don't eat that chicken
Factory Farming and its Consequences
Do you enjoy the occasional hamburger? Have you always had a weak spot for chicken breast? Maybe some Cuban sandwiches instead? Chances are those meals were made with one of the 99% of animals in the US raised on a factory farm. Factory farms, IFAP (Industrial Farm Animal Production) or CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) are all the same thing under a different name; an attempt to achieve the highest possible production of meat, eggs or dairy, with the lowest possible costs. To some, this farming system has provided a cost-efficient “solution” to the rising costs of land for farming, making profit once again within easy reach. However, the costs that really matter in the end are not found in finance and numbers. They are found in our environment, our health and that of our animals. Sadly, these costs are higher than they ever were with traditional farming, and prove that factory farming is in fact not a solution to any problem, but rather a new problem in itself.
The fact that such a big part of farmed animals raised and slaughtered in the US come from factory farms might surprise you. And no wonder, the factory farming business makes sure it does. Factory farms are hidden away in places were not many people pass by, and the few people that do pass by will not be able to see a thing as the (huge) stables are entirely closed. Very little light enters those places, let alone a lost look from a curious stranger.
If you wish to break through this invisible shield of secrecy about the food you eat, take some time and read through this article; all you need to know about factory farming and its consequences will be explained. In the next article, you will then find some alternative to this outdated practice (or you might even be convinced to ditch the consumption of animal products altogether).
It´s a tough topic to write or read about. But in the end, isn´t it better to know what food to avoid rather than to put the blindfold back on for the sake of one more BigMac?
Animal Cruelty in Factory Farms
The first and foremost reason the practice of factory farming is not a celebrated one, is the severe amount of animal cruelty that goes hand-in-hand with it. Animals in these farms seldom see the light of day, have the ability to move or even experience brief relief from pain and illness. Even though these animals are sentient beings just like us, and should be protected from having such harm inflicted on them, very little animal rights make it into the factory farms. Some regular violations include:
Lack of Space
The freedom to turn around or stretch a wing should be an easy right to grant to an animal, right? Well, when it comes to profitable, multi-corporational farming, space for the animals in probably the first thing that goes into the budget cut. More animals on less space means less money has to be paid per animal you have, so the equivalent of one A4 paper in floor space per chicken is not unheard of. For egg-laying hens especially, this is common practice. The lack of space (as well as natural light and clean air) causes the hens to develop diseases such as osteoporosis due to lack of calcium. Often they are also infected by Salmonella, a bacterium that finds itself in heaven in factory farms – free to spread as fast and far as possible. The cages and other hens cooped up with the animal also cause the hen´s feathers to be pecked or rubbed off, leaving the animals partly bold and vulnerable. Any kind of normal, natural behavior is made entirely impossible, which brings me to our next point.
Due to the small spaces in which animals are forced to live, they develop unnatural behaviors. Pigs in mega stalls often start eating each other´s tails and ears, out of pure boredom. Chickens and turkeys become aggressive when they are kept confined so close together, causing them to start pecking at each other´s feathers. To prevent these kinds of problems, “surgeries” are carried out (but, don´t expect to see any pain-relief…) Chickens and turkeys get part of their beaks cut off, preventing them from pecking at each other. The removal of teeth in other animal species is also common practice. To prevent the pigs from eating each other´s ear or tail, these body parts are simply removed before the pigs get a change to do it themselves (to prevent disease from spreading even faster). This cause is also helped by a medication that factory farms can afford (unlike anesthetics, apparently), namely antibiotics. This drug also has the nice possible side-effect of growth-promotion, which happily adds to the factory´s production speed.
