Factory Farming: It’s Worse Than You Think

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Do you know where your grocery store meat comes from before you buy it? Do you know how it’s produced and packaged? I unfortunately do. Most animals’ products sold in the U.S. come from something called factory farms.

What exactly are factory farms?

Factory farming, also known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), is a modern, industrial method of raising farmed animals. This form of intensive agriculture is designed to maximize profits while using as few resources as possible. It’s becoming an increasingly common way to raise animals for food, such as cows, pigs, chickens, and fish. In some cases, it’s also done with minks to farm their fur.

What is the history behind factory farms?

Factory framing was created by the United States and can be found in most other countries. The first factory farms to appear was back in the 1920s and it mainly farmed chickens. Other animals started to get introduce from the 1930s through the 1960s. When factory farming was first introduced, it was mainly used to produce quick meat to feed the troops during World War 1 and it escalated into the U.S.’s main source of meat.

Factory farming is most commons in these states: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

What’s the problem?

There are many problems with factory farming. For one, large numbers of animals are confined to very small spaces and are often kept indoors for the duration of their lives. The extreme confinement causes boredom, frustration, stress, and other serious concerns for farmed animals. The animals are raised to grow quickly so they can be turned into products swiftly. This results in various forms of bodily mutilations for many animals that can cause them chronic pain and suffering. Not only that, but CAFO’s smaller, more animal friendly farms can’t keep up with the mass production of animal products. The meat packaging plants this farm use are among the most dangerous workplaces due to the massive amounts of injuries, minimal health benefits, and low pay. They take advantage of low-income families who are desperate for money.

The definition of animal cruelty is going to be different for everyone. CEOs of big meat companies will have a different view than animal advocates. Meat producers claim to root out animal cruelty, when they deem possible, but animals’ advocates believe factory farms are very inhumane. The farms separate mother cows from their children, castrate male animals without anesthetics, and never allow the animals to go outside. The most intensive and common confinement system for cows is called a tie stall. Each cow spends the majority of their time tied to a single, small stall before being moved to a loose stall with other cows to roam around. All of these stalls are indoor, cramped, and unhygienic. Many chickens that are raised for meat are kept in battery cages, small cages about the size of a piece of lined paper. Female pigs that are used for breeding are kept in gestation cages so small they can’t turn around for the duration of their lives.

What happens to the animals?

The next part of this article talks about some extreme depictions of animal’s cruelty and abuse used by these farms. (If this is something that you would rather not read, skip this section of the article.)

Chickens use their beaks to pick up food and peck at objects around 14,000 – 15,000 times a day. As you can imagine, in confined spaces with little room to move, this becomes a huge problem that often results in injury, cannibalism, and most commonly death. Instead of giving the animals more room and freedom to move, many companies resort to debeaking them. That’s right, the company cuts off parts of the chickens’ beaks and calls it a solution. This procedure is done with a machine equipped with a hot blade that can debeak as many as 15 chickens per minute. It’s been proven that debeaking chickens causes pain during the process, as well as causing chronic pain throughout the rest of their lives.

Cows, pigs, and sheep routinely have their tails removed in the farms through a process called tail docking. This procedure is generally done without any anesthetics, and it’s banned in certain regions because of the long-term pain it causes. Tail docking is done to pigs because, like chickens, the conditions of the factory farms drive the animals to bite each other’s tails, leading to injury and infection. They remove the tuft at the end of the tail that lures other pigs to bite and is designed to cause the pigs pain so they will more actively avoid being bitten. Tail docking in cows is done purely for the worker’s benefit. They claim it makes milking easier and more comfortable for the workers.

The Federal Humane Slaughter Act was enacted to ensure that the animals are unconscious before they are killed, but these regulations are not heavily enforced by the USDA. The factory farming industry is often left to regulate itself, and at the best of times, the animals are given a quick and painless death. To prepare the chickens for slaughter, they are shackled upside-down on a conveyer belt and carried towards an electrified bath of water. Their heads are dipped in to stun them, but many chickens avoid the bath or are not properly stunned. They remain conscious for their slaughter. For cattle, the farms use a stun-gun that fires a bolt into the brain, rendering them brain dead. Pigs are commonly electrocuted with an apparatus that is applied to their temples. Any animal that is seen as unprofitable is quickly killed and discarded. Male chicks provide no use to these farms and are grounded up alive moments after they hatch. Weak piglets that are deemed unusable are slammed against hard surfaces such as the ground until they pass away.

