End Factory Farming.
“The question is not can they reason? Nor, can they talk? But can they suffer?”
-Jeremy Bentham, 1789
Despite pictures of happy cows and chickens on milk and egg cartons, animals raised in factory farms endure intense and sustained cruelty. Nearly all animals raised or food come from large-scale confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) known as “factory farms,” where cruelty is a core part of a business plan that requires extreme efficiency to maximize profits. Though “farm” is still in the name, these facilities are worse than prisons. According to the EPA, factory farms are defined as facilities with more than 1,000 beef cattle, 2,500 hogs or 100,000 broiler hens. Michigan has over 270 factory farms.
Between 1950 and 2000, the world’s population doubled, but meat consumption increased five-fold. Industrialized farming took root in the 1970s, replacing small family-run farms by industrialized lots that house thousands (sometimes hundreds of thousands) of animals in intense confinement.
Treating animals as objects of production rather than sentient beings in support of hyper-consumption of cheap meat and dairy not only results in the torture of about 10 billion land animals a year in the US (~25 million/day), but is also destroying human health and our planet.
Just like us, farm animals are social, emotional and intelligent beings. They feel pain, and experience complex emotions like grief, joy, fear and contentment. They have strong family bonds. Mothers and babies have a natural need and yearning to be together. They have friendships, are playful and can solve problems. As such, they need and deserve our respect and protection.
Factory farming treats these sentient beings as objects of production. Animals are kept in extreme confinement, overcrowded cages or stalls, given little-to-no time outdoors and unable to exhibit natural behaviors. Egg-laying hens living their lives in battery cages are provided space no bigger than a standard size piece of paper. Pigs used for breeding live mostly in gestation crates just two by six feet. These animals can barely move, may be stacked on top of each other, and may only experience sunlight and fresh air on the way to the slaughterhouse.
Many animals are subjected to routine mutilation (de-beaking, tail docking, dehorning, castration and more — often without anesthesia).
Babies are torn from their mothers right after birth to make dairy products and are either sent straight to slaughter, raised for meat or dairy, or kept in the worst kind of agonizing confinement to make veal. Mother cows naturally suckle their calves for many months. Some people mistakenly believe that cows just always have milk. But there is only one way to make a dairy cow; by taking away her calves so that the milk can be given to humans instead. As such, dairy cows are forcibly impregnated yearly, each calve taken immediately away, until she is considered “spent” and sent to slaughter herself.
Animals on factory farms aren’t given time in pasture but are fed cheap diets made up of corn, soy, additives and by-products such as animal waste and arsenic. These unnatural and unhealthy diets cause sickness and painful chronic conditions.
Growth hormones are used to unnaturally boost growth and milk production causing disabling health problems. Antibiotics are also used to increase growth and to curb infection from stress, poor nutrition, sickness and overcrowded living conditions.
Although their lifespans are unnaturally short, it is estimated that about 10% of animals die of sickness and injury before they get to slaughter. This high attrition rate does not outweigh the financial gain from massive rates of production.
Such conditions create high levels of stress, sickness and continuous pain and discomfort until the animals are packed on a truck and taken to slaughter. The slaughter process is typically a traumatic end to a miserable life. Similar to other live transport situations, animals are crammed into trucks, travel long distances experiencing poor ventilation, motion sickness, heat stress, and electric prodding and other violence while getting on and off the truck. It is legal for animals to be forced to travel in extreme temperatures ranging from 100 to 20 degrees without access to food and water for 24 hours. They arrive at the slaughterhouse injured, dehydrated and highly stressed. Because of increasing speed kill rates (for example, up to 175 chickens are slaughtered per minute) technology and procedures often fail causing animals to go through processing while still alive.
Because those working at factory farm and slaughter houses are typically poorly trained, low-wage workers under constant pressure to work quickly required to shut off their compassion to do their jobs “well”, defenseless animals are routinely subject to cruel handling.
There are approximately 700,000 people who work in animal agriculture, the vast majority in factory farms. Today, many factory farm workers are immigrants from Mexico and other parts of Latin America working for low wages often hired temporarily on work visas. The industry also employs a large but unknown number of undocumented workers because they are less likely to complain about pay or working conditions. Workers are typically paid near or below the federal poverty line.
The conditions on factory farms are hazardous for animals and also for the people who work there. Like other applicable regulations, labor regulations protecting the safety and health of the workforce are extremely lax and poorly enforced. Injuries on the job and exposure to disease and noxious air is routine. Workers suffer higher rates of chronic respiratory illnesses, heart disease, repetitive motion injuries, amputation of fingers and limbs, and pre-mature death.