Unnaturally Fast Growth
In order to be able to produce a lot, fast, the animals in factory farms are selected and bred to grow unnaturally fast. In this selection procedure, all other qualities an animal might have (such as resistance to diseases, strong bones, etc.) are completely disregarded. Due to their bodies growing too fast, animals often suffer from lameness, weakened bones, organ failure and infections.. And if the selection is not pushing the growth of animals up fast enough, drugs are used to artificially speed up the process. Antibiotics used to promote growth in animals are illegal in the EU. In the United States however, 80% of all antibiotics used are used on factory farm animals…
The Environmental Impact of Factory Farms
Already pretty horrible, right? Sadly, the negative results of factory farming don´t stop there. Another aspect adding to the list of why factory farms should just be banned is the extreme environmental pollution they cause. A major contributor to climate change, factory farms contribute to the warming of our earth, biodiversity loss and overall pollution all through the “supply chain”.
To great annoyance of factory farm owners, animals are not yet genetically engineered out of needing food to survive. This means that the thousands of animals kept in a factory farm need a lot of food to get fat fast. I had a friend of mine once comment on my choice not to eat animal products: “But, if the whole world would stop eating meat, we would need to free up a lot more space to cultivate enough crops to feed everyone. Since that isn´t really feasible, isn´t space-efficient farming a better solution?” This is a common misconception. What many people fail to take into account is the fact that those “space efficient” animals need to eat. To feed such a large number of animals, large pieces of land are needed. So much in fact, that we are now using more land for the production of animal products than we use for the growth of fruit, vegetables and cereals. The plants fed to the animals are more often than not genetically modified, meaning their cultivation went hand-in-hand with airplanes full of pesticides, that found their way into our earth and water ways. The huge GMO mono-crops are also responsible for biodiversity loss, as well as the other side of the coin: plagues.
Once all those mountains of food are digested by the animal, the waste will have to come out the other way… It is a popular joke that cow farts are major contributors to climate change, and this is actually not without fact. The methane produced by the animal´s farts and burps are (in large quantities) very harmful to the environment, and make up a large part of greenhouse gasses causing global warming.
When the animals are not farting and burping, they will be disposing of their waste otherwise. All this manure has to be disposed of, and this forms the next big pollution problem. Small amounts of manure are actually very beneficial for the land, but in large quantities it can become extremely harmful. As a result, nitrogen and phosphorus are creating enormous problems; they leak into water sources, killing plants and animals and even creating massive “dead zones”. Some nitrogen also turns into ammonia, which is capable if acidifying water and depleting the ozone layer.
Impacts of Factory Farming on Your Health
As if all this wasn´t enough to make us want to physically remove every animal from factory farms and close the doors forever, there are even more factors to take into consideration. Take for example, the harmful impacts these practices are having on our own wellbeing. Not only are the animal products themselves proven to be unhealthy for you, the means by which they are produced are just as much so.
Not All Meat is Equal
For those few that still live in the illusion that a burger from McDonalds contains meat with the same nutrition values as organic meat, this is the wake-up call. Many studies have found that not just highly processed fast food meat, but any meat from intensively farmed animals contains a lot less of the good, and a lot more of the bad. Iron and antioxidant levels are low, whereas fat levels are through the roof. Omega-6 to omega-3 ratios are completely imbalanced, with the unfortunate consequence of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. All this is not helped by the fact that we no longer need to pay high prices for meat (in first-world countries, that is). This cheap meat has allowed for drastic overconsumption, causing even more health-problems such as obesity, diabetes and cancer.
And that´s all if you were the lucky one that got the piece of meat that was not infected… With so many animals crammed together in small spaces, diseases spread like wildfire. E. colli and Salmonella – bacteria often found in factory farmed animals – can cause gastroenteritis in humans and in extreme cases even death.
A “clever” solution they came up with to prevent the spread (and sometimes even mutation) of diseases among the factory farm animals, was the feeding of antibiotics. Although this drug can be used without too much damaging effect to treat animals that suffer from infections and are in pain, the antibiotics overload in factory farms is quite a different story. All animals are given antibiotics as a standard part of their diet, keeping them quiet and (more or less) free of diseases. All these antibiotics don´t die with the animal though… When we consume meat from factory farmed animals, we also consume the antibiotics. This can have some very nasty effects, such as antibiotic-resistance and food-borne illnesses. This basically means that if you catch food-poisoning after your 105th cheeseburger, treatment is going to be way more complicated since you´ve built up a resistance against the bacteria-killing antibiotics.
