If you have seen any of the spy camera documentaries about factory farming in the UK, however, you will have witnessed the grim reality of modern day agriculture. Factory farming is intensive animal farming, where animals are confined at high stocking densities. It is the industrialised production of livestock including fish, chickens, pigs and cattle; the products of which are fish, eggs, milk and meat.
Factory farming facts
- farmed fish are kept in concentrations that don’t exist in nature
- chickens have about as much room as an A4 piece of paper
- the largest known pig factory in the UK has about 1,100 sows
- the average large-scale intensive pig farm in the UK is 500-900 sows (average pig herd size is about 75 sows)
- there is often little or no bedding, causing discomfort and injuries on inappropriate flooring
- animals can live their entire lives indoors without exercise or fresh air
- extreme selective breeding and drugs to produce growth and productivity create health problems and shorten their lives
- some animals grow so heavy so quickly that their legs collapse underneath them
- overfeeding and underfeeding is used to control animals and how quickly they grow
Why confinement and high stocking densities?
Agribusiness is about producing the highest amount of product at the least possible cost. It is not about quality. It is not about creating a good product to create health in people. The problem is that when you crowd animals together, two things happen. One, they get stressed and, two, they get sick.
Typically, thousands of animals are kept together indoors, in confined spaces, on their on feces. The conditions can be filthy. This is a breeding ground for disease.
Animals get stressed because it is normal for them to have space in which to roam, graze and forage. So, if you crowd fish in a fish farm, they rub against each other and the sides of the cage, damaging fins and tails and creating infections. If you put many chickens in a small space, they will peck each other and rip out each others feathers, which is why chickens are routinely de-beaked in factory farming. Stressed pigs will bite each others’ tails off, so 80% of UK pigs have their tails cut off. Did you know that dairy cows have horns? You probably didn’t, because you will only ever see this on an organic or biodynamic farm. Because cows will use their horns if they live in stressful conditions, in factory farming, dairy cows’ horns are always removed.
Because of the overcrowding in factory farms, animals are often sick or at risk of becoming sick, so are routinely fed antibiotics. It is estimated that just less than half of all of the antibiotics used in the UK are given to farm animals. This is creating a massive problem for people because it is making antibiotics less effective or even ineffective for people. Antibiotic resistance is developing faster than new antibiotics are being developed – and finding new antibiotics is becoming more difficult and more expensive.
As our Chief Medical Officer, Professional Dame Sally Davies recently said, “Antimicrobial resistance poses a catastrophic threat. If we don’t act now, any one of us could go into hospital in 20 years for minor surgery and die because of an ordinary infection that can’t be treated by antibiotics.”
What’s good about factory farming?
Factory farming is a disaster on all fronts. The animals often live in appalling conditions. The fish, eggs, milk and meat they produce are low quality and carry residues of antibiotics and other drugs. This ‘food’ may look clean and pretty in its supermarket packaging, but it is poor quality. And there is a terrible environmental impact in terms of pollution from the farms.
There are people who don’t care because it’s ‘just an animal’ or ‘it’s going to die anyway’. Then there are the ostrich people who say they don’t want to know or hear about it, just leave them alone to eat their cheap chicken. But does it really make sense to eat food that has been raised in this way – cheaply, diseased and in pain? Is this a smart way to nourish yourself?
For best quality animal products
Factory farms are common and growing in the US, Australia, New Zealand and the Middle East. Many countries are following suit, with the UK seeing applications lodged for super farms in the last few years. Happily, they are not all approved.
If you don’t want to eat factory farmed products, as a minimum standard, you could buy meat from farms that satisfy UK welfare standards. Farm assured products (Red Tractor and Freedom Foods) meats and cage free chickens are a welfare minimum.
If you want to eat quality animal products, buy organic. It’s more expensive, but it’s excellent quality. Eat less, but eat the best.