Government holds back comment on super-dairy proposals

The government has sidestepped calls from MPs to set out its views on intensive dairy farm proposals following controversy earlier in the year over a 'super-dairy' planned at a site in Lincolnshire.

In July, a Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report said large-scale dairy holdings raise issues going beyond the responsibility of individual planning authorities. It urged the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to establish its position on this type of development.

But the government’s response, published this week, says: "While it is right that the government has a view on the principle of large-scale dairying, it cannot adopt a position in respect of individual dairy developments that are going through the planning process.

"That would generate complaints of inappropriately influencing the planning approvals process and the assessment of the Environment Agency, which is a statutory consultee on all such developments."

The MPs’ report followed concerns over a planning application for a dairy housing 8,100 cows at Nocton, Lincolnshire, lodged in 2010. The applicants reduced the size of the proposal, then finally dropped it this February after the Environment Agency expressed concerns about the potential for groundwater pollution.

The committee’s July report said: "We do not accept that approvals for large-scale agricultural holdings are purely an issue for planners. As soon as evidence on the impacts of large-scale dairying is available, DEFRA must establish its policy position on this issue."

The government response says that its "clear" policy position is that "there is a place in UK agriculture for all sustainable production systems that meet welfare and environmental standards" and that "increasing the size of herds does not mean reducing [animal] welfare".

DEFRA has funded a three-year project by the Scottish Agricultural College to investigate the management and welfare of continuously housed cows. The study report is due to be published at the end of the year, the response says.

However, it admits that none of the bids submitted for a further research project to identify best practice in large-scale dairying, which would have looked at its economic and environmental impacts, met its "evidence requirements".

The government response can be read in full here.

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