THE Wiltshire countryside is now home to dozens of controversial industrial-sized ‘mega-farms’ following an increase in demand for cheap meat across the country.

Data collected by the Bureau Of Investigative Journalism revealed the intensive farms, which have a capacity of more than 40,000 poultry, 2,000 pigs or 700 sows, have increased nationally by a quarter in the last six years and by 35 per cent in in Wiltshire in the last two years.

Chippenham has the highest concentration of mega farms with seven, closely followed by Salisbury with five, Devizes with four and Marlborough with three.

Trowbridge also has two mega farms while Warminster and Westbury have one each.

The growth of the industry is controversial, but farmers and unions have defended their methods, arguing that an increase in intensive and efficient farming does not equate to poor quality meat or animal cruelty.

“I don’t think people should be concerned,” said David George, Wiltshire National Farming Union’s spokesman. “There might be issues of odour but all of that is dealt with by the planning authority when they start and I don’t think the increase of farms is something for people to fear.

“Farming has had to change and it is like any other business and larger units is the way that the industry has had to adapt to and obviously there is a focus on animal welfare.”

North Wiltshire MP James Gray said the farms offer an efficient and intuitive way into a competitive market.

He said: “As we well know, the efficiency of farming can often be achieved by very large numbers of livestock and large numbers do not necessarily equate to bad welfare.”

“It would be a knee jerk reaction to say that all these farms are being dealt with in inhumane ways and they provide us with what we want - quality produce.”

The majority of the intensive farms in Wiltshire are poultry and three are pig farms. Six are owned and operated by Faccenda Foods, which produce and deliver 100 million chickens and turkeys to leading brands a year.

The farms, who only have to apply to the Environment Agency for a permit once, have raised concerns among national campaign groups such as Compassion in World Farming, who have slammed the national increase.

Emma Slawinski, director of campaigns, said: “Despite Wiltshire being associated with green pastures and extensive grazing, almost three million animals are reared indoors throughout the county - the majority being broiler chickens. These animals will spend their lifetimes confined in systems that prevent them carrying out their natural behaviours.

“Bringing animals off the land and cramming them into squalid, inhumane factory farms is not only cruel but also has far-reaching effects. What is perceived to be more efficient, is actually completely detrimental to the UK’s standards of animal welfare, human health and the environment.”