We all know that factories are highly efficient, congested places, where not even one machine is out of place. Now imagine if these machines are replaced by animals, and the final products are the animal products like milk, etc. Well, that is exactly what factory farming means.
In this method, animals are kept in close quarters, from the time of their birth till they are ready for producing goods. The farms also go by the name of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), and the animals are called livestock.
It is intensive agriculture’s another form. Its sole aim is to yield the highest possible amount from one land unit. Now, small farms run by a single family are examples of extensive agriculture.
Extensive agriculture depends on the natural fertility of the soil while using fewer inputs, like the most basic machinery and human labor. When it comes to husbandry, in these types of farms, they are left to graze outdoors or nomadic farmers herd them at the most.
However, since intensive agriculture’s sole objective is increasing productivity, the number of inputs is much greater. These include pesticides, fertilizers, extensive deforestation to clear more land. For animals, this translates to raising as many as possible in as little space as required.
History Of Factory Farming And Intensive Agriculture
This kind of agriculture started earnestly in Britain in the 1600s. Agricultural developments like crop rotation allowed feeding and raising many more animals. By the end of the 1800s, efficiency had vastly increased. During this period, selective breeding rose in popularity which targeted desirable animal traits, such as woolier sheep.
U.S. Agriculture was dominated by the present factory farming system by 1990. The process has resulted in the average price of meat falling drastically, as well as increasing efficiency. Since the 1960s, there has been a massive increase in milk, meat, and egg production. But, the agricultural profits seem to have become more concentrated in fewer hands. From 1950 to 1997, US farms became half in number but doubled in size. Today, over 90% of US and worldwide farm animals are raised via factory farming.
How Does Factory Farming Work Today?
Factory farming is the primary method of husbandry for animals such as fish, chickens, pigs, and cows for their meat. Other products of factory farming are fur, eggs, and milk.
A medium to large US factory farm typically has 125,000 broiler chickens, 30,000 hens that lay eggs, 55,000 turkeys, 2,500 pigs, 700 cows for milk, and 1,000 cattle for beef. Very few people control these farms.
In 2015, the 4 biggest companies in a sector controlled anywhere around 51% to 85% of the total sector production. But, the farming is not handled by the companies. That part is believed to yield the least amount of profits. Instead, the farming is contracted to individuals. These individuals usually have huge debts so that they can start factory farming. As such the contracts make it even more unfavorable by implying that quitting means bankruptcy. Tyson Foods is credited with devising this method for the first time.
Factory farming raises animals into being productive in the shortest possible amount of time. Their entire lives are spent crowded together inside the “factories”. They are also usually genetically modified or physically mutilated to taste better and be more accommodating of such confinement,
For instance, the beaks of chickens are removed so that they can’t peck at each other. Genetic modifications are done to broiler chickens for their larger breasts, as consumers like breast meat more. Tails are removed from pigs and cows to prevent biting, and also to make them easier to milk. The horns of cows are removed while they are raised so that more can fit in the same space.
The Cons Of Factory Farming
The very basis of factory farming is the unnatural crowding of animals. Even living aside the physical mutilations, this by itself makes it too inhumane for many. Moreover, factory farming has adverse effects on the health of humans. For the environment, factory farming increases biodiversity loss, emissions of greenhouse gases, pollution, horrible conditions for working, as well as the risk of disease.
Factory farming has 2 types of animal cruelty: Egregious cruelty and Systemic cruelty.
Egregious cruelty is when farmworkers carry out particularly specific cruel acts. Systemic cruelty means the typical conditions involved in a factory farm. Advocates of animal welfare think of these conditions as inherently cruel.
Even though systemic cruelty is found more commonly, the law only prosecutes egregious cruelty. But systemic realities can enable egregious cruelties. For instance, Ag-gag laws penalize whistleblowers and activists who film animal cruelty being perpetrated in factory farms. Moreover, US laws for animal protection usually are not applicable for fish or birds.
Animals on factory farms face slightly different systemic abuse, based on their species. However, all of them suffer due to being confined in such close quarters for their entire lives.
Broiler chickens are the name given to chickens that provide meat. Often, their groups would consist of over 20,000 individuals. Ventilation is poor in these spaces, and as such, they can be exposed to ammonia produced from the birds’ waste. This causes irritations in their skin, throats, and eyes.
Hens that lay eggs are not much better off. They have put inside “battery cages” – a container which is smaller than an 8.5×11 paper sheet. In 1999, the European Union banned this method of factory farming because of its cruelty.
