Factory farming

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Hardy Meyers chicken operation near Petal, Mississippi.

Factory farming is an informal reference to any intensive commercial form of agriculture that employs extreme growing techniques to produce the greatest ouput in the least space, usually with heavy use of agrichemicals and veterinary drugs. It orginated with and most often refers to large-scale, industrialized, intensive rearing of livestock, poultry and fish. The practice is widespread in developed nations - much of the meat, dairy and eggs available in supermarkets is raised in this manner. The term is also used in reference to fruits and vegetables grown as intensive monoculture crops, also to bees for honey production and fur-bearing animals for the fur trade that are raised in similar intensive conditions. Factory farming is a pejorative term favored by environmental activists and organic consumer groups.

Operations typically called factory farms focus on producing meat for human consumption at the lowest unit cost. This type of business is more formally known as a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO). Farming practices used to define an operation as a factory farm include:

  • confinement - To save space and improve supervision and feeding operations, animals are confined in pens or cages. In some extreme cases animals may be confined in small indoor areas, unable to turn around or move without contacting other animals. This may increase the incidence of behaviors such as cannibalism, which may be countered through procedures like debeaking and tail docking.
  • drug programs - Antibiotics, vitamins, hormones, and other supplements are preemptively administered, in part to counteract the effects of crowding.
  • processed feed - Feeds may be processed on site. While traditional feeds such as hay and grain may be fed to animals, other types of feed may be added or substituted (eg: cows may be fed food processing by-products such as molasses and cottonseed meal or in some cases poultry litter; calves might be given cow blood protein concentrate in place of milk).
  • nutrient management - The large quantities of generated manure and urine are collected in local sewage systems and redistributed to local agricultural lands as fertilizer. Liquid waste may be applied through an irrigation system, while solid waste might be applied with a manure spreader.

Critics claim that factory farming is inhumane, poses health risks, and causes environmental damage. Arguments include:

  • Animals raised on antibiotics are breeding antibiotic resistant strains of various bacteria ("superbugs").
  • Concentrated animal waste is polluting the groundwater, and creating dust, fly, and odor problems for their neighbors.
  • Crowding, drugging, and mutilating animals (often, debeaking and tail-docking, performed without anesthetic) are cruel practices that should be outlawed.
  • Large populations of animals require a lot of water and are depleting water resources in some areas.
  • Factory farming is displacing family farming and undermining society.

Proponents, while they do not use the term factory farming, claim that this type of concentrated farming is a useful agricultural advance:

  • Intensive agriculture is necessary to meet demand for affordable food.
  • Properly run factory farms meet government standards for safe and humane food production.
  • Animals raised in large groups can take advantage of local sources of food processing by-products.
  • Animals in confinement can be supervised more closely than free ranging animals and diseased animals can be killed or treated more quickly.

Factory farms may be harmful to the environment if not properly regulated and managed due to the large quantities of manure produced. Lakes, rivers, and groundwater are at risk of being polluted when the manure is not properly disposed. A Missouri hog farm paid a US$1 million fine for illegally dumping waste, causing the contamination of a nearby river and the deaths of more than 50,000 fish.

Opponents believe that factory farming is responsible for many foodborne illnesses and much of our food safety risks. An estimated one out of every four cattle that enters a slaughterhouse may have E. coli. A Consumer Reports study of nearly 500 supermarket chickens found campylobacter in 42 percent and salmonella in 12 percent, with up to 90 percent of the bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Eggs pose a salmonella threat to one out of every 50 people each year. In total, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are 76 million instances of foodborne illness each year, and more than 5,000 deaths.

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