What are the risks to humans involved? 

One of the worst things theses factory farms do is the practice of genetic manipulation. This is where the animals are bred to possess certain traits that are deemed “desirable.” Genetic modifications have risks for both animals and humans. Broiler chickens, chickens raised to become meat, are often designed to grow bigger breasts. This added body weight is unnatural and causes many debilitating medical conditions as the birds get older. Cows are often grown without horns to allow more of them to be packed into smaller areas. Acquiring the desired traits in farmed animals can lead to each individual becoming almost genetically identical, which heightens the pandemic risk inside the farms. Individual genetic variations act as speed bumps to viral transmissions. If the animals are all genetically identical, viruses would be able to spread much faster with the risk of becoming more virulent. Bacteria such as salmonella an E. coli are extremely common in chicken meat produced by these farms because of the fecal contamination. Not to mention the fact that animals are given antibiotics throughout their lives that kill most of the larger bacteria but leave small, drug-resistant superbugs alive to multiply and contaminate.

How does this affect the environment?

Not only is factory farming bad for people and animals, its also bad for the environment. Raising all the animals for food is a very resource-intensive activity. The animals need water, medication, energy sources that often come from fossil fuels, and shelter. Food is the biggest resource needed, which in turn requires large areas of land to plant monocrops like corn and soy. Crops for animal feed is one of the primary drivers of deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest. Factory farms also generate large amounts of pollution. They contaminate the air, land, and water around them. Food and Water Watch reported that one pig produces around one and a half ton of manure a year. All of the hog farms in the U.S. produce approximately 167 million pounds of waste a year. Hog waste is very dangerous because most of the time it isn’t treated before being released into the environment where it will go on to contaminate the surface and ground water. The environmental pollution disproportionately affects lower-income, minority communities that live near the factory farms. The Food and Water Watch reported that the air pollution generated by the broiler farms causes respiratory irritation and is linked to lung disease because chicken waste contains toxins like ammonia. These environmental polluters are drawn to low-income areas because factory farms operate under the assumption that the people who live in those areas will put up less of a fight. They also operate under environmental racism because they know that if they were to do this in a predominantly white area there would be much more backlash against them.

With all of the cruelty and negative side effects of the farms, why are these factories still running?

The animal’s agriculture industry wields serious financial and political clout. This allows the harmful effects on human health and the environment to go largely unregulated. The conditions on the farms remain obscured due to certain laws and other legislation. In addition, the public generally does not view farm animals as deserving of life beyond human exploits. These beliefs are often cultural and can be attributed to a lack of understanding in regard to an animal’s proven sentience. One of the biggest factors at play here is the rise in global meat consumption as well as a growing demand for cheap meat. Countries like the United States, Brazil, and China meet the demand by generating a surplus of animal products that can be exported abroad.

How can you help?

The bare minimum that you can do is to be conscious of the amount of meat you consume. A plant-based substitute is always a safe option if you are willing to cut back on your meat consumption.

If you don’t want to give up meat, you should know how to pick meat that doesn’t come from factory farms. The labeling on meat packages is very confusing and often misleading. Meat with the label “grass-fed meat” is growing more and more popular but this does not always mean the animals are free-range or were treated in a humane way. That label only refers to the animal’s diet and even then it is mostly only referring to a small portion of the animal’s diet. The label “humanely-raised” might seem like the ideal label, but the USDA doesn’t have a clear standard to evaluate meat producers practices. To obtain this label, meat producers only have to submit a few details and don’t have to undergo an investigation. Ignore “locally-raised” and “organic” labels.

These brands have earned the Certified Humane label.

The label that you want to look for is “pasture-raised.” Do not fall for the “naturally-raised” label; it’s a trap. Pasture raised indicates that the animals have plenty of space to move around and have a varied diet. The label “free-range” is sometimes a good sign because in order to get this label the producers actually have to prove that their animals have access to the outdoors. Unfortunately, some farms use pastures while others use outdoor concrete slabs so it’s not always a tell. The safest label to look for is “Certified Humane” or “Certified Animal Welfare Approved” because these labels require routine inspections to make sure the animals are treated humanely, have access to the outdoors, and are fed the proper diet. Best advice: Buy from small farms and avoid big industry meat companies.