When we look at the quality of food that is available to us, especially if you live in the United States, then it might seem like one product is the same as the other. Because of the factory farming processes involved in agricultural production, this philosophy is not always the case. How and where your food is raised can have a significant difference in its nutritional quality, flavor, and price.
Factory farming works on the principles of scale. On the typical operational site, raising livestock takes on the characteristics of industrial factory production. The animals are raised together in significant numbers in the smallest amount of space possible to maximize profits. It is a processing system that takes each creature from birth to death in the most efficient way possible from a food production standpoint.
It is a model that based itself on the concepts of the industrial revolution. When automation made it possible to do more on a farm with less labor, then it pushed many family operations out of business.
There are several factory farming pros and cons to evaluate when looking at the processes involved in food production.
List of the Pros of Factory Farming
1. Factory farming creates an inexpensive food resource for us.
The amount of money that households spend on food in the United States is lower today than arguably at any other point in history. Families at the turn of the 20th century were spending 40% of their income on their food needs. After World War II, that figure dropped by 10 percentage points. The typical family today spends roughly 10% of their wages on their food needs, which equates to roughly $6,000. This reduction is possible in part because of the economies of scale available in factory farming.
2. Factory farming allows workers to be more efficient.
One of the most significant challenges in agricultural work is the manual labor required to produce usable products. Because factory farming focuses on automation, modern technologies make it possible for farmers to create higher yields with fewer work requirements. Although there is a cost investment to consider with this upgrade, the profits that are possible on the same amount of land can provide financial security for everyone involved.
3. Factory farming creates an efficient process of production.
The goal of a factory farm is to create the highest profit margin possible. There is only one way to accomplish this: by improving the quality of products offered while reducing expenses during the production cycle. This process uses less space than traditional farming methods, making it possible for more food to reach the market at a lower price for consumers. Then the higher yields make it possible for the farmer to make a greater profit because they are increasing their overall productivity.
4. Factory farming reduces the amount of time it takes to bring a product to the market.
Since the influence of factory farming, the amount of time it takes for food products to make it to grocery store shelves has decreased dramatically. Chickens that once took 70 days to mature for processing can now make it to the butcher in 40 days (and sometimes less). Reductions in the time it takes to bring other animal proteins to the market for sale have decreased as well. This process creates more turnover for the farmer, which can eventually lead to higher profits throughout the year.
5. Factory farming gives us a better variety of foods for home consumption.
Because the price of food has dropped at the same time the median income for families increased, it became possible for many households to expand the variety of items in their pantry. This process allows for a better daily nutritional profile because of the availability of different food groups. Factory farming also makes it possible to make changes during each production cycle that can improve the quality of each item going to the market as well.
6. Factory farming creates employment opportunities.
Although factory farming does rely on automation to create profits, there are still numerous job opportunities available because of this industry. The average salary of a general laborer who is working in this field in the United States is roughly $12 per hour. Workers who are in a management role can earn upwards of $18 per hour. If a farmer can transition their land into this production format, then they can easily earn millions of dollars more than they would using traditional farming techniques.
7. Factory farming can occur almost anywhere.
Assuming that there is water access to the property, it is possible for a factory farm to be placed almost there anywhere in the world today. Thanks to the availability of fertilizers, construction techniques, and animal management processes, there are numerous opportunities to get involved with this industry today. Even if the outdoor conditions are not well-suited for livestock production, an artificial environment established indoors can still create profitable conditions for a factory farm.
8. Factory farming allows us to reduce food waste with responsible management.
The shelf life of many food products improves because of the process is implemented by the factory farming industry. Even though some facilities do not follow the best practices for animal care and management, the results that we see at the grocery store allow us to maximize consumption and minimize waste. The average food product coming from this part of the supply chain can last between 3 to 7 days longer when compared to traditional items.
9. Factory farming supports the local economy.
American Express estimates that about 70% of the money that is spent locally gets reinvested in the community. Factory farms will often work with local suppliers for their feed and irrigation requirements. The land upon which they operate generates property taxes that confined schools and local social programs. Sales of their products at the local level provide indirect employment opportunities all through the downstream process. All it takes is one business following these principles to generate potential millions in economic benefits.
List of the Cons of Factory Farming
1. Factory farms will often slaughter animals that are sick to produce food.
According to OrganicConsumers.org, up to 80% of the pigs and hogs which go to slaughter from factory farms have serious health conditions which may never receive treatment. There are dangerous gases produced by manure on these farms, such as methane and ammonia, that can cause the development of pneumonia in these animals. Because the health issues do not require disclosure at the retail level, it is impossible to know where your food comes from unless you source it directly.
