Factory Farm Nation: How America Turned Its Livestock Farms into Factories
Over the last two decades, small- and medium-scale livestock farms have given way to factory farms that confine thousands of cows, hogs and chickens in tightly packed facilities. Farmers have adopted factory-farming practices largely at the behest of the largest meatpackers, pork processors, poultry companies and dairy processors. The largest of these agribusinesses are practically monopolies, controlling what consumers get to eat, what they pay for groceries and what prices farmers receive for their livestock. This unchecked agribusiness power and misguided farm policies have pressed livestock producers to become significantly larger and adopt more intensive practices. Despite ballooning in size, many livestock producers are just squeezing by because the real price of beef cattle, hogs and milk has been falling for decades.
These intensive methods come with a host of environmental and public health costs that are borne by consumers and communities; none of the costs are paid for by the agribusiness industry.
Factory farms produce millions of gallons of manure that can spill into waterways from leaking manure lagoons or fields where manure is over-applied as fertilizer. Manure contains hazardous air pollutants and contaminants that can endanger human health. Neighbors and workers in these animal factories often suffer intensely from overwhelming odors and related headaches, nausea and other potentially long-term health effects.
Even people thousands of miles away from these facilities are not immune to their impacts. Thousands of animals crowded into unsanitary facilities are vulnerable to disease. Consumers eating the dairy, egg, and meat products produced in factory farms can inadvertently be exposed to foodborne bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella, as well as to the public health consequences of unchecked antibiotics and artificial hormones. And yet, despite all of the well-documented problems and health risks, the number and concentration of factory farms in the U.S. continues to increase.
Between 1997 and 2007, there was a geographic and economic shift in where and how food is raised in the United States. Even a few decades ago, there were small- and medium-sized dairy, cattle and hog farms dispersed all across the country. Today, these operations are disappearing. The remaining operations are primarily large-scale factory farms that are concentrated in specific regions, states and even counties where the thousands of animals on each farm can produce more sewage than most large cities, overwhelming the capacity of rural communities to cope with the environmental and public health burdens.
Find out more about factory farms near you with our new and improved Factory Farm Map.