Factory Farming Facts - Animals Raised For Food Cause Human Health Risks, Endanger The Environment, And Endure Animal Cruelty
What is Factory Farming?
Factory Farming is the practice of raising usually thousands of animals in close confinement and high density with the purpose of producing meat, eggs, or milk in the fastest, most efficient, and cheapest way possible for human consumption. These industrial operations are corporate agribusiness institutions, also called "CAFOS" - concentrated animal feeding operations.
The number of animal farms in the US has decreased drastically over the decades, and while a few companies grew exponentially large, much less people are employed in factory farming today than in the industry's beginnings in the 1920s. One worker now supplies more than 90 consumers (1). The major four food companies in the US produce 81% of cows, 73% of sheep, 57% of pigs, and 50% of chickens (1). 10 billion animals are now killed in US factory farms every year.
US milk production doubled between 1959 and 1990, while the number of dairy cows declined by 40% (26)
Key Characteristics Of Factory Farming
- Economies of scale dictate everything. One of the world's largest pig farms in the US holds 500,000 hogs in one Smithfield facility in Utah in tight confinement (33).
pigs on factory farm
- Large numbers of animals are usually held indoors in closed confined pens and sheds, and often with physical restraints to control unnecessary movement. The more animals they can crowd into a space, the more profitable it is for the factory farm.
- Factory farms are highly standardized for efficiency. Monocultures of animals and feed crops are created to be highly unified through gene manipulation to help yielding consistent production every year. Less diversity and variety of agricultural products make management and regulation of food quality easier.
- Growth hormones, genetic engineering, and specific breeding programs are used to create more desirable and consistent animal anatomies, and to stimulate faster growth. This potent chemical cocktail fattens only the animal parts that consumers pay most for.
- Huge amounts of antibiotics and pesticides are used to fight the spreading of diseases and bacteria, as farm animals would get sick due to the crowded conditions, dirt, and humidity in the pens.
All factory farm animals - including fish - are fed grains, mostly high-yield corn and soy mixes, which are cheap but low in nutrition (34). The feed can also contain ground-up parts of other animals of the same or other species that did not make it into human food production (35, 36).
factory farm cows
feed on grains
- Fish farming is one of the fastest growing food producing sectors. More than 30% of sea animals consumed each year are raised on fish farms now (20).
- The typical factory farm worker gets low wages, works severe overhours, and won't complain, as he has no rights. More often than not, illegal immigrants are used, as they would cope with all conditions for fear of deportation. Working conditions at factory farms are harsh, dreadful, and hazardous to safety and health of these workers (40).
- The federal US government subsidizes 35% of feed crop production (41) and US taxpayers paid $56 billion on corn subsidies over the last 12 years (42). 80% of this corn is used for farm animal feed (43). Without these subsidies, industrial farming would be inefficient and much too expensive for producers and consumers.
The meat industry preys on a workforce made up of impoverished illegal immigrants who can never complain about poor working conditions or animal cruelty for fear of being deported (21)
Factory Farming Health Risks and Environmental Impact
Industrialized animal farming with its continuous quest for efficiency in food production comes at a high price for human health, animal welfare, and the environment. Find out about agriculture industry food facts, health risks, and animal cruelty that may change your outlook on food forever.
Food Facts Endanger Human Health
The agriculture industry uses 70% of all pesticides in the US (28). This and the abundant use of antibiotics to prevent disease and of growth hormones to fatten animals quickly, lead to increased levels of chemical substances in the meat that humans consume. These also cause heightened antibiotic resistance in animals and humans, where they no longer respond to outbreak treatments and require ever stronger doses of drugs to fight bacteria attacks. This practice can also lead directly to the evolution of new antibiotic-resistant "superbugs" (29).
Chemical, bacterial, and viral compounds from animal waste can runoff into soil and waterways, from where it immediately affects the human population that gets in touch with it. The main substances are ammonia, nitrogen, and phosphorus - along with greenhouse gases methane and nitrous oxide - that pollute air, land, and water (44).
chickens in factory farm shed
- The meat from corporate factory farms is no longer natural - food facts are that all meats (including chicken and fish) are a concoction of gene-manipulated grains fed to the animals, added by artificial growth hormones.
- Intensive farming is creating highly virulent avian flu strains. With the frequent flow of goods within and between countries, the potential for disease spread is high (59).
- Food facts are that the USDA allows meat from animals with cancerous lesions and pus-filled wounds to enter the food chain as "USDA pure" (4).
