Factory farming, the dominant system of food production in the U.S., is a far cry from the green pastures and happy animals often depicted in advertisements for meat. The factory-farming industry strives to maximize output while minimizing costs—always at the expense of the animals (and of our planet and our personal health as well). The giant corporations that run most factory farms have found that they can make more money by cramming animals into tiny spaces, which has caused dramatic increases in both diseases and pollution. Animals on factory farms are denied everything that is natural and important to them and spend their short lives in utterly dismal conditions—often enduring beatings and other forms of abuse—until the day they’re slaughtered.
Harmful Toxins and Disease: What You’re Really Paying For
The factory-farming system of modern agriculture strives to produce the most meat, milk, and eggs as quickly and cheaply as possible—meaning cramming as many animals into as little space as possible and killing them as quickly as they can. Animals killed for food on factory farms are crammed into such small cages and crates that they are often unable to turn around or lie down. They are intentionally deprived of exercise and any movement at all so that all their energy goes toward producing flesh, eggs, or milk for human consumption. They’re force-fed drugs to make them fatter faster (so they can be killed as soon as possible in order to increase output), and they’re genetically manipulated to grow faster or produce much more milk or eggs than they ever would naturally, causing them stress, pain, and disturbing health complications.
Because crowding creates an atmosphere that welcomes disease, animals on factory farms are fed and sprayed with huge amounts of pesticides and antibiotics, which remain in their bodies and are passed on to the people who consume them, creating serious human health hazards. Both the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association have supported ending the use of antibiotics in this manner.1,2 Despite the obvious harmful effects of these antibiotics, the factory-farming industry simply could not continue to raise billions of animals per year in such extreme circumstances without the drugs that allow animals’ bodies to survive conditions that would otherwise kill them.\
Egg-laying hens live in battery cages stacked tier upon tier in huge warehouses. Confined seven or eight to a cage, they don’t even have enough room to spread their wings. Conveyor belts bring in food and water and carry away eggs. Farmers often induce greater egg production through “forced molting”: Chickens are denied food and light for days, which leads to feather and weight loss.3
To prevent stress-induced behavior caused by extreme crowding—such as pecking their cagemates to death—hens often have the ends of their sensitive beaks are cut off with hot blades without any painkillers whatsoever. The wire mesh of the cages rubs their feathers and skin off and cripples their feet. Ninety-eight percent of the egg industry’s hens are confined to cages in factory farms.4 Chickens can live for more than a decade, but laying hens on factory farms are exhausted and unable to produce as many eggs by the time they’re 2 years old, so they’re slaughtered.5,6
More than 9 billion “broiler” chickens are raised in sheds each year.7 Artificial lighting is manipulated to keep the birds eating as often as possible. To keep up with demand and to reduce production costs, genetic selection calls for big birds and fast growth (it now takes only 6 weeks to “grow out” a chick to “processing” weight), which causes extremely painful joint and bone conditions.8 Undercover investigations into the “broiler” chicken industry have repeatedly revealed that birds were suffering from dehydration, respiratory diseases, bacterial infections, heart attacks, crippled legs, and other serious ailments.
At the slaughterhouse, chickens are hung upside down, their legs are forced into metal shackles, their throats are slit, and they’re immersed in scalding-hot defeathering tanks. They’re often conscious throughout the entire process.
Cattle raised for beef may be born in one state, fattened in another, and slaughtered in yet another. They are fed an unnatural diet of high-bulk grains and other “fillers,” which can include expired dog and cat food, poultry feces, and leftover restaurant food.9 They are castrated, their horns are ripped out, and they have third-degree burns inflicted on them (branding)—all without any painkillers. During transportation, cattle are crowded into metal trucks, where they suffer from trampling, temperature extremes, and lack of food, water, and veterinary care. At the slaughterhouse, cattle may be hoisted upside down by their hind legs and dismembered while they’re still fully conscious. The kill rate in a typical slaughterhouse is 400 animals per hour, and “the line is never stopped simply because an animal is alive,” according to one slaughterhouse worker.10
Calves raised for veal are the male offspring of cows used for their milk. They’re often violently dragged away from their mothers less than a day after birth, and they’re chained in stalls that have slatted floors and are only 2 feet wide and 6 feet long.11 They will never be able to stretch their legs, roam, or explore. Since their mothers’ milk is used for human consumption, the calves are fed a milk substitute that is designed to help them gain at least 2 pounds a day so that they can be eaten while still so young.12
Mother pigs on U.S. factory farms live most of their lives in individual gestation crates that are 7 feet long and 2 feet wide.13 In these crates, they aren’t able to turn around or lie down. Because of this intense confinement, they display signs of extreme boredom and stress, such as biting the bars of their cages and gnashing their teeth.14
Their piglets are taken away three weeks after birth and packed into pens until they’re singled out to be raised for breeding or for meat.15 Like chickens and turkeys, pigs are genetically manipulated and pumped full of drugs, and many become crippled under their own weight. Although pigs are naturally affable and social animals, the confinement of these crowded pens causes neurotic behavior such as cannibalism and tail-biting, so factory-farm workers use pliers to clip off the ends of piglets’ teeth and cut off their tails without any painkillers whatsoever.16
Transport is another aspect of factory farming in which animals experience stress and pain and are often exposed to fatal conditions. Pigs are transported through all weather extremes, often freezing to the sides of transport trucks in large pig-slaughtering states like Iowa and Nebraska or dying from dehydration in states like North Carolina. According to the industry, more than 100,000 pigs die en route to slaughter each year, and more than 400,000 arrive crippled from the journey.17
At the slaughterhouse, improper stunning means that many pigs reach the scalding-hot water baths—which are intended to soften their skin and remove their hair—while they’re still conscious.18 U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection records documented 14 humane-slaughter violations at one processing plant, including finding pigs who “were walking and squealing after being stunned [with a stun gun] as many as four times.”19 A PETA investigation found that workers at an Oklahoma farm were killing pigs by slamming the animals’ heads against the floor and beating them with a hammer.20
3 Things You Didn’t Know About Factory Farming
- Pigs are highly intelligent (studies show that they’re smarter than dogs) and social animals, yet pigs on factory farms endure horrible cruelty until they’re slaughtered. On any given day in the U.S., there are more than 65 million pigs on factory farms, and 110 million are killed for food each year.21,22
- Transportation to factory farms is yet another horrific aspect of these animals’ unfortunate circumstances. Pigs, for instance, often die in transit. Farms all over North America ship piglets (called “feeder pigs”) to Corn Belt states such as Illinois and Indiana for “growing” and “finishing.” When they’re transported on trucks, piglets weighing up to 100 pounds are given no more than 2.4 square feet of space, and farmers are warned that the piglets “probably will get sick within a few days after arrival.”23
- The process that chickens endure in slaughterhouses highlights the fact that factory farming aims solely to increase production output rather than focusing any energy on alleviating the pain and fear of the animals who are killed. Once at the slaughterhouse, chickens are dumped from their crates and hung upside down in shackles, further injuring their legs, which are already tender and often broken. Machines cut open their throats, and they’re immersed in scalding-hot water for feather removal. They’re often conscious throughout the entire process. Because hens’ bones are so brittle from egg production that the electric current would cause them to shatter, hens often are not even stunned before their throats are cut.24
What You Can Do to Help
1Marc Kaufman, “WHO Urges End to Use of Antibiotics for Animal Growth,” The Washington Post 13 Aug. 2003.
2U.S. Newswire, “Groups Applaud AMA Action on Antibiotics in Agriculture, Antibiotic Resistance,” 20 Jun. 2001.
3Joy A. Mench and Paul B. Siegel, “Poultry,” South Dakota State University, College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences, 11 Jul. 2001.
4United Egg Producers, “United Egg Producers Animal Husbandry Guidelines for U.S. Egg Laying Flocks,” 2003.
5Molly Snyder Edler, “Chicken Love Leads to Book Deal,” OnMilwaukee.com, 26 Sep. 2002.
6Ryan A. Meunier et al., “Commercial Egg Production and Processing,” Purdue University Department of Curriculum and Instruction, 4 Apr. 2003.
7Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Chicken Meat, Slaughtered/Head (1,000),” FAOSTAT Database, 2006.
8Cindy Skrzycki, “Old Rules on Poultry Categories May Fly the Coop,” The Washington Post 7 Oct. 2003.
9Elizabeth Weise, “Consumers May Have a Beef With Cattle Feed,” USA Today 10 Jun. 2003.
10Joby Warrick, “‘They Die Piece by Piece’; In Overtaxed Plants, Humane Treatment of Cattle Is Often a Battle Lost,” The Washington Post 10 Apr. 2001.
11Tammy L. Terosky et al., “Effects of Individual Housing Design and Size on Special-Fed Holstein Veal Calf Growth Performance, Hematology, and Carcass Characteristics,” Journal of Animal Science 75 (1997): 1697-703.
12John M. Smith, “Raising Dairy Veal,” Ohio State University, information adapted from the Guide for the Care and Production of Veal Calves, 4th ed., 1993, American Veal Association, Inc.
13Marc Kaufman, “In Pig Farming, Growing Concern; Raising Sows in Crates Is Questioned,” The Washington Post 18 Jun. 2001.
15William G. Luce et al., “Managing the Sow and Litter,” Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, Mar. 1995.
16Luce et al.
17University of Illinois, “Reducing Transport Losses in Pigs,” Aces News Apr. 2006.
20Marc Kaufman, “Ex-Pig Farm Manager Charged With Cruelty,” The Washington Post 9 Sep. 2001.
21National Agricultural Statistics Service, “Quarterly Hogs and Pigs,” U.S. Department of Agriculture, 29 Jun. 2012.
22Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Pig Meat, Slaughtered/Production Animals (Head) 2010,” 7 Aug. 2012.
23John C. Rea and George W. Jesse, “Managing Purchased Feeder Pigs,” Department of Animal Sciences, University of Missouri–Columbia, 1 Oct. 1993.
24Mench and Siegel.