Factory Farms: What’s the Real Cost of Cheap Meat?


Farm Sanctuary

Pigs on a factory farm. Photo credit: farmsanctuary.org

Helen Simmons, Editor

Do you know where your steak comes from? Have you ever thought about what’s in your McNuggets? According to the Sentience Institute, data from the USDA 2017 Census of Agriculture and EPA definitions of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs) shows that “99% of US farmed animals are living in factory farms at present.” Animals in factory farms are subject to torturous procedures, dirty overcrowded pens and force-feeding, sometimes without ever seeing the sunlight. Chemicals and diseases can pass onto humans through meat and egg consumption. Large concentrations of toxins are released into the air and surrounding land. For these reasons, factory farms are unsustainable and unethical and need to be banned. 

Merriam-Webster states that factory farms are, “farm[s] on which large numbers of livestock are raised indoors in conditions intended to maximize production at [a] minimal cost.” Billions of cows, chickens, pigs, turkeys, fish and other aquatic and land animals are raised in dirty, barbarous conditions where they can’t even turn around or lay down without crushing a friend or themselves. Many meat-eaters argue that they’ve never seen a factory farm before, like Minnesota Farm Living blogger Wanda Patsche who claims “Instead of seeing ‘factory farms’, [she] see[s] . . .FARMS. Just farms.” But that is not true. I’ve seen them right off of Interstate 40 in Texas and U.S. Route 50 in Kansas, where I could smell the overpowering stench of ammonia for miles. Where cows and calves couldn’t turn around and stood in a swamp of old, rotting feces that stained their bodies. Thousands of cows, in ten acres. Factory farms are not hard to find, you just have to be willing to look. 

Pigs living in crowded conditions get their tails chopped off and their teeth clipped. Birds are debeaked as babies. All of these procedures are carried out without any pain relief. Why? Because these animals are stressed. Pigs will chew on the tails of the pigs kept in front of them in cages sometimes as small as 2’x7’. Birds such as chickens and turkeys will attack each other, pulling out feathers and often resulting in cannibalism. Instead of raising less animals, or purchasing more land, farmers resort to mutilating these living, feeling beings. These methods are cheaper and easier for greedy companies like Tyson. Banning factory farms will end the torture. 

Compassion USA’s video documenting a 2015 Purdue factory farm shows chickens too bloated to stand up or breathe properly. Chickens, and other birds, live on fattening farms where they are fed excessive amounts of grains and fats. The Purdue farmer in the video, Craig Watts, said on the verge of tears, “they’re not happy, and they’re definitely not healthy… [They’re] suffering.” Whether or not Purdue’s farms have truly changed their policies, there are still hundreds of farms that torture their livestock. Once again, banning these farms will put an end to farm animal suffering. 

Chemicals are fed to animals on a daily basis on factory farms. One of TDM Farms Incorporated’s hog farms in Indiana feeds their pigs food containing antibiotics, which helps them “stay healthy in their crowded, manure-gilded home… [antibiotics] also help farm animals grow faster on less food.” One of the problems with antibiotic use is that the animals become drug-resistant. These animals become “disease factories,” spreading disease and bacteria such as the MRSA Superbug, which is a type of staph infection. According to Scientific American, “by 2007 one fifth of the Netherlands’ human MRSA infections were identical to bacteria that had come from Dutch livestock”, and here in the U.S., MRSA has made itself present, especially on two Iowa farms where 70% of the pigs tested positive, and 64% of the workers had MRSA growing in their nostrils. By eating factory-farmed meat, one can easily catch other diseases such as swine flu and salmonella by eating factory-farmed meat. Unnatural feed causes higher fat content in the meat, and hormones given to dairy cows will transfer to you through dairy and meat consumption. Factory farms are poisoning their consumers by using chemicals in their products and allowing disease to grow in their facilities. 

Farming has an enormous impact on the environment. According to farmsanctuary.org, animal agriculture is responsible for 14.5% of our greenhouse gas emissions and “contributes to land degradation, species loss, and water pollution and waste.” Factory farms spread manure into open-air pools as large as several football fields. In 2011, a farm in Illinois leaked 200,000 gallons of manure into a nearby creek, killing over 100,000 animals living nearby. About 1,581 gallons of water are needed per cow- you could take 100 showers with that much water! Not only are factory farms torturing billions of animals, but they are polluting the environment and using up massive amounts of natural resources. 

The Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota found that, “If crops grown in the United States were directed towards foods for humans, instead of for livestock, they could feed three times more people than today.” Land must also be taken up to grow the tons of food to feed these billions of animals. 80% of American agricultural land is used to raise and feed livestock. American activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez once said, “We eat three meals a day and every single one of those is an opportunity to make a choice for or against our future.” Choosing free-range, grass-fed, local meat dairy and eggs is the choice for our future. Factory farms are destroying the Earth. 

The problem is: if factory farms are banned, how will small farms supply the enormous amounts of animal products alone? Grass-fed, free-range products will take up more space than factory farms. Treating animals humanely will be costly and time-consuming. There’s one simple solution: eat less animal products. No, the whole world doesn’t need to go vegan but simply eat less meat, dairy and eggs. We caused the need for factory farms by consuming such a large amount of animal products, and now we must shut them down for the sake of the animals and our future. Having at least one meatless meal a day is such a simple way to show compassion. 

Factory farms need to be banned. They’re an inhumane, avaricious industry that is destroying the environment and harming their consumers. A cheap hamburger is not worth the suffering a cow must go through for its entire short life. It is time we defend those without a voice and end the suffering of animals living on factory farms.