Factory farming has quickly become one of the most prevalent food production methods of all time, primarily due to its cost and efficiency of delivering food to such a large population. About 10 billion animals are slaughtered for food every year in the United States, with 99% of these animals raised on factory farms. It has been commonly understood that this type of farming is a major contributor to climate change. In addition to this, a multitude of studies and investigations have revealed the unethical treatment of animals in those settings.

Animal agriculture creates 14.5% of global greenhouse emissions produced by humans. Typically, this is attributed to methane emissions created by cows in addition to the copious amounts of feed and manure used and produced in this industry.Toxic gases such as ammonia are also released into the atmosphere from the fermentation of chicken feces that are left uncleaned. Not only is this dangerous for our environment, but it also poses a risk for those who are working in such facilities. In order to care for such a large number of animals, space needs to be cleared to grow feed and to rear these animals. Due to this, the industry implements deforestation to clear up space. About 260 million acres of land have been cleared in the United States alone to make space for crops like soy and corn. 67% of these crops are used as feed for livestock. What is concerning, though, is the amount of land it takes to farm livestock when such animal products only make up 36% of the American diet. This is very problematic as it creates habitat displacement for creatures and rids one of the main carbon sinks on this planet. Moreover, the condensed space used for factory farming allows for any surface runoff to be extremely toxic to bodies of water. This is because cattle are all confined to such a small space that waste accumulates and isn’t able to be distributed evenly as it would in the wild or an open space. Fertilizers, feces, and compounds such as nitrates run off into nearby bodies of water, creating dead zones and eutrophication, damaging the surrounding environment. 

In conjunction with a host of environmental issues posed by this farming, ethical concerns about the treatment of animals have been raised by many animal justice organizations such as PETA, Animal Outlook, Farm Sanctuary, and many more. Below, I will list some of the inhumane practices uncovered at these farms.

Debeaking: Chicken beaks are important for their existence, from using them for eating food to using them to explore their environments. They can peck up to 15,000 times a day. When these animals are forced into a small space with no stimulation, they may begin to peck at or hurt each other. Instead of creating more space to avoid such issues, these farms use a hot blade to trim the beaks of the chickens. It has been shown that this causes pain for the chicken, sometimes chronic. Chickens in the wild or those that are given more space do not exhibit any of the harmful pecking activities that are seen in factory farm-raised chickens.

Tail Docking and Castration: Animals undergo these painful procedures often without anesthesia as farmers believe that this will benefit them in the long term. Castration is used to stop aggression and to improve meat quality. A common method is to use a rubber band to stop blood flow to the animal’s testicles until they become necrotic and fall off due to lack of blood flow. It is common for pain to last for days or even weeks. Tail docking is similarly done using a rubber band to cut off blood flow until the tail becomes necrotic and falls off. In other circumstances, they may use hot irons or surgically amputate the tail. This process usually happens to piglets in their first year of life and is done to stop them from chewing each other’s tails, a behavior that can be attributed to the overcrowding and stressful conditions that the piglets are raised in. In addition, piglets may also get their ears notched and ears clipped.

Fast Growth: The food industry generally wants to maximize profits by speeding up animal growth. Many livestock get injected to speed up their growth. As this is unnatural, this can cause painful harm to these animals. Many chickens grow too large too quickly, leading them to be unable to support their own weight on their own legs and eventually collapse. Due to these poor conditions, infections are common in such factory animals, so antibiotics are frequently used to increase yields.

Dairy and Separation: It is common practice in the dairy industry for newborn cows to be separated from their mothers. This is so farms can benefit from the mother’s milk production. Female calves then grow up on their own, and the cycle continues, while male calves get sold to the food industry for veal. In many cases, calves and mothers struggle to stay together as they are separated. The dirty conditions dairy cows have to live in also make them susceptible to many infections, which happens quite commonly.

With all of this being said, the environmental and ethical concerns that factory farming poses are extremely concerning. Ideally, switching one’s diet is the best option to decrease carbon footprint and be one less person contributing to the unethical practices of the industry. There are many things you can do to help discourage factory farming. Drastically decreasing the consumption of animal products is a great step. Truth be told, for many, this can be very difficult or impractical. However, even implementing a meatless Monday or a plant-forward weekend would decrease meat consumption and help reduce demand for factory farmed animals. If one decides to keep consuming animal products, then do some research about where to shop, what are the best brands to support, or how to support local farmers who use humane methods. Our planet is quickly deteriorating, and it is our responsibility to protect it.

Cows next to each other with their heads popping out of fence cells.