Studies also show a negative impact on mental and behavioral health. Factory farm or slaughter house workers (who may be responsible for killing tens of thousands of animals during a single shift) suffer high rates of including depression, anxiety, PTSD, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide. Crime statistics, comparing industries with similar demographics, show that slaughterhouses significantly increase violent crime in communities where they reside.
“The worst thing, worse than the physical danger, is the emotional toll. If you work in the stick pit [where hogs are killed] for any period of time—that let’s [sic] you kill things but doesn’t let you care. You may look a hog in the eye that’s walking around in the blood pit with you and think, ‘God, that really isn’t a bad looking animal.’ You may want to pet it. Pigs down on the kill floor have come up to nuzzle me like a puppy. Two minutes later I had to kill them – beat them to death with a pipe. I can’t care.”
— Gail A. Eisnitz
Despite the many dangers of the job on health and safety, most factory farm and slaughterhouse workers are not covered by health insurance or allowed time off to seek medical care.
Factory farming causes massive environmental damage and plays a significant role in climate change.
Water: Factory farm industry consumes an unsustainable amount of water. It is estimated that nearly half of all water consumption in the United States goes to the process of raising animals for food. Most of it not used for hydrating animals, but for growing feed and to cleaning factory farm and slaughterhouse floors. A pound of beef requires about 2000 gallons of water – 10 times the amount used for a pound of soybean.
A person can save more water by skipping one hamburger than by skipping daily showers for 2 months.
Further, factory farming is also one of the largest threats to healthy drinking water. It is estimated that animals raised for food create 130 times the waste that humans create.
A dairy farm with 2500 cows creates more feces and urine than a city the size of Cleveland, Ohio. Yet there are no sewage management systems in place as are required in human communities.
That waste is filled with pathogens, pharmaceuticals, and excessive nutrients harmful to the environment. Polluted water from waste is stored in large onsite cesspools or is used as fertilizer on crops. Rivers, streams and ground water gets contaminated when these cesspools rupture, leach or leak or through run-off from fertilized crops. Industrial crop growing for animal feed also creates water filled with huge amounts of pesticides, fertilizer and heavy metals. Contaminated water is a serious threat to both aquatic ecosystems and public health.
Air: Confining large numbers of animals together causes the release and concentration of emissions that both degrade air quality and add to greenhouse gases. Factory farms are responsible for releasing particulate matter and dangerous compounds, including ammonia, methane and hydrogen sulfide. These emissions can cause foul odors and serious negative health effects on farm workers and the local community. Studies show residents who live near chicken factories suffer high rates of asthma, lung cancer and other pulmonary diseases. Air pollution of from waste containment cesspools has been shown to also cause headaches, nosebleeds, depression and brain damage.
Land: In addition to pesticides, fertilizers and waste that contaminate and degrade the soil, hurting wildlife and humans, we lose land equal to 27 football fields every minute (18 million acres a year) due to intensive farming. The beef industry is responsible for 70% of deforestation in the Amazon and nearly half of all cropland is used to grow animal feed. Forests are home to 80% of all wild land animals and are essential to moderating global warming. Deforestation adds to climate change, mass species extinction and a critical loss of biodiversity.
Deforestation also creates more opportunities for new and dangerous zoonotic pathogens to spread from animals to people, as it forces stressed animals in closer proximity to people.
The United Nations recently declared factory farms to be the leading cause of greenhouse gasses.
Greenhouse gases trap heat from the earth’s surface causing the earth to warm leading to climate change.
Billions of animals confined on factory farms are believed to contribute more to climate change than all cars, trucks, trains and planes put together.
Both methane (expelled from cows and animal waste) and nitrous oxide (from waste and fertilizers used for crops to feed “food animals”) are considered many times more potent and damaging than CO2.
There are also many indirect ways in which factory farms contribute to climate change, such as the use of fossil fuels and through deforestation. The release of CO2 as a result of clearing forests is believed to be responsible for 10% of greenhouse gases. While there are several industrialized agricultural trends behind deforestation, the raising of cattle for beef has the largest impact.
Environmental Justice: Many people who live near factory farms live below the poverty line. They experience serious health consequences from air and water pollution. Studies show higher rates of chronic health issues like respiratory and neurological problems, particularly harmful for pregnant women and children. They also suffer quality of life issues, as they can’t spend time outside or even open their windows due to the stench in the air, and reduced property values. But they often can’t afford to move or fight powerful corporate entities.
