The rearing of farm animals today is dominated by industrialized facilities known as concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs (often referred to as “factory farms”) that maximize profits by treating animals not as sentient creatures, but as production units. Raised by the thousands at a single location, animals are confined in such tight quarters that they can barely move, let alone behave normally.
- Four or more egg-laying hens are packed into a battery cage, a wire enclosure so small that none can spread her wings. Being held in such close confines, the hens peck at each other’s feathers and bodies.
- Pregnant sows spend each of their pregnancies confined to a gestation crate—a metal enclosure that is scarcely wider and longer than the sow herself. Unable to even turn around, sows develop abnormal behaviors, and suffer leg problems and skin lesions.
- Growing pigs are confined to slatted, bare, concrete floors. Stressed by crowding and boredom, they frequently resort to biting and inflicting wounds upon their penmates.
- In factory dairies, cows spend their entire lives confined to concrete. To boost production, some cows are injected with the growth hormone rBGH or rBST, which increases a cow’s likelihood of developing lameness and mastitis, a painful infection of the udder.
In order to facilitate confinement of these animals in such stressful, crowded, unsanitary conditions, painful mutilations like cutting off the horns of cattle, cutting off the beaks of chickens, and docking the tails of sheep, pigs, and dairy cattle are routinely performed.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Alternative, high-welfare farming allows animals raised for food to have a life free of unnecessary pain and suffering, and the opportunity to exhibit normal behaviors.
The management and welfare of animals raised for food directly impacts human health. Intensive farming operations housing tens of thousands of animals in close quarters serve as ideal incubators for disease. Several major human health concerns are associated with intensive farming, including increased transfer of infectious agents from animals to humans, antibiotic resistance, food-borne illness, and the generation of novel viruses like H1N1 (swine flu) in pigs.
Antibiotic resistance, stemming from the use of antibiotics to promote growth and suppress disease within confinement operations, presents a serious health concern. The low-level dosing of livestock and poultry with antibiotics that are identical or related to drugs used in human medicine has contributed to the spread of multidrug-resistant infections in humans. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that each year, more than 2.8 million people in the United States contract antibiotic-resistant infections and more than 35,000 die from such infections. The CDC has confirmed a link between the routine use of antibiotics in farm animals and the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Animal and manure management on confinement operations, animal transport conditions, and meat processing can also contribute to food contamination and food-borne illness like E. coli and Salmonella. A 2013 study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found an association between living near high-density pig operations or crop fields fertilized with manure from high-density pig operations and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, commonly referred to as “MRSA.”