Factory farming, or industrial agriculture, is a method of food and fiber production that exploits animals and the environment. It is, in short, the mass production of crops and livestock that is aimed at providing food at lower costs to consumers. Factory farming is a highly controversial topic between animal rights advocates, environmentalists, farmers and corporations. The effects of this practice, both positive and negative, extend to everyone.
Over the past century, the advancements in technology have allowed industrial agriculture to develop on a large scale. Factory farming relies heavily on the use of pesticides, antibiotics, vitamins and fertilizers. This makes it possible to produce more crops and animals by sidestepping the natural conditions that they would ordinarily need to survive and thrive. For example, the use of fertilizers makes it possible to grow many crops in what would otherwise be unproductive land. Similarly, the use of antibiotics and vitamins allows many animals to be confined in a smaller area where normally disease would run rampant.
By eliminating these conditions, the time and cost of production is lowered which translates into lower prices on supermarket shelves. Proponents of factory farming argue that this industry is excellent for the economy, creates more jobs, limits food borne illnesses, and has less environmental impact since production is greater and land use is lower.
Opponents of this practice believe that it is a cruel and inhumane life for livestock. Animals are overcrowded, do not have room to move around and are abused in horrific ways. For example, in order to prevent chickens from pecking themselves or others in extremely overpopulated conditions, the beaks of chicks are seared off just hours after hatching. This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the pain and suffering that all types of livestock including cattle, pigs, rabbits, and sheep are forced to endure as victims of factory farming.
Additionally, crops that are cultivated with fertilizers and pesticides pose health risks to humans who consume them. These methods employed in factory farming also cause environmental pollution from run off and chemical contamination of soil, water, air and wildlife. Factory farming as it relates to the economy may in fact create jobs for many, however, small family farms are out-competed and struggle to maintain traditional and healthier farming practices.
Despite the low cost benefit provided by this practice, the consequences that result are a serious concern for many people, especially in light of the possible health risks and environmental damage that it causes. Consumers have reacted to these concerns by increasingly purchasing foods labeled as organic, or in the case of dairy, “cage free.” These tags do not necessarily mean that the products are not a result of factory farming or that they are cruelty free.
For those who are concerned about the environment, animal welfare and their health, supporting sustainable agriculture is the best solution. This can be done by supporting small local farms that are committed to protecting our resources and avoiding products that are mass produced.