The rearing of farm animals today is dominated by industrialized facilities that have little semblance to traditional family farms, and maximize profits by treating animals not as sentient creatures, but as production units. Raised by the thousands at a single site, animals are confined in such tight quarters that they can barely move, let alone behave normally.
“Broilers,” as the industry refers to chickens raised for meat, spend their short lives in warehouses containing thousands of birds. Bred for rapid growth and large breast size, they are predisposed to disease and crippling physical abnormalities. In the egg industry, four or more hens are packed into a battery cage, a wire enclosure so small that none can spread her wings. Being held in such close confines, the hens peck at each other’s feathers and bodies. To address this situation, egg producers cut off a substantial portion of each hen’s beak, causing pain and difficulty eating.
In industrialized facilities pregnant sows spend each of their pregnancies confined to a gestation crate – a stark, metal enclosure that is scarcely wider and longer than the sow herself. Unable to walk or even turn around, sows develop abnormal behaviors, and suffer from leg problems and skin lesions. Growing pigs are confined to slatted, bare, concrete floors. Stressed by crowding and boredom, they frequently resort to biting and inflicting wounds upon their penmates.
In factory dairies, cows often have their tails cut off and are denied pasture, instead spending their entire lives confined to concrete. To boost milk production, some lactating cows are injected with the synthetic growth hormone rBGH, causing tremendous stress on their bodies and leading to higher frequencies of lameness and mastitis, a painful infection of the udder.
Cruelty to animals is not the only consequence of treating animals as machines. Factory-raised animals are routinely administered antibiotics to promote growth and control health problems that develop under these harsh conditions. This inappropriate use of antibiotics enables bacteria to develop resistance, giving rise to “superbugs” and difficult-to-treat diseases.
Factory production also concentrates tremendous amounts of manure in small areas, resulting in liquid manure cesspools that overflow and leak into groundwater.
It doesn’t have to be this way. AWI supports the concept of high welfare farming, which allows animals raised for food a life free of pain and suffering, and the opportunity to exhibit normal behavior.