The “industrial” method of animal production usually refers to CAFOs or concentrated animal feeding operations. CAFOs are giant factory-like farms where up to hundreds of thousands of cattle, pigs or chickens are raised using a variety of methods, mainly manipulation of the feed, for “maximum efficiency.” Cattle, for example, are fed a grain-based diet (usually corn) instead of grasses or other plants cows naturally eat. This is because corn is a high-starch, high-energy food that quickly fattens beef cattle and also increases milk yield in dairy cows (1). Animals raised the “industrial” way are under minimal government regulation regarding the way they are treated and the resultant environmental consequences.
Cows, pigs and chickens in CAFOs live in extremely crowded conditions that can be detrimental to their health. Because they are confined indoors with little space, most animals receive minimal sunlight and fresh air and are unable to perform natural behaviors. In order to prevent animals from harming each other and developing infections, painful procedures such as de-beaking of chickens and tail-docking (cutting off the tail) of cows are routine (2).
Factory farms may not only be detrimental to the animals’ well being but they can also significantly damage the environment. The excessive waste produced by animals in CAFOs is not always properly managed and can lead to air and water pollution. CAFOs in the United States produce more than 130 times the amount of waste than people do, about 2.7 trillion pounds of manure each year! Also, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more than 27,000 miles of rivers and groundwater have been contaminated by livestock waste (3). This not only pollutes our drinking water but it also kills the local fish and damages the ecosystem.
In order to make the animals grow faster, non-therapeutic antibiotics are routinely given to the animals as growth enhancers, which can lead to antibiotic resistance in humans. Artificial growth hormones such as rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone) or BST (bovine somatotrophin) may also increase the health risk for humans* (1). In addition, industrial meat production may increase the risk of food borne illnesses transferred to humans. Livestock manure usually contains disease-causing pathogens, which can sometimes contaminate the meat produced from CAFOs. Approximately 70% of all food borne illness in the United States can be traced to contaminated meat, according to the USDA (3).
*Note: The FDA has said no significant difference has been shown and no test can now distinguish between milk from rBGH treated and untreated cows. Not all of the suppliers of our other dairy products can promise that the milk they use comes from untreated cows.
For an entertaining and informative animated movie about CAFOs, watch The Meatrix.
1. Clancy K. Greener Pastures: How grass-fed beef and milk contribute to healthy eating. Union of Concerned Scientists: Cambridge MA, 2006. Accessed March 14, 2007.
2. Sustainable Table. The issues: factory farming. Accessed March 13, 2007.
3. Ask For Change! Accessed January 23, 2007.