- Ammonia levels in factory farms should not exceed 35 parts/million for workers to safely spend 15 minutes in an animal pen. The ammonia levels are often twice these amounts, leading to chronic bronchitis and skin infections in workers (30).
- Meat and poultry production have multiplied ever since industrial farming was introduced about 15 years ago. Not surprisingly, deaths from food-borne illness have quadrupled in the US in the last 15 years (12).
The dairy industry knows about the problem with pus in milk and has developed a standard to gauge milk quality called "somatic cell count". The higher the somatic cell count, the more pus in the milk. To be considered healthy for human consumption, the somatic cell count in milk should not exceed 200 million per liter. In the US food facts are that the average somatic cell count is 322 million per liter across all states (39).
milk with pus in it
- With nearly 36 injuries or illnesses for every 100 workers, meat packing is the most dangerous job in the US. Chances for suffering an injury or illness in a meat plant are six times greater than in a coal mine(12).
- Some publications make a link between violence toward animals and violence toward humans. It is stated that working in a slaughterhouse will dull one's sense of compassion toward both animals and people, including loved ones (12).
"With the advent of modern slaughter technologies, there are about 50 points during meat processing where cross-contamination can occur. At the end of the line, the chickens are no cleaner than if they had been dipped into a toilet." (38)
Factory Farming Jeopardizes Animal Health
- Animals in very dense confined environments build ideal breeding grounds for lethal viruses and contagious diseases. Due to the gene-manipulated uniformity of the confined animals, viruses are spreading easily and face almost no resistance.
- Confined factory farm animals often stand or lie in their own manure, next to sick or even dead animals, and with largely untreated wounds, as veterinary care is deemed too costly for these "food products".
pigs standing in their own manure
- Farm animal feed is a far cry from their natural feed: it contains high amounts of rich corn and soy, rendered parts of other animals (of same and other species), animal waste, drugs, chemicals, metals, and plastic. As a result, particularly grass-eating cows suffer greatly from digestive and liver problems.
- Animals' immune systems have weakened extremely due to overbreeding and growth hormones that create deformed bodies. This is animal cruelty as the animals' legs can no longer support the unnatural heavy weight of their upper bodies (2).
- 30-50% of US dairy cows suffer from mastitis due to a weakened immune system and over-milking. Mastitis is a painful bacterial udder infection that produces blood and pus, which often lands in the milk. This is so common that the dairy industry created a specific council to address this problem (10).
Other very common cow diseases are Bovine Leukemia, Bovine Immunodeficiency Virus, and Milk Fever from calcium deficiency - as dairy cows' constant birth cycles deplete their bodies of more calcium than they can replenish with food.
cow with infected
udder from mastitis
- Pigs often suffer from porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, swine influenza, and salmonellosis, due to the filthy living conditions in factory farming where they are forced to live in their own urine, feces, vomit, and sometimes amid corpses of dead animals.
- The high levels of ammonia and toxic gases in the animal warehouses often lead to severe respiratory disease, as the animals spend weeks or months in this environment without ever breathing fresh air. This animal cruelty leads to huge mortality rate of chickens, but farm industry calculations found it is more important to grow the biggest birds and ignore mortality (30).
- 70% of pigs on factory farms have pneumonia by the time they are sent to the slaughterhouse (31). More than 25% of pigs suffer from mange due to their filthy living conditions (32).
- Veterinary care for individual animals is not profitable, so when they fall sick they are left to fend for themselves without any treatment.
Media around the US concludes: The way America produces meat, milk and eggs is unsustainable, creates significant risks to public health from antibiotic resistance and disease, damages the environment, and supports unnecessary animal cruelty.
Factory Farming Damages the Environment
Food animals on factory farming facilities produce an enormous amount of waste. A dairy farm with 2,500 cows produces as much waste as a city of 411,000 people (60).
factory farm manure runoff
- Food facts are that there are NO regulations for the treatment of animal waste from factory farming, which contains methane and nitrous oxide gases - both many times more toxic and warming than CO2. Liquid animal waste often spills over from holding lagoons into local soil and waterways.
- Fish farming is called "aquafarming", and this squanders natural resources too - it can take 5 pounds of wild-caught fish to produce just 1 pound of farmed fish. Aquafarming operations pollute the environment with tons of fish feces, antibiotic-laden fish feed, and diseased fish carcasses (20).
