What is Factory Farming?
Factory Farm definition: Farms that utilize cost saving strategies to maximize production and profit. The main strategy is to crowd a large population of animals in a confined space, thereby, reducing costs, and promoting “efficiency” in feeding, waste, handling, and breeding. Although animals are confined to small spaces such as crowded sheds, battery cages, and gestation crates, factory farming is a large-scale enterprise.
Does the farming industry use this term? No. The term: “factory farming” is generally used by opponents of these farming methods. The industry calls these large-scale facilities “concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs)” or “intensive farming.”
Consumer Labeling: Although many animal products carry the label: “organic” or “cage free,” they most likely come from factory farms because organic simply refers to antibiotic, hormone, vaccine use, and very minimal “humane” standards. “Cage free” farms, such as “cage free” egg suppliers in California (Prop 12) are still just as crowded as farms with battery cages because the single cages have been removed but chickens are crowded by the tens or hundreds of thousands in a single facility. If an animal is deformed or sick, they will be trampled or unable to reach food and water feeder stations spaced throughout the facility.
Environmental Sustainability: The main goal of a factory farm is profit, therefore, production efficiency, quantity, and time are favorable issues. Unfortunately, factory farms value profit over environmental safety. These farms are overcrowded, therefore, large cesspools are required to collect massive amounts of feces. The world’s water supply is reduced even further because farms must regularly clean facilities and use water to irrigate feces from collection areas to outdoor cesspools. Cesspools often leak drug-resistant bacteria and dangerous pathogens into our water supplies. Global warming is one of the most significant issues of our time. Methane emitted from these cesspools and farms is a greenhouse gas which contributes to global warming as much as the transportation industry in the U.S. However, animal agriculture is not essential for everyday life like some aspects of the transportation industry. Animal agriculture also clears vast amounts of land: Co2 levels rise due to this unnecessary deforestation.
Most farms are factory farms: Markets are dictated by competition. While smaller farms may face hardship at times, factory farms are able to keep their heads above water because they have enough operating funds to utilize during tough times. Their ability to profit faster and with less work translates into an upper hand in the market’s competition. In addition, many government subsidies that assist with agricultural loss are only allocated to a farm to replace the exact sum of the loss or expected earnings for the month. Therefore, factory farms receive larger bailouts.
What do proponents say? Proponents of factory farming argue that animal agriculture is necessary for a healthy economy. They also state that animals on farms are healthier and happier indoors, and the use of antibiotics and vaccines can reduce the number of animals lost due to disease. Proponents also claim factory farming is good for the environment because land use is lower since facilities have more animals per cubic foot.
What do opponents say? Opponents of factory farms point out the widespread use of antibiotics and growth hormones among farms in the U.S. Luckily, the European Union has banned the use of antibiotics that have a use for humans, and in doing so, they have seen a decrease in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Opponents also point out that it’s a cruel industry no matter the type of farm. In a single town, residents can smell the odor coming from a facility from miles away. Deformities and illness are also rampant in factory farms due to lack of proper air circulation in some facilities, concrete flooring, and confinement. These issues commonly lead to: pressure sores, abscesses, bone density loss, and lung infections.
Are small farms that are not considered factory farms “humane?” (i.e. pasture raised, a small, scattered herd). No, because it is impossible to “humanely” kill an animal who does not want to die. Furthermore, male piglets are castrated without anesthesia, artificial insemination still occurs regardless of farm type, and animals are sent to slaughter long before they reach their natural life span. The “humane” label is obtained via third party auditors rather than the government.
“Family Farms” and “Factory Farms” - can an operation be both simultaneously?
Yes. Most U.S. farms are family owned regardless and there’s no correlation between the size of a farm and the term “family farm.” Approximately 99% of farms in the U.S. are factory farms. This term simply means an operation is owned by an individual (commonly inherited) rather than a large corporation with board members who predominantly control decision-making. Example: Smithfield is owned by the WH group of China, therefore, they are not a family farm: they’re a corporation.
Are factory farms a dangerous threat to humans right now? Yes. In addition to
cruelty to animals, factory farms are breeding grounds for zoonotic diseases which can mutate due to overcrowding and jump to humans. The emergence of COVID-19 in a wet market is very similar to the virus mutation process which takes place on factory farms: animal crowding and exploitation by humans, a vector such as bat, rodent, or wild bird, and lastly, the capability of the virus to mutate effectively and attach to human DNA. If one checks the United States Dept. of Agriculture website regularly, they will see that warnings are frequently posted regarding contagious disease outbreaks among animals on farms. Most of these diseases cannot jump to humans, but the possibility of a transmittable contagion in the future is still likely.