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When it comes to factory farming there is a lot of misinformation out there designed to muddy the waters. Our goal is to help you understand the factory farming facts so you can form your own opinions on where to spend your money.
What is the Definition of Factory Farming?
A “factory farm” is a farm that raises animals for food or for animal products without focusing on the health or living conditions of the animals. The factory farming process focuses instead on raising as much livestock as possible within the space available in order to produce as much product as possible – hence the term factory farming. Most commonly factory farming focuses on the production of meat, eggs and milk for human consumption.
How Did Factory Farming Come About?
Before there were factory farms, animals were raised on ranches and farms in the open air. The animals would be taken care of used for what they could produce until they could no longer produce those things. For example, chickens were raised in the open air and housed in coops. When the hens stopped laying eggs, they would be slaughtered and eaten. Meats like veal were more likely to be produced if the animal injured itself than by simply being slaughter at 4-5 months of age.
Factory farming had its beginning in the 1920’s after it was discovered that vitamins – particularly vitamins A and D could be added to animal feed. The addition of these vitamins to feed meant that animals no longer required exposure to sunlight or exercise outdoors in order to grow. Unfortunately for the animals this meant that many of them became subject to indoor living year round.
The Beginning of Factory Farming Trouble
As factory farming became increasingly popular, more and more animals were being kept indoors. Farmers began trying to maximize their profit by crowding increasing numbers of animals in to confined areas. Unfortunately this type of housing leads to the rapid spread of disease among animals. As one animal contracts a disease – for example swine flu – other animals that are within close proximity will also contract that disease and so on and so forth until the entire population is exposed. In attempts to reduce this type of spreading of disease the use of antibiotics in factory farming became popular. Antibiotics to combat disease in factory farmed animals were developed in the 1940’s. By using antibiotics to combat the disease spread by overcrowding, farmers could still increase their productivity without having to worry about producing “unhealthy” animals.
Benefits of Factory Farming for Farmers
When first introduced, the concept of factory farming was a popular one for farmers for a number of reasons. The main benefit was the increase in productivity that farmers experienced from being able to crowd more animals in to housing units. This not only meant more product to sell, but it also meant lower production costs since they no longer had to purchase large runs of land on which to let the animals roam. As factory farming took off, farmers also found that they could implement mechanization and assembly line techniques that would allow faster processing of their animals as well.
Downfalls to Factory Farming
Animals Well Being
In addition to the faster spread of illness as has already been mentioned, factory farming carries with it additional perils. One of the most significant is the general well-being of the animals concerned. The animals in question were not built to thrive spending their lives indoors in extremely cramped and crowded situations. When such incredible numbers of animals are forced in to cramped surroundings they are subjected to suffering. Being unable to roam, being deprived of sunlight and fresh grass, these animals are being deprived of their basic needs. In cramped warehouses or factory farms, these animals are nose to tail which not only creates pain from lack of exercise and being forced to stand, but it also contributes to a breakdown of the natural hierarchy and social nature of the animals themselves.
Increased Use of Antibiotics
As any human being who has been subjected to lengthy courses of antibiotics will tell you, there are often some very unpleasant side effects that accompany these drugs. Since these overcrowded factory farming conditions require animals to be injected with antibiotics in order to prevent disease spread, these animals are frequently exposed to these unpleasant side effects.
Exposure to Hormones
As farmers begin to fall prey to factory farming in a desperate attempt to make their bottom line and stay in business, they often find themselves turning to hormone supplements. As these farmers give their animals hormone supplements they experience a higher product yield from unusually large animals. While this increased yield results in a larger paycheck for the farmer, unfortunately it also results in suffering for the animals. Again, as any woman who has taken birth control pills can tell you, hormones can be crazy things. The animals in factory farms have no say as to whether or not they ingest these products and as a result they often suffer the side effects from hormone ingestion.
Details of Confinement
For many (but not all) animals in factory farms, confinement does not only mean being crammed in to a crowded warehouse, for some it means being confined in small cages. These small cages often times prevent the animals from moving at all, giving them no space to lay down, no way to communicate with each other and a natural fear from being in an unfamiliar situation. Add to this unusual confinement the amount of ammonia in the air from the elimination habits of all of these animals, and factory farm confinement is simply a torturous place to be for anyone. As if confinement and ammonia weren’t enough, these animals are also deprived of natural sunlight.
Mutilation in Factory Farming
In some instances of factory farming, animals are subjected to mutilation. Such actions can involve ear cutting, tail docking, branding and castration. While some of these practices are performed under sterilized circumstances by registered veterinarians, in many factory farms they are conducted on the animal within cramped confinement and without appropriate medical care. While these actions may make a factory farmers life easier, it simply adds to the suffering of the animals in question.
Determining the Fact from Fiction
Factory farming is an issue that many people feel passionate about and as such it is easy to become lost in the propaganda. It is important to be able to decipher fact from fiction in order to make an educated decision in regards to factory farming. Let’s take a look at some official statistics.