Factory Farming Animal Cruelty
- All farmed chicken, pigs, and turkeys live their entire life in dark extremely confined spaces, often with no room to turn around or lie down (2).
- It is animal cruelty that all farm animals are prevented or restricted from their natural behavior, socializing, and exercising in fresh air that would be crucial to the animals' well being.
- Animals often have to stand or lie in their own waste for long periods, and are subjected to intense levels of ammonia and toxic gases where humans can only enter with facial masks for a very short period of time.
- Weak and injured animals are often left to fend for themselves with open wounds or infections, without food or water. They wait in pain for a slow death, as veterinary care is considered too costly for individual animals. Many cases of animal cruelty are documented where still living animals have been thrown away as trash, as they were too weak to stand-up or walk.
- Most animals are fed synthetic growth hormones to fatten them fast in unnatural ways. They suffer from broken bones, heart attacks, seizures, viruses and other diseases, as their legs and organs are crushed from the heavy body parts that consumers prefer (2).
Psychological stress and trauma are rampant and amount to animal cruelty, as animals witness the slaughter, dying, or injury of companions. Self mutilation is frequent as these intelligent animals develop signs of insanity due to boredom, frustration, and total lack of stimulation.
dead pigs on factory farm
- The lifespan of factory farming animals is radically reduced, and that also includes dairy cows, breeding sows, and egg-laying hens.
- Humane killing methods are often ignored to keep the production line running, and many animals are improperly sedated or stunned before being scorched in boiling water, throat-slit, beheaded, or bolt-shut. If these methods don't manage to kill them, the animal cruelty intensifies beyond belief, as they are dismembered piece by piece, often still conscious, on the fast-moving production line.
Video "Meet your Meat" from PETA
Sir Paul McCartney once said: "If slaughterhouses had glass walls everyone would be vegetarian." Many former slaughterhouse workers would agree when faced with the animal cruelty that is legal and accepted procedure in food plants.
Excellent resources about the toll that factory farming takes on human health, animal welfare, and the environment
Here is another excellent website that dives into more details and provides extensive information about the questionable practices of factory farming and who its winners and losers are: FactoryFarming.com.
The website gives you a even better understanding of the various CAFO types, factory farming's impact on the environment, and the pathogens and health concerns that are introduced into our daily food chain by the miserable living conditions that farm animals have to endure on factory farms.
|Book Image & Title||Book Review|
Author Jonathan Safran Foer was between meat-eating and vegetarianism when he undertook the challenge to make a sensible choice for the diet of his future family. What he discovered while visiting factory farms is a compelling and sobering story about the human and environmental cost of modern food production.
Known for his humoristic style as novelist, Foer's book Eating Animals is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the impact that factory farming has on their own life and the environment we live in.
In Animal Factory: The Looming Thread of Industrial Pig, Dairy, and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment, author and journalist David Kirby describes the inevitable impact that nowadays' food production system has on people who live close to these mass animal factories.
With a style reminiscent of mystery thrillers, Kirby portraits the stories of three unlikely activists whose lives were dramatically changed by the massive environmental hazards resulting from nearby factory farms. Follow them in their battle against big agribusiness and their elected officials, who are more concerned about industry interests than public health.
Written by a cattle rancher who won’t eat meat anymore, the compelling book Mad Cowboy by Howard F. Lyman is an eye-opening essay about the deadly impact that the cattle and livestock industries have on our well-being - physically and mentally.
A former believer in the system who has raised cattle in the fourth generation, Lyman takes a courageous plunge against powerful corporations that collectively contribute to more American diseases than all other causes combined: the meat and dairy industries.
John Robbins' first book Diet For A New America is widely recognized as the bible for a humane lifestyle that questions our dependence on animals for food.
Robbins educates us about the misguided belief that animal foods are important for human health, and he dispels the myths about the food industry's brainwashing tactics to make us believe in happy cows and humanely treated farm animals. John Robbins dissects the detrimental impact that factory farming has on human and environmental health, while reflecting on moral questions that we need to re-evaluate in the light of the book's alarming facts.
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(1) Wikipedia - about factory farming.
(2) Farm Sanctuary - about factory farms and animal cruelty.
(3) United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) about CAFOs
(4) Meet your Meat - video published by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) about animal cruelty on factory farms.
(5) William Grimes, "If Chickens Are So Smart, Why Aren’t They Eating Us?" New York Times, 12 Jan. 2003.
