Inhumane Practices on Factory Farms
The rearing of farm animals today is dominated by industrialized facilities known as confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs (often referred to as “factory farms”) that maximize profits by treating animals not as sentient creatures, but as production units. Raised by the thousands at a single location, animals are confined in such tight quarters that they can barely move, let alone behave normally.
- Four or more egg-laying 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.
- Pregnant sows spend each of their pregnancies confined to a gestation crate - a metal enclosure that is scarcely wider and longer than the sow herself. Unable to even turn around, sows develop abnormal behaviors, and suffer 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.
- For veal production, young calves are confined to wooden crates so small that the animals are forced to lie in their own excrement and are unable to even turn around.
- In factory dairies, cows spend their entire lives confined to concrete. To boost production, some cows are injected with the growth hormone rBGH, leading to lameness and mastitis, a painful infection of the udder.
In order to facilitate confinement of these animals in such stressful, crowded, unsanitary conditions, painful mutilations like cutting off the horns of cattle, cutting off the beaks of chickens, and docking the tails of sheep, pigs and dairy cattle are routinely performed.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Alternative, high-welfare farming allows animals raised for food to have a life free of unnecessary pain and suffering, and the opportunity to exhibit normal behaviors.
The management and welfare of animals raised for food directly impacts human health. Intensive farming operations or “factory farms,” which may house tens of thousands of animals in close quarters, serve as ideal incubators for disease. Several major human health concerns are associated with intensive farming, including: increased transfer of infectious agents from animals to humans, antibiotic resistance, food-borne illness, and the generation of novel viruses.
The sheer number of animals raised within confinement operations increases the transmission of infectious agents within flocks and herds and, by extension, between animals and human workers. Confinement-induced stress may also increase the frequency of illness and the shedding of viruses and bacteria, and intensive farming facilitates the generation of novel viruses like H1N1 (swine flu) in pigs.
Antibiotic resistance, stemming from the use of antibiotics to promote growth and suppress disease within confinement operations, presents a serious health concern. The low-level dosing of livestock and poultry with antibiotics that are identical or related to drugs used in human medicine has contributed to the spread of multidrug-resistant infections in humans. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that each year two million people in the United States contract antibiotic-resistant infections. CDC has also confirmed a link between the routine use of antibiotics in farm animals and the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which is responsible for the deaths of at least 23,000 Americans each year.
Animal and manure management on confinement operations, animal transport, and meat processing can also contribute to food contamination and food-borne illness like E. coli and Salmonella. A 2013 study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found an association between living near high-density pig operations, or crop fields fertilized with manure from high-density pig operations, and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, commonly referred to as “MRSA.”