Weak Regulation and Weaker Enforcement: The fact is that neither animals, humans nor the environment is being protected.
Most people are shocked to learn that there is no oversight of animals on factory farms. No government body is ensuring humane treatment or adequate sanitation on industrialized animal feeding lots.
The USDA only oversees the slaughter and meat packing process. The FDA regulates food safety by inspecting food production facilities. The EPA enforces environmental laws. But resources for all are extraordinarily slim. Even where there is regulation, oversight is minimal and penalties, if imposed, are minimal. According to a recent poll more than half of Americans believe there should be tighter regulation on factory farms.
Ag-Gag Laws: Most people, regardless of whether they consume meat and dairy, want to see animals treated humanely. The food industrial complex is well aware of public sentiment and knows consumers would be outraged by the routine, systemic abuse experienced by animals raised for meat, eggs and dairy. As such, numerous laws have been passed to silence whistle-blowers and undercover activity meant to expose animal cruelty. In some areas of the U.S. the industry is so afraid of the public seeing what happens behind closed doors that people can be charged as terrorists just for exposing violent animal abuse.
Americans now eat more than a half pound of meat and one pound of dairy per day.
Consumption of factory-farmed meat and dairy poses serious health risks to humans. Factory farmed animals, such as beef and dairy cows, unable to graze are much lower in essential health nutrients. Today, diets heavy with animal fat and processed meats are known to cause hypertension, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and certain cancers. According to the CDC, unnatural feeds on factory farms adds to the saturated fat content of meat. Routinely used growth hormones are also linked to an increase in breast, colon and prostate cancer and lead to developmental and reproductive problems, but come with no warning labels.
Over-use of antibiotics also used to spur growth and to dampen disease due to stress, overcrowding and lack of vitamin D has caused serious concern around deadly infections resistant to antibiotics. It is estimated that 70% of antibiotics used today are administered to animals raised for food for non-therapeutic reasons. The excessive use of antibiotics has caused a steep and deadly rise in antibiotic resistant infections in animals and people. Each year nearly 100,000 people in the U.S. die due to antibiotic resistant infections.
Arsenic is also routinely used in chicken and turkey feed to boost growth and kill parasites. Its use is approved by the FDA despite links to cancer and other human health problems.
Overcrowding, poor sanitation and insufficient waste management and sanitation on commercial farms also causes contamination of the food supply from bacteria like E. coli and salmonella. Each year millions of people are made sick and thousands die from these and other food-borne illnesses.
Zoonotic viruses, diseases that jump from animals to people (such as the novel Coronavirus), are also believed to be on the rise due to factory farming.
Stress, overcrowding and filthy conditions create ideal breeding ground for viruses that spread quickly among animals, farm workers and beyond.
Viruses like the bird flu and the swine flu (H1N1), believed to be caused by overcrowding of pigs on a factory farm, have the potential to become world-wide pandemics.
Reduce and reform. Raising food animals is predicted to double over the next 40 years. To curb massive cruelty, and to protect human health and the environment, we need to do everything we can to stop raising animals industrially and stop eating them thoughtlessly.
Real change will come from both reducing consumption and insisting on both humane and sustainable farming practices.
Actions we can take as individuals to help farmed animals:
- Eliminate or limit the amount of animal products you consume. Factory farming developed in America during the 20th century in order to meet the growing demand for meat and dairy. The less animal products we consume the less demand for them which, in turn, will reduce the necessity for factory farms.
For example, if every meat eater in the U.S. ate one meatless meal a week, we could save 450 million animals each year.
- Try plant-based alternatives like Impossible Burger or Beyond meat.
- Buy local. The vast majority of meat, dairy and eggs found in supermarkets come from animals that were raised on factory farms. Buying from local farmers means you’re much more likely to get food from animals that were raised in more natural, humane situations.
- Be skeptical of labels. While you may think you’re purchasing more humane food options with labels like organic, free-range or grass-fed, oftentimes these labels are devoid of much meaning. The Henry Ford Health System offers insight into some labels here.
- Demand humane standards of care from agri-business and regulatory agencies. We need regulation and real enforcement on:
- Sanitation: Ensure clean living conditions and proper waste handling
- Housing: Eliminate extreme confinement and overcrowding
- Care: End routine practices that cause unnecessary pain and suffering
- Feed: Use only nutritious, species appropriate and nontoxic animal feed
- Drugs: Ban use of growth hormones and antibiotics beyond therapeutic use
And VOTE! Vote for politicians who have compassion for animals and care about the health of people and our planet.