(6) Mench and Siegel, "The welfare of poultry" 1997
(7) T. G. Nagaraja and M. M. Chengappa, "Liver Abscessed in Feedlot Cattle: A Review," Journal of Animal Science, 1998.
(8) Joyce D’Silva, "Faster, Cheaper, Sicker," New Scientist, 15 Nov. 2003 – about the human health and animal welfare impact of industrial farming.
(9) UK Newspaper Cites OCA on Big Corporations Hijacking the Organic Movement," The Guardian", 12 Nov. 2003.
(10) S. Waage et. al., "Identification of Risk Factors for Clinical Mastitis in Dairy Heifers," National Veterinary Institute - about food production methods that lead to health risks for humans and animals.
(11) D.L. Roeber et al. About factory farm food facts.
(12) Gail Eisnitz,"Slaughterhouse - The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry" – about animal cruelty in agribusiness.
(13) Joby Warrick, "They Die Piece by Piece,"Washington Post, 10 Apr. 2001 – about animal cruelty in slaughterhouses.
(14) Cambridge Daily News, "A New Slant on Chump Chops," 29 Mar. 2002.
(15) Swine Diseases (Chest): Mycoplasma Pneumonia," Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine", 2005
(16) "Seaboard Pig Farm Investigation Video," PETA Online, 2001
(17) Olympus Microscope, "Pig Embryo," Olympus Microscope Global Web Site.
(18) Feedstuffs, "Research Looks at Transport Losses," 17 Apr. 2006.
(19) The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization
(20) http://www.fishinghurts.com/FishFarms.asp - about industrial farming of fish.
(21) The Humane Society of the United States, "A First Look at Farm Animals: Turkeys," 2004.
(22) Jodie Karrow and Dr. Ian Duncan, "Starve-Out in Turkey Poults," University of Guelph, Dec. 1999.
(23) Christina Duff, "If You Think Surviving Tomorrow Is a Turkey's Only Worry, Read On," The Wall Street Journal, 27 Nov. 1991, B1.
(24) Humane Farming Association - about animal cruelty on factory farms.
(25) The Poultry Guide - A to Z and FAQs
(26) USDA APHIS. "DAIRY CATTLE" - food facts about the dairy production
(27) BBC News. (2003, April 30). Fish do feel pain, scientists say – about animal cruelty on fish farms.
(28) Union of Concerned Scientists from a 2001 report titled Hogging It! Estimates of Antimicrobial Abuse in Livestock, Mellon, Margaret, Charles Benbrook & Karen Lutz Benbrook, Cambridge Mass.
(29) University of Iowa study January 2009, "Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
Strain ST398 Is Present in Midwestern U.S. Swine and Swine Workers" - about health risks on factory farms.
(30) Mercy for Animals chicken farm investigation
(31) Gene and Lorri Bauston, "Brutality: Main Crop of Factory Farms?" EarthSave International Online, 2004.
(32) IVOMEC Pharmaceutical advertisement, Pork Magazine, 17 Dec. 2002.
(33) Rolling Stone, "Boss Hog" - article about waste pollution at Smithfield, the world’s largest hog producer; 14 Dec 2006.
(34) Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. "Below-Cost Feed Crops/ An Indirect Subsidy for Industrial Animal Factories."IATP, June 2006.
(35) Union of concerned scientists; "They eat what?"; 08 Aug. 2006 - about animal feed on factory farms.
(36) Environmental Health Perspectives Article by Sapkota, Lefferts, McKenzie, Walker; "What Do We Feed to Food-Production Animals? A Review of Animal Feed Ingredients and Their Potential Impacts on Human Health";
(37) From Wikipedia "Battery cage" - about egg farming standard practices.
(38) Interview with former USDA microbiologist Gerald Kuester in Gail Eisnitz' "Slaughterhouse - The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry."
(39) MilkSucks.com - about human health dangers in dairy farming.
(40) Human Rights Watch 13 - about factory farm working conditions.
(41) Wikipedia - agricultural subsidy - about government farm subsidies.
(42) Environmental Working Group's Farm Subsidy Database; April 14, 2008.
(43) epa.gov; AG101; "Major Crops Grown in the United States".
(44) The US Center of Disease Control and Prevention.
(59) Compassion in World Farming - Animal health and disease in agriculture farming.
(60) "Food Safety Consequences of Factory Farms". Food & Water Watch. March, 2007. http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org:8080/Plone/food/factoryfarms/FoodSafetyFactoryFarms.pdf