Animals in Factory Farms
- According to Horrigan, Leo, Lawrence, Robert S., Walker, Polly, “How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture,” Johns Hopkins University’s Center for a Livable Future, July 9, 1999 “Each full-grown chicken in a factory farm has as little as six-tenths of a square foot of space. Because of the crowding, they often become aggressive and sometimes eat each other. This has led to the painful practice of debeaking the birds.” Along these lines, hogs can also become aggressive when kept in tight spaces and turn to biting each other’s tails. This leads to tail docking practices.
- According to Grace Links, the concrete floors or slatted floors that are part of the structure of many factory farming units, result in skeletal deformities in animals. These animals do not naturally live on such hard surfaces; their skeletons were designed for life in the dirt and grasslands.
- According to the Humane Society, often animals in factory farms are forcibly overfed in order to produce particular products such as foie gras.
- Many times animals in factory farming are prevented to perform natural behaviors such as nesting as a result of overcrowding conditions.
- Research finds that breeding animals used by factory farms have considerably shorter life spans as a result of the constant cycles of pregnancy and giving birth.
- Selective breeding done by factory farms to produce oversized animals to produce more product, results in “mutant” like animals that are unhealthy and unable to thrive.
- Grace Links also estimates that some 80% of pigs slaughtered in the United States have pneumonia at their time of slaughter as the result of exposure to gasses produced by animal excretion in the factory farm.
- Erik Marcus states that the genetic manipulation that many broiler chickens undergo is so severe that some 90% of them have difficulty walking because of deformities.
Pollution from Factory Farms
- According to the USDA animals from the US meat industry are responsible for 61 million tons of waste, that’s five tons of waste for every US citizen.
- The Environmental Protection Agency claims that chicken, hog and cattle waste has polluted 35,000 miles of rivers throughout 22 states in the US and contaminated groundwater in 17 states.
- A microscopic organism named Pfiesteria that feeds of the nitrogen found in animal waste is lethal to fish and humans. In one example according to Susan Zakin, author of a 1999 article on pollution, states that in 1991 1,000,000,000,000 fish died in the Neuse River, North Carolina from Pfiesteria exposure alone.
- As factory farms crowd more animals in to their warehouses, more feed is required to feed these animals. The demand for more feed results in increased water use, deforestation of land, use of pesticides and herbicides on land for crop growth, reduced soil fertility and desertification. All of these factors destroy land that could otherwise sustain the “average” farm community.
- The Centers for Disease Control Mortality Weekly Report claims that the pollution caused by animal waste results in depression, death, miscarriage, nausea, skin infections and respiratory infections for those who live within close proximity to factory farms.
The Economy of Factory Farming
- According to the State of Utah Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget in 1995, between 1969 and 1992, the number of farmers producing 1000 hogs or more annually increased by 320%. This was accompanied by a decline in the number of producers selling 1,000 hogs annually by 73%.
- According to Earth Times, meat production has increased around the world from 44 million tons in 1950 to 211 million tons in 1997.
- Susan Zakin also points out that some 90% of the poultry pollution in the United States results from just ten companies.
The Use of Antibiotics in Factory Farming
- According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the overuse of antibiotics in animals has resulted in the development of even more strains of drug resistant bacteria. In 1999, the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences noted that the approximate cost of treating these anti-biotic resistant infections in the United States alone is $30 billion!
- According to the American Medical News, some fifty million pounds of antibiotics are produced every year within the United States. Of these fifty million pounds, 16 million pounds are used on livestock in order to increase their growth rate.
- According to a 1994 edition of Newsweek, antibiotics that are used in farm animals leave behind strains of drug resistant microbes in the products produced by these animals. As the consumer ingests these microbes through milk or meat, they introduce these resistant bacteria to the body.
Specific Animal Conditions in Factory Farms
- Broiler Chickens are otherwise known as meat chickens. They are raised for their meat alone and are only kept until they reached the desired weight. Because of the genetic alterations, vitamins, hormones and antibiotics they are given, their bones often cannot keep up with the rate of growth of the rest of the body, leaving the chicken unable to support its own weight. These chickens are housed in such overcrowded facilities that their beaks and toes are cut off to prevent them from injuring each other and they are kept in continuous darkness to avoid conflicts between the chickens.
- Layer Hens are raised for their eggs. Hormones cause the hens to lay earlier than they naturally would and the chickens are housed in a way that focuses only on the egg. The cages they live in have slanted floors which can cause painful foot problems. The cages themselves are about 14 inches square and house 5-8 chicks. Their beaks are seared off to prevent fighting. Chickens depend on sunlight to guide them in the laying process. This is one reason why chickens lay fewer eggs during the winter. To combat this, factory farms keep the hens in perpetual light. When the hens do stop laying eggs, they are starved until they go into the molt process, which will lead to another laying session. If the hens stop laying eggs altogether, they are slaughtered. Chickens that are born male are suffocated in garbage bags.
