Another pig of a problem

We have posted previously on controversial plans to build a US-style mega pig-farm in South Derbyshire. It will be remembered from that post that Midland Pig Producers (MPP) applied for permission to build the farm – which could house up to 25,000 animals – on a greenfield site west of the historic village of Foston.

The Soil Association formally objected to the plans because of the ‘increased disease risk and poor welfare conditions” of intensive units. Despite being made within the privileged context of planning proceedings, the Soil Assocation received a threatening letter from solicitors Carter-Ruck – acting for MPP – saying its objection was defamatory.

The Guardian now reports that the campaigning local groups, Foston Community Forum and Pig Business, the film makers who exposed the abuses and environmental costs of intensive pig farming, have joined forces with the Soil Association and Friends of the Earth to bolster their original argument with claims under the Human Rights Act. Until recently, The Soil Association’s concerns have been mainly about disease, antibiotic resistance and animal welfare in large pig herds. But now the joint forces argue that such a development would pose serious health risks to humans living and working there and could breach their legal rights to protection of their private and family life.  Their aim is to put pressure on Derbyshire county council to refuse planning permission for the proposed development at Foston.

This exciting development is the first of its kind, using human rights arguments against a scheme which on the face of it only exposes animals to abuse and mistreatment. Of course it is fortunate, for the pigs at least, that their proposed incarceration is in the vicinity of human residential areas. The campaigners’ joint letter to the council  points out that there is a considerable risk of the contamination of the area with pathogens such as salmonella, clostridium difficult, camphylobacter and E.coli, and new research suggests that within a certain distance of such facilities there are likely to be emissions such as ammonia and bio-aerosols in concentrations that are potentially harmful to human health.

The Health Protection Agency’s “Position Statement on Intensive Farming”, published at the end of last year, will be music to the ears of opponents of US style factory food production. The Agency refers to recent research in relation to bio-aerosols showing that

those living up to 150 metres downwind of an intensive swine farming installation could be exposed to multi-drug resistant organisms.

In their letter to the Council, the campaigners point out that planning authorities, as emanations of the state, have an obligation under the Human Rights Act to consider the effects of their decisions of affected third parties. The grant of permission in circumstances where there is a “reasonable and convincing evidence” that the development in question would have a direct effect on the quality of life of concerned third parties has the potential to engage the Article 8 rights of those parties.

So even though there is no human right to the preservation of the environment expressed in the Convention, this is the latest example of how Article 8 can be extended, in practice. to situations involving environmental pollution even without proof of serious damage to health. As the letter says,

“the right to private and family life prevents not just physical incursions into the home or residence, but also interference from things such as noise, smell, emissions. Any serious effect of this nature may result in a breach of Article 8 rights if it prevents the person concerned from enjoying the amenities of their home (Moreno Gomez v Spain [2005] 41 EHRR 40

There is also a prison nearby, and the letter asserts that the prison staff cannot avoid working close to the proposed development unless they resign from the jobs. The inmates of Foston Hall prison are not living in the area by choice, and clearly do not have the option of moving away if the development goes ahead. They will not be able to escape the risk to their health posed by the development, and the letter warns that allowing the pig factory to go ahead could also breach the inmates’ right to be protected from inhumane treatment under Article 3.

The project suffered a major setback in November 2011 when Derbyshire district council refused to back it. The final decision – already delayed – will be taken at county council level although no date has yet been set for a meeting.

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