Livestock production has changed significantly over the past several decades. Small and medium-sized farms raising food animals have been pushed out by factory farms housing thousands of animals in crowded spaces. These operations produce enormous volumes of waste, pollute the air and water, exploit workers, harm animal welfare, fuel antibiotic resistance and climate change, and harm the rural communities they are purported to benefit.
Air and Water Pollution
In 2012, the largest factory farms produced almost 13 times more waste than the human population of the United States. The big meat and chicken companies take no responsibility for this waste—leaving it up to their contract farmers to figure out how to dispose of it. To make matters worse, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state governments have failed to regulate the environmental impacts of factory farms. When factory farms operate virtually unregulated the environment and nearby rural communities pay the price. False solutions such as manure-to-energy projects won’t solve these problems.
Antibiotic Use & Food Safety
Keeping animals under crowded, stressful and unhealthy living conditions is not only inhumane, but also requires routine doses of antibiotics. Overuse of antibiotics on factory farms creates conditions for bacteria to develop resistance to them, and when these antibiotic-resistant bacteria spread to humans they can cause serious or even deadly antibiotic-resistant infections in people. Over two million Americans suffer from an antibiotic-resistant infection every year, and 23,000 people die. The FDA has known about the misuse of antibiotics since the 1970s, but has not required factory farms to stop this dangerous practice.
Factory Farms Replace Independent Farms
The number of dairy, hog and beef cattle producers in the United States has declined sharply even as the number of animals being raised has skyrocketed. Increasing consolidation in the meatpacking, processing and dairy industries is driving this trend. While farmers scramble to “get big or get out,” their communities are bearing the brunt of this consolidation-- communities with more medium- and smaller-sized farms have more shared prosperity, including higher incomes, lower unemployment and lower income inequality than communities with larger farms tied to often-distant agribusinesses. As the number of factory farms in an area increases rural employment and income decline; this loss significantly impacted many rural areas.
Conditions on factory farms are appalling. Animals in crowded houses lack access to the outdoors, the space to move, or freedom to perform their natural behaviors such as grazing, pecking or rooting. For example, pregnant and nursing sows are often confined to crates where they cannot turn around, interact with their young or engage in nest building.
Factory-farmed animals also face injuries and illnesses unique to this form of animal production. Taking cattle off the pasture and feeding them diets of grain wreaks havoc on their digestive systems and can lead to bloat and other conditions. Today’s chickens grow twice as large in half the amount of time as earlier breeds, causing lameness, heart and lung issues, and even premature death.
How can we protect our food supply, our environment, and independent farmers?
The only way to solve all of the problems associated with factory farms is to ban them. The rise of factory farms resulted from policies made at all levels of government that prioritize large agribusiness over fair markets for farmers, animal welfare, public health or environmental protection. Reigning in this industry will require demanding change from our elected officials.