Pigs and dogs have a similar level of intelligence. Also, their instinct is to socialize and root themselves. But their indoor pens have slatted floors and do not let them do such things. This makes them frustrated enough to bite the tails of others. Farmers then clip off parts of the pigs’ teeth or tails without an anesthetic.
Sows that are pregnant have a particularly cruel time. They are kept in special gestation crates. Their movement is severely restricted to the point that muscle mass and bone strength deteriorate. Consequently, they become more likely to injure themselves by falling.
Beef cattle is perhaps the only farm animal that is raised outdoors primarily. But their final days are spent in feedlots, without shelter and crowded together. They are fed corn and some other food that is not part of their natural diet. As a result, they suffer from digestive problems, as well as respiratory problems and heat stress caused by dust.
Milk cows are often tethered and kept indoors. Every year, artificial insemination is done so that they keep producing milk. Their calves are forcibly taken away only 24 hours after their birth. Male calves will then be raised to be veal, in crates measuring about 2.1×2.5 feet. Fortunately, several US states have started banning veal crates. Factory farming is gradually phasing them out as well.
Fish farming has grown extremely rapidly over the past few years. Now, almost 50% of consumed fish are farm-raised. Fish also stay in congested conditions, encouraging disease, injury, and stress.
Environmental Impact Of Factory Farming
The severe conditions in a factory farm also impact the surroundings. The amount of manure being generated in such close quarters is immense. First, ponds are used for storing this manure before being used as fertilizer.
But, environmental activists point out that such an amount is too much for the soil. Consequently, the excess becomes runoff and enters waterways. This can cause nutrient pollution, causing algal blooms and dead zones. The infamous Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone is caused by factory farming.
Moreover, feeding so many animals needs a lot of food. Usually, they are fed soy or corn. Naturally, growing the required amount needs an immense amount of land. 33% of US agricultural lands are for soy and corn while below 10% of it is eaten by humans. The global ramifications of this imply that the population of the world could be fed if dairy and meat consumption is excluded. Moreover, 67% of the Amazons have been deforested to clear the land for factory farming cattle ranches.
The livestock is estimated to emit 14.5% of greenhouse gases across the Earth. 45% of that is produced by the production of feed, while 39% comes from cows as well as other ruminants releasing methane. The top 20 livestock companies in the world have a bigger emission than Germany, UK, or France.
With COVID-19, we have been shown how human health is risked by human exploitation. Factory farming remains one of the best examples of this. Animals in factory farms are treated with antibiotics to keep them healthy despite the overcrowding. 73% of global antibiotics are given to animals. However, such widespread use means bacteria can mutate and resist these drugs. Thus, when they eventually spread to humans via pollution and consumption, it becomes a serious condition. Several times, pandemics have been born this way. For instance, the swine flu that was named H1N1 has a relation to a virulent 1998 pig strain.
Of course, factory farming also abuses the humans who work there and live in the surrounding area. Factory farming has been often associated with environmental racism – colored communities having a low income are usually employed to work among pollutants and unsafe conditions.
Is There Anything Being Done About Factory Farming?
A movement has been growing that has seen the model of factory farming phased out. Cory Booker, a US senator, had reintroduced a Farm System Reform Act in July to that effect.
Some of the points in the act are closing down the biggest existing factory farms by 2040; make corporations accountable for the pollution; give farmers a buyout clause if they want to exit factory farming, etc.
In the international scene, Compassion in World Farming has requested the world to agree to end all types of industrial agriculture. It is similar to the Paris climate change agreement in 2015.
Several organizations are also giving it their all to protect the farm animals and help bring about change. Mercy for Animals exposes factory farming conditions by going undercover. Farm Sanctuary saves animals and gives them shelter and care.
Individually, we can do a lot to help the efforts in ending factory farming. Many of them involve changes in your lifestyle. The best thing that can be done is to go vegan, which will also reduce the carbon footprint. But that does not mean eating meat ethically is not possible. Here are 4 tips for doing so:
- Buy products that are labeled “free-range” or “pasture reared”.
- Buy local.
- Make sure to leave as little leftover as possible.
- Don’t binge on dairy and meat products.
If we end factory farming, then we will be taking a huge step in dealing with the environmental and health crisis that we are facing right now. But, meat consumption and production have risen and will probably keep rising if there are no changes. The behavior of consumers coupled with public policies will be a key in making the food system kinder and healthier.