Facts about Industrial / Conventional farming

Definition of factory farming:

a large industrialized farm; especially :  a farm on which large numbers of livestock are raised (many times indoors) in conditions intended only to maximize production at minimal cost insuring maximum profits.

Intensive animal farming:

Intensive animal farming or industrial livestock production, also called factory farming by opponents of the practice, is a modern form of intensive farming that refers to the keeping of livestock, such as cattle, poultry (including in “battery cages”) and fish at higher stocking densities than is usually the case with other forms of animal agriculture—a practice typical in industrial farming by agribusinesses. The main products of this industry are meat, milk and eggs for human consumption. There are issues regarding whether factory farming is sustainable and ethical.

Confinement at high stocking density is one part of a systematic effort to produce the highest output at the lowest cost by relying on economies of scale, modern machinery, biotechnology, and global trade. There are differences in the way factory farming techniques are practiced around the world. There is a continuing debate over the benefits, risks and ethical questions of factory farming. The issues include the efficiency of food production; animal welfare; whether it is essential for feeding the growing global population; and the environmental impact (e.g. pollution) and health risks.

Animal welfare

Animal welfare impacts of factory farming can include:

  • Close confinement systems (cages, crates) or lifetime confinement in indoor sheds
  • Discomfort and injuries caused by inappropriate flooring and housing
  • Restriction or prevention of normal exercise and most of natural foraging or exploratory behaviour
  • Restriction or prevention of natural maternal nesting behaviour
  • Lack of daylight or fresh air and poor