- Pigs are taken care of through an automated process and are kept in the dark until they are led out for slaughter. Because there are so many in one area together, they constantly breathe in the bacteria from their own waste and develop diseases from it.
- Veal is the tenderest of all cattle meat because it is taken from young cattle whose muscles have not become fully developed. To make sure that the veal is as tender as possible, the animal is housed in a two foot crate so that it cannot move. The lack of movement prevents the muscles from developing. Iron is withheld from their diet so that they retain the white color that veal consumers are so fond of. The animal lives in this manner for 4-5 months, until it is slaughtered.
- Dairy Cows produce meat and baby cows. Since the cow can produce milk for up to 10 months after she gives birth, she is kept pregnant continuously. These animals are fed through automated systems. Their waster is also removed by automated systems, as is their milk. The cows are allowed outside twice a day to be milked. Otherwise, they remain in their small pens.
- Beef cattle are cows raised specifically to become beef. One of the most thoughtless automated processes in the factory farms is the way that beef cattle are knocked unconscious by an automated device before they are killed. To kill a beef cattle, the animal is hung upside before its throat is cut so that the blood can be drained immediately. Since the automated process for knocking cattle out is not always effective, they are sometimes awake when they are hung upside down and killed.
Remedies to Factory Farming
Many people find themselves less familiar with how to remedy factory farming methods, making it difficult to make an argument against it. Below you will find some practical remedies to factory farming.
One of the most significant things that can be done to discourage factory farming is to raise public awareness. It is up to local residents of communities as well as local governmental associations to determine whether they want factory farms in their jurisdiction. The general public is rarely aware that they are actually entitled to both review and comment on pollution reduction plans and to enforce the terms of those plans when a factory farm is not in adherence to those terms.
Accountability and Regulation
One significant problem that exists with factory farming is that there are very few regulation or accountability measures in place. It is important that new systems be put in place to ensure that these types of farms not only obtain permits to run their factory farms, but that they also monitor the quality of local water that is currently being affected by runoff. In cases where run off does occur and pollute the land around factory farms, it is crucial that farmers be held accountable for the cost of any clean up and be forced to put proper waste disposal plans in to effect.
The Implementation of New Technology Methods
Some advocates for an overhaul of factory farming methods believe that strengthening of factory farm technology would greatly reduce the need for administration of antibiotics to factory farm stock. Such advances in technology are believed to be able to significantly reduce the pathogens present in factory farms currently.
Implementation of Alternative Farming Practices
The amount of pollution, both to local water supplies and to the products that result from factory farming, should be enough to lead to state and federal support of alternative farming methods. Primarily, farms should be encouraged to focus on farming methods that do not rely upon such a high concentration of livestock in such a limited space. A focus should also be put upon livestock farming methods that allow animals more freedom to roam rather than being contained in such unhealthy environments. Additionally, farms should be focusing on methods of containing animal waste such as keeping animal waste drier which greatly reduces problems caused by runoff and spillage.
Small Feedlot Pollution Reduction Programs
Many smaller factory farms do not fall within the regulations established for larger industrial facilities. As a result, these small feedlots are exempt from voluntary programs designed to improve management practices. Additionally, these smaller farms find themselves unable to take advantage of technical assistance that is made available to larger farms, this type of access would help to reduce some of the common problems that factory farming causes and experiences.
Putting Pressure on the Consumer
One of the most significant factors in decreasing the practice of factory farming is the opinion of the consumer. If more consumers stand up and express their disapproval of farms that take on factory farming practices, then these farms simply will not be able to sustain themselves. The easiest way for consumers to make this type of impact is to only purchase meat, milk and eggs that are certified as organic, free range or antibiotic free. While these products may be slightly more expensive, they are products that support healthy farming practices and are much healthier products over all.
Why You Should Stand Up Against Factory Farming
Many people stand up against factory farming practices because of the cruelty that the animals in these situations undergo. From tail docking to the incredibly cramped conditions they are kept in, there is absolutely no way that these animals are able to remain healthy physically and psychologically in factory farming conditions.
For other people, the reason they stand up against factory farming is the amount of pollution that it promotes locally. As runoff from animal waste infiltrated local earth and water, the results can be devastating to local animal populations as well as local human populations.
Not only does the runoff from factory farms affect the health of the environment, animals and people, but the hormone and antibiotic treatments given to factory farm animals have a number of health effects as well. In an effort to preserve your own health you need to make the conscious decision not to expose yourself to the hormones and antibiotics that factory farming animals are subjected to.
Supporting Small Business
Farming methods that do not employ factory farming techniques are often small farming establishments and by supporting them, you are supporting small local businesses. Refusing to patronize larger factory farms is the perfect way to support local produce and encourage healthy sustainable farming methods.
There are many reasons why people choose to stand up against factory farming, but currently not enough people are doing so. If everyone was aware of the basic facts that underlie the factory farming industry and took a stand, there is simply no way that these types of operations could remain in business.
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