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Organic Labeler Hit With Pig Libel Letter

Organic certification body the Soil Association has been threatened with a libel lawsuit over its objections to a pig farm.

London lawyers Carter-Ruck threatened libel proceedings against the Soil Association, an organic farmers’ group, after the non-profit objected to an application by Midland Pig Producers (MPP) for a farm in Derbyshire, England, the Guardian reports.

MPP plans to rear 2,500 breeding sows and up to 25,000 pigs and piglets on the site.

The Soil Association, which lobbies on organic issues and also runs the U.K.’s biggest organic certification program, raised concerns about animal welfare, disease and antibiotic resistance.

MPP’s application to South Derbyshire district council had to be withdrawn when it was ruled that the company needed to apply to the county council instead, which it plans to do in the next few weeks, the Guardian said.

But a Carter-Ruck letter on behalf of MPP told the Soil Association that its objection is defamatory and should be withdrawn.

The letter said that if the Soil Association disseminates its objections further, it “would risk incurring considerable liability”.

MPP said the farm would feature a “green cycle”, whereby pig slurry would be mixed with plant and food waste and fed into an anaerobic digester, producing fertiliser and methane gas for energy. The company’s chief executive, Martin Baker, was named pig farmer of the year in 2009 by the U.K. supermarket chain Waitrose.

Libel cases are much easier for plaintiffs to win in the U.K. justice system, where the burden of proof is on the defendant, than in the U.S., where the burden of proof is on the plaintiff. One of the longest-running civil cases in British history started in 1990 when London Greenpeace – which is unconnected to the international pressure group Greenpeace – distributed leaflets criticizing McDonald’s environmental record.

The U.K. government has asked all retailers to join the Pigmeat Labeling Code of Practice, due to be published next month. The code will show where hogs were born, reared and processed, the Telegraph has reported.

Pictured: The logo of the Soil Association campaign against the MPP farm and similar pig facilities.

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