclear. The Gown will continue to follow this story.