In the last few decades, consolidation of food production has concentrated power in the hands of fewer and fewer corporations. Many of today’s farms are actually large industrial facilities, not family farmers with green pastures and red barns that most Americans imagine. These consolidated operations have little to no regard for the environment, animal welfare, or food safety, and often put the health of consumers and rural communities at risk for the sake of profit.
Watch the Sierra Club’s documentary on factory farming, Living a Nightmare: Animal Factories in Michigan
What is a Factory Farm?
The government calls these facilities Concentrated (or Confined) Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines a CAFO as “new and existing operations which stable or confine and feed or maintain for a total of 45 days or more in any 12-month period more than the number of animals specified” in categories that they list out. In addition, “there’s no grass or other vegetation in the confinement area during the normal growing season.”
According to the EPA, a large CAFO includes 1000 cattle (other than dairy, which is 700), 2500 hogs over 55 pounds, or 125,000 chickens (as long as a liquid manure system isn’t used). A liquid manure system is when the animal’s urine and feces are mixed with water and held either under the facility or outside in huge open air lagoons – these manure systems create a lot of pollution (which many times taxpayers end up paying for). The chickens they refer to are chickens other than laying hens – laying hens must number between 30,000 - 82,000, depending on how the manure is handled.
A medium factory farm (CAFO) has between 300-999 cattle other than dairy (200-699 if dairy), 750-2,499 hogs if 55 pounds or more, and 37,500 to 124,999 chickens (other than hens that lay eggs) if the facility doesn’t use a liquid manure handling system.
Animals in factory farms are confined indoors, with minimal room for normal behaviors and little or no access to sunlight and fresh air. Animals are mutilated to adapt them tofactory farm conditions. This includes cutting off the beaks of chickens and turkeys (de-beaking), and amputating the tails of cows and pigs (docking). Pens and cages restrict the natural behavior and movement of animals. In some cases, such as veal calves and mothering pigs, the animals can’t even turn around. It’s simply wrong to confine veal calves, breeding pigs, and egg-laying hens in tiny cages barely larger than their bodies. We wouldn’t force our pets to live in filthy, cramped cages for their whole lives, and we shouldn’t force farm animals to endure such misery, either. All animals, including those raised for food, deserve humane treatment.
Factory farms have put our health at risk by keeping animals in overcrowded, inhumane conditions. Cramming tens of thousands of animals into tiny cages fosters the spread of animal diseases that threaten human health. Low doses of antibiotics are administered regularly to animals in a preemptive move to ward off the diseases bred by unnatural, unsanitary conditions. In fact, an estimated 70 percent of all antibiotics used in the United States are regularly added to the feed of livestock and poultry that are not sick—a practice with serious consequences for our health; Bacteria that are constantly exposed to antibiotics develop antibiotic resistance. This means that when humans get sick from resistant bacteria, the antibiotics prescribed by doctors don’t work. In addition to preventive medicines, animals are fed hormones and antibiotics to promote faster growth.
The American Public Health Association has called for a moratorium on new factory farms because of the devastating effects these operations can have on surrounding communities. Factory farms often spread waste on the ground untreated — contaminating our waterways, lakes, groundwater, soil, and air. Man-made lagoons on industrial farms hold millions of gallons of liquid waste, from which contaminants can leach into groundwater. The manure is normally sprayed on crops, but oftenexcessively, leading it to run off into surface waters. Nutrients and bacteria from wastecan contaminate waterways, killing fish and shellfish and disturbing aquatic ecosystems. Such waste can also carry bacteria that causes food-borne illness in people, such as e. coli.
Factory farms cut corners and drive family farmers out of business when they put profits ahead of animal welfare and our health.
What You Can Do
We can all help put an end to the factory farming system by buying our food from smaller, sustainable farms. You can buy local foods by joining a CSA group, visiting a farmers market or using the Eat Well Guide to find a farm near you.
For More Information
Visit Sustainable Table for more information on factory farming and how you can help
Watch The Meatrix
For more resources and reports about the factory farm system, please visitwww.factoryfarm.org.
To find out which corporate farms received the bulk of government subsidies from 1995-2004, visit the Environmental Working Group’s Farm Subsidy Database.