"There are 9 billion animals raised for food...We simply cannot raise that number of animals in a way that would be sustainable."
- Katie Cantrell, Director of the Factory Farming Awareness Coalition
The first factory farm appeared in the early 1970s. It was an egg production facility that housed 3 million hens under one roof: this would become the standard for factory farms in the decades to come. And according to then Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz in 1973, farmers had to "get big or get out...adapt or die."
Old McDonald's farm was no more.
Today, there are only five major corporations behind 90% of our total food supply in the United States, and those corporations use the factory farm model to its fullest potential—juggling profits with disaster.
99% of our meat comes straight from factory farms and on those farms, terrors are committed in order to skim off a few cents during production. What we don't pay at the supermarket, others pay for us behind closed doors.
But what exactly are those costs and what can we do about it?
Katie Cantrell started the Factory Farm Awareness Coalition (FFAC) in 2010 as a hobby. She'd just graduated from UC Berkeley and was looking for a way to spread awareness about factory farming So she did what she does best: talk to people.
The FFAC is a nonprofit organization focused on grassroots education, giving presentations mainly to high school and college students about the ethical, environmental, and health consequences of factory farming.
"We try our best to approach the situation in a gentle, holistic manner," Cantrell says. "People can be paralyzed and overwhelmed by all the information. We don't want that, we want people to be empowered."
And it is a lot to take in. Wefunder watched the FFAC's 45 minute long presentation and here are some of the stand-out facts we were struck by:
Factory Farming has four main harmful effects.
1. On Animals
Chickens: Female chicks are debeaked at birth so they don't peck each other to death due to the stress they accumulate in their crowded pens. Male chicks have little value to the industry and are killed upon hatching. They are either sucked up through a series of pipes onto an electric "kill plate," ground up alive through a "macerator," or gassed.
Chickens at factory farms also grow so quickly they're legs are unable to carry the weight of their bodies and they suffer from deformities and organ failure.
Pigs: When old enough to be impregnated, sows are artificially inseminated and moved to "gestation crates" too small to even turn around in. There, they spend the entirety of their pregnancies. After giving birth, mothers are moved to "farrowing crates" which are just as small, and are forced to nurse their piglets at all times—essentially depleting the mother.
Pigs are, by nature, intelligent and gentle beings and can "go insane from boredom and despair" under factory farming conditions.
Cows: Female cows are placed into "rape racks" where they are artificially inseminated. When they give birth, their newborns are stripped away immediately and the cow's milk is used for dairy production. If the newborn is male, he will be sent to veal factories where he is castrated without anesthetics and killed at four-to-six months years old.
The female cow is impregnated once a year to produce milk and is often "spent" after four-to-six years of constant milk production. They are then shipped to the slaughterhouse.
2. On the Environment
Factory Farms create open-air lagoons the size of football fields, filled with toxic animal waste. In 1995, a hog-waste lagoon in North Carolina burst into the New River. The spill killed 10 million fish and closed 364,000 acres of wetlands. Nutrients from this run-off fecal matter also creates algae booms and "dead-zones" where there is no oxygen to support any kind of aquatic life.
Cows are a leading source of greenhouse gases and global warming. They're also the top consumer of water in California. The meat and dairy industry use 47% of all consumptive water in California; the FFAC estimates that you would save the same amount of water by skipping one gallon of milk as skipping an entire month's worth of showers.
3. On Workers
Factory farm workers are five times more likely to suffer injury than any other kind of factory worker. They deal with "harmful gases and bacteria, large kicking animals, and sharp slaughtering equipment" on a daily basis for low wages.
But it goes beyond physical injury. Factory farm workers also often suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. A former hog-house worker once wrote: "The worst thing, worse than the physical danger, is the emotional toll... Pigs down on the kill floor have come up and nuzzled me like a puppy. Two minutes later I had to kill them—beat them to death with a pipe. I can’t care.
4. On Public Health
Farm animals consume 80% of all antibiotics in the United States, making them the largest consumers of antibiotics. As a result, scientists have found that 50% of all supermarket meat contains antibiotic resistant bacteria. Consuming this meat can lead to diarrhea, urinary tract infections, and pneumonia.
And remember those giant cesspools of animal feces? They release enormous amounts of hydrogen sulfide into the air. Exposure to this toxic gas can lead chronic nausea, blisters, comas, and even death.
"When there is suffering on that scale,what can I do as one person that would really make any difference?"
- Katie Cantrell, Director of the Factory Farm Awareness Coalition
The FFAC offers one solution to factory farming that Cantrell says other advocacy groups often shy away from: food choices. The best way to eliminate factory farming and its adverse effects isn't to eat grass-fed meat or cage-free eggs, it's to remove animals and animal products from what we eat and move towards a plant-based diet. Go vegan, essentially.
But Cantrell understand its easier said than done. "Food, unlike anything else, is really central to our culture," she says. "We do it everyday and there are so many connotations wrapped up in it, that people initially can be very defensive about changing what they eat."
According to Cantrell, the key is to "not demand perfection" and start slow. Take part in Meatless Mondays or switch out a gallon of cow's milk for almond or soy milk the next time you hit up the supermarket.
"Food choices are incredibly powerful," Cantrell says. "We can really change the world with our daily food choices."
What will you choose today?
To learn more about factory farming, we encourage you to watch the FFAC's presentation,
Hidden in Plain Bite: The Truth About our Food System
Up next, Chapter Three: Eat Fresh
Meet Mary Lemmer, founder of Foodscapes. After a near-death experience, she realized the danger behind processed foods and decided to capture food in its most unadulterated state. Foodscape creates urban gardens in people's backyards, allowing them to literally bring the farm straight to the table....more