Factory Farming 101
Like most of the goods in this country, our meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products are now being mass produced. Old McDonald’s Farm has been replaced by large confinement facilities that produce a year-round supply of meat, chickens, eggs, and dairy products at a reasonable price.
Animal diets are designed to boost productivity and lower costs
Animals raised in factory farms are given diets designed to boost their productivity and lower costs. The main ingredient is grain, which is kept at artificially low prices by government intervention. To further cut costs, the feed may contain “by-product feedstuff” such as municipal garbage, stale cookies, poultry manure, chicken feathers, bubble gum, and restaurant waste. Until 1997, cattle were also being fed meat that had been trimmed from other cattle, in effect turning herbivores into carnivores. This unnatural practice is believed to be the underlying cause of “mad cow disease.”
Switching from natural diet of grasses to grains
Few people realize that a high-grain diet can cause physical problems for ruminants–cud-chewing animals such as cattle, dairy cows, goats, bison, and sheep. Ruminants are designed to eat fibrous grasses, plants, and shrubs–not starchy, low-fiber grain. When cattle are switched from pasture to grain, for example, they can become afflicted with a number of disorders, including a common but painful condition called “subacute acidosis.” Cattle with subacute acidosis kick at their bellies, go off their feed, and eat dirt. To prevent more serious and sometimes fatal reactions, these animals are given chemical additives along with a constant, low-level dose of antibiotics. Some of these antibiotics are the same ones used in human medicine. When medications are overused in the feedlots, bacteria become resistant to them. When people become infected with disease-resistant bacteria, there are few drugs available to treat them.
Grain-fed meat has lower nutritional value
Switching ruminants from their natural diet of grasses to grains also lowers the nutritional value of their meat and dairy products. Compared with grass-fed meat, grain-fed meat contains more total fat, saturated fat, and calories. It also has less vitamin E, beta-carotene, and two health-promoting fats called omega-3 fatty acids and “conjugated linoleic acid,” or CLA. The milk from dairy cows raised in confinement is similarly low in these nutrients. One result of our modern “advances” in animal technology is inferior food.
Raised animals in confinement
Chickens, turkeys, and pigs are also being raised in confinement. Typically, they suffer an even worse fate than the ruminants. Tightly packed into cages, sheds, or pens, they cannot practice their normal behaviors, such as rooting, grazing, and roosting. Worse yet, they cannot escape the stench of their own manure. Meat and eggs from these animals are also lower in a number of key vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.
Raised animals on pastures
Raising animals on pasture is better for the environment than raising them in confinement. In a conventional feedlot operation, for example, cattle deposit large amounts of manure in a small amount of space. The manure must be collected and transported away from the area. It costs money to haul it away, so it is dumped as close to the feedlot as possible. As a result, the surrounding soil is overloaded with nutrients, resulting in ground and water pollution. When animals are raised on pasture, their manure is a welcome source of organic fertilizer, not a “waste management problem.”
So although the food is cheap and convenient, factory farming is creating a host of problems, including:
- Food with less nutritional value
- Air, land, and water pollution
- The widespread use of hormones, antibiotics, and other drugs
- Low-paying, stressful farm worker jobs
- The loss of small family farms
- Animal stress and abuse