THE recent comment by Coun Tommy Woodward on an application to build a 30,000 broiler hen unit raises some important and timely questions about intensive meat production.

“Farming of the worst kind” is an accurate description of intensive factory farming’s considerable impact on the planet, human health and animal welfare.

Besides being the biggest cause of animal cruelty in the world, factory farmed meat may well be having a detrimental effect on people who eat it, being found recently to contain more fat (in the case of chicken up to 25 per cent more) than meat originating from extensive and more natural rearing systems.

Antibiotic use is also an issue in intensive poultry systems. Although the over-use of antibiotics in human medicine is the major cause of current resistance problems, the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in intensive farming systems is acknowledged by public health experts to be an important factor as well.

There are more hidden costs to cheap chicken. Both water demand and water pollution problems are commonly associated with intensive systems and the global growth of intensive farming units means that the livestock sector as a whole is now responsible for 18 per cent of current greenhouse gas emissions according to the UN which is even more than the transport sector.

Is this type of farming necessary to feed a growing world population?

Absolutely not.

Keeping birds and animals in barren and crowded sheds and feeding them crops that people could eat does not make sense in a world wracked with poverty and hunger.

About 4.5kg of feed produces only 1kg of edible chicken.

Those of us in the world’s developed countries would be better off eating less meat but when we do, choosing meat from animals reared in more natural, humane and extensive systems.

A diet that includes a higher percentage of vegetables, grains and pulses is generally healthier and if combined with increased physical activity is estimated to prevent about a third of the most common cancers.