2. Factory farms will keep animals in spaces that are too small for their health.
Although there are reforms taking place that are putting an end to this disadvantage, it is still an issue that must come under consideration until it is completely abolished. It is possible for an organization in this industry to keep chickens in a floor space that is smaller than the average tablet. That means there is no room for the bird to turn around, stretch their wings, or have meaningful movement. They spend their lives on mesh flooring that can damage their feet. This process even creates higher fat content in the chicken meat we consume.
3. Factory farms increases production levels unnaturally for livestock.
Because factory farms focus on the production process to create efficiencies, animals are often crossbred to produce faster growth results. This process may be combined with the use of weight gaining drugs in the feed to force faster production. Some animals are reaching their desired weight for slaughter three times quicker today than they were just a generation ago when these techniques were not readily used.
These animals are even reaching the necessary wait on last food, going from 3 pounds of feed to 1.7 pounds in less than 50 years.
4. Factory farms are aggressive with their dairy production needs.
FarmSanctuary.org reports that the factory farming process for dairy cattle considers a milk-producing cow to be spent after just three lactation cycles. The natural lifespan for most cattle breeds that produce milk at commercial levels is at least 20 years. This industry aggressively feeds and breeds the animals to produce as much milk as possible. Hormones and stimulants are sometimes used when it is legal as well. The reason why this is done is simple: profit. Organizations receive more money to send a younger crowd to slaughter than continuing to produce dairy products.
5. Factory farms sometimes use forced molting to increase egg production.
For the average farmer not using industry techniques, their hens will lay an average of one egg per day after they go through the molting process. Factory farming seeks to double that production by forcing them into another cycle. They do this by placing the chicken in a dark environment for up to eight hours without access to food or water. Up to 10% of hens die from this process even though some in the industry consider it to be a best practice.
6. Factory farms use genetic manipulation to their advantage.
The efficiencies of a factory farm focus on economies of scale. That means they are trying to produce more food products at a cheaper price. This emphasis has led to genetic manipulations that adversely impact an entire species at times. Broiler chickens are excellent example of this outcome. 90% of the birds that are grown for this purpose are unable to walk correctly because their skeletal system and muscle mass cannot cope with the weight involved.
7. Factory farms often separate the offspring from their parent.
There is a brutal reality in the food industry today. We sometimes eat baby animals. If you prefer veal or lamb, then this is a product that you eat. The reality of factory farms is that these food products become available only when the calves or lambs are taken away from their parents to put on weight at a separate facility during their short lives in the name of profit. Piglets are weaned as soon as 14 days after birth to encourage another pregnancy cycle as soon as possible.
8. Factory farms do not always focus on veterinary care.
It seems that a majority of welfare-minded veterinarians are post to the practices of factory farming. Because there is an oath that veterinarians take when they begin their practice, it can prevent some from servicing a farm in their area. Even when vets will make a house call, they do so as a way to try to prevent animal suffering. Some farmers following industry practices will opt for a different solution, providing antibiotics to the animal as a way to proactively stop them from becoming sick.
9. Factory farms do not allow animals to express their natural behaviors.
The ASPCA reports that up to 99% of the farmed animals in the United States are unable to exhibit their natural behaviors because of the industry practices of factory farming. Hogs and pigs like to lounge in the sunshine, root through the mud, and create complex social structures. If they are in a factory farm, then there is an excellent chance that they will be kept in a small concrete pan for their entire life. Cattle love to graze in pastures, but they are confined to small yards with hay and grain as a substitute. Some only have the option to sit or stand.
10. Factory farming contributes to global warming.
The overall impact of greenhouse gas production from farming activities is minimal compared to other industries. What we must consider as a disadvantage here is the fact that factory farms are responsible for the majority of the emissions that occur from agricultural activities around the world. Roughly 6% of GHG production in the United States comes from the agricultural sector. Over 90% of what reaches the atmosphere each year is due to the processes of scale that are involved in factory farming.
11. Factory farming can encourage soil erosion.
As the World Future Council notes, the soil erosion issues caused by agricultural activities is a significant ecological concern. When soil lacks the same ability to absorb carbon, then this creates an indirect contribution to the potential issue of global warming as well. Factory farms will often use livestock as a way to generate profits without taking advantage of the natural resources of the land. This process results in this unique disadvantage in many instances.
The pros and cons of factory farming come down to this fact: 94% of Americans agree that any animal raised for food deserves to live a life that is free from cruelty and abuse. Over 95% of farm animals in the United States are raised by this industry, which creates a higher risk for an abusive out a come to occur. That’s not to say that every farming organization follows only the negatives discussed above. It does mean that we must be conscious with the foods we choose at the store to encourage healthy practices.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.