The Link between Factory Farming, Hunger and Poverty
The connection between factory farming and world-wide inequality is one that requires some extra thought, for the link between these two things is not directly visible. This does not, however, in any way make it a less pressing problem than all of those I already mentioned above.
Cows Are Eating All Our Food
The fact that the huge numbers of animals kept in factory farms require huge amounts of food is not just bad news for biodiversity, clean air and our environment in general; it also means bad luck for a lot of people. With food demands rising for our growing population as well as cooped-up animals, people are literally put into competition with farm animals for food. The grains and other resources sued to feed those 125,000 chickens for example, could have fed a lot of people instead. According to a recent UNEP report, for every 100kcal fed to livestock, we only get 17kcal in meat in return. That means 83% of calories are completely wasted, making all the fossil fuels and pesticides used for their production entirely pointless. Feeding precious resources to farm animals in a world where hunger and starvation still form a huge problem, makes absolutely no sense.
But, the competition about who gets to eat the food is not the only problem. In order to clear space for these huge plantations, big pieces of land are needed. These acres of land are cleared in both developed and developing countries, causing problems in both. When demands for certain crops rise, lands are taken away from their rightful owners and bombarded with harmful chemicals. Following are often violent clashes between indigenous people, multinational corporations and the government. Furthermore, problems with often already scarce water worsen, as a lot of water is needed for irrigation on the fields. With developing countries following the West´s “example” of diets high in animal products, demands are rising even more. This can and will have disastrous effects on an already serious water problem.
Factory Farming Damages Livelihoods
Factory farming aspires to live up to its name, and puts a lot of effort in the mechanization of their practice. This means that for a much larger amount of animals compared to original farms, a lot less farmers are needed. In the EU alone, employment in the agriculture sector dropped by 25% between 2000 and 2009. This is one of the reasons studies show that factory farms are damaging local economies, whereas smaller (often family-) farms would actually rotate the money within the community. Another reason is found in the following: the people who factory farms do employ, are often temporary migrant workers willing to accept low wages, whereas small family farms employed locals (paying a normal wage). This not only contributes to the local economy, but the strengthening of the community as well.
So… Why Do Factory Farms Still Exist?
Factory farming is a bit like climate change; you present a bunch of science-based facts and proven-to-be-terrible consequences, and yet there are still people unwilling to open their eyes and face up to the facts (or should I say, alternative facts). If you´ve made it all the way to the end of this article: congratulations, you are not one of those people! But, as you will probably have noticed, reading about horrible things our human race is doing to the world is not exactly fun or entertaining. And like a red number on your bank-account, you´d rather pretend it didn´t exist; out of sight, out of mind. This is exactly what factory farm-encouragers (A.K.A. the people that make a lot of money from it) take full advantage off. The farms are hidden away so that the regular civilian is not accidentally confronted with the truth. Attractive prices and efficient food production create the illusion that factory-farmed animal products could form a cheap solution to the world´s hunger problem. Some meaningless laws that “ensure animal welfare” (but are not too hard to dodge) are put into place to shut up the animal´s rights activists for a while. I could go on and on, there are so many ways of sugar-coating and hiding the truth.
But, do not despair! Although it might seem impossible to take down a massive money-making machine such as this one, it is definitely not. Like with any product, the only reason factory-farm products exist is that people buy it. As long as there is a market, there will be a product. So the first thing you can do after reading this article (and ask your mom, friends and neighbors to do), is avoiding any products that come from factory-farmed animals. You don´t necessarily have to go vegan over-night and stop your meat-eating habits cold-turkey if you´re not ready to do that. There are so many alternatives to factory farming that are way more sustainable as well as healthier for you (a win-win, if you ask me).