Factory Farms Compromise Animal Welfare

Before the emergence of factory farms, or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), good animal husbandry was widely believed to be as good for the producer as it was for the animals. When you treat animals well and keep them healthy, you produce a higher quality product.

Tragically, animals in CAFOs spend their entire lives in extremely cramped conditions. They’re often forced to endure living on concrete in their own excrement with no access to pasture, fresh air, or natural light. To keep animals alive until slaughter, CAFOs also routinely feed them antibiotics. In their 2013 Threat Report, the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that antibiotic overuse in food animals contributes to antibiotic resistance in humans. The same report documents that 23,000 people die each year in the U.S. due to antibiotic-resistant infections.

In the profit-driven world of industrialized agriculture, animals are no longer viewed as living, feeling beings. They are treated as cogs in a mechanized, heartless industry that does not allow them to express their natural behaviors. Because the animals are housed in such crowded and unsanitary conditions, CAFOs routinely mutilate them. For example, CAFOs cut off pigs’ tails to prevent these normally very social animals from biting them. CAFOs also de-beak chickens to reduce stress-induced pecking injuries, impairing their ability to eat.

A quote by E.K. Silbergeld, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Center for Global Health, sums up the conditions inside a CAFO:

CAFOs are comparable to poorly run hospitals, where everyone gets antibiotics, patients lie in unchanged beds, hygiene is nonexistent, infections and re-infections are rife, waste is thrown out the window, and visitors enter and leave at will.

After spending their lives in deplorable conditions, CAFO animals meet their end in industrial slaughterhouses. Unlike smaller independently owned facilities, where careful attention can help ensure swifter and more humane slaughter, industrial slaughterhouses kill and process thousands of animals at an extremely rapid rate to save pennies.

The fast processing lines in industrial slaughterhouses ensure that tragic mistakes regularly happen, including animals not being rendered unconscious before being killed and animals who are merely stunned being skinned alive. Meat is also commonly contaminated by feces and other bodily fluids during the slaughter process, a dangerous problem that is increasing as industrial slaughterhouses continue to speed up their kill lines.

The quality and safety of the animal products you eat are directly linked to the health and welfare of the food animals. When purchasing any animal product, it is important to ask questions about how the animals were treated. To help ensure that your meat, eggs, and dairy products are raised humanely, it is ideal to buy from a local family farmer and to visit their farm so you can see firsthand how their animals live. If this is not possible, there are a few independent groups that certify humanely raised animal products.

By looking for labels you can trust, you can be an informed consumer and support independent farmers instead of corporate animal factories. For more information, see the ASPCA’s Meat, Eggs, and Dairy Label Guide or the Animal Welfare Institute’s Consumer’s Guide to Food Labels and Animal Welfare. There is no reason to support the CAFO industry when humane alternatives exist. Animals raised for food should not be forced to live their lives in deplorable conditions and die cruel deaths.

Farm Animal Welfare Groups That Do Good Work

American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
The ASPCA is dedicated to improving farm animals’ welfare by promoting more responsible farming practices, increasing public awareness about how to make welfare-conscious choices, and advocating for stronger legal protections for farm animals. Through the Shop With Your Heart program, the ASPCA is equipping consumers with food buying guides and working with farmers and companies to help them adopt meaningful animal welfare certifications, which prohibit extreme confinement and require on-farm audits. To learn more visit aspca.org/shopwithyourheart.

Animal Welfare Approved
Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) is an independent label that certifies meat and dairy products raised according to the highest animal welfare and environmental standards. Founded in 2006, this program helps meet growing consumer demand for products produced from animals that are humanely treated and managed with the environment in mind.

Humane Society of the United States
HSUS is a national organization working to end the suffering of animals raised for meat, eggs, and dairy products.

Georgians For Pastured Poultry
Georgians For Pastured Poultry informs consumers, businesses, and government about the true costs of the factory farming of meat chickens and the need to promote fairer, more humane, and sustainable alternatives.

Farm Forward
Farm Forward implements innovative strategies to promote conscientious food choices, reduce farm animal suffering, and advance sustainable agriculture.

Lewis and Clark Law’s Animal Law Clinic
The Animal Law Clinic assists organizations and attorneys involved in animal protection litigation, legislation, and policy work. It also researches and analyzes developments in animal protection law.

F.A.C.T. (Food Animal Concerns Trust)
F.A.C.T. is a publicly supported, charitable organization that promotes better methods of raising livestock and poultry in order to benefit animal health and preserve the environment.

Helpful Reports

The Price We Pay for Corporate Hogs
This report, published by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, was written by Marlene Halverson. It provides an in-depth discussion of the issues associated with industrial hog production, including animal welfare.

Farm Animal Health and Well-Being [pdf]
This extensive report on animal welfare and CAFOs was written by Marlene Halverson. It was prepared for the Generic Environmental Impact Statement on Animal Agriculture in Minnesota. The report includes information on hogs, cattle, and chickens.

Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America
Produced by the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production in 2007, this comprehensive report provides a detailed description of the detrimental impacts of CAFOs on public health, the environment, animal welfare, and rural communities. The report also includes the Commission’s six primary recommendations for improving the sustainability of animal agriculture in the future.

Farm Animal Welfare: Crisis or Opportunity for Agriculture?
Written in 1991, this report describes in layman’s terms the scientific aspects of animal welfare, particularly in respect to hogs. It suggests economic and policy solutions to enable more sustainable, humane hog production.

Books Worth Reading

Slaughterhouse by Gail Eisnitz
Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
Dominion by Matthew Scully
Beyond Beef by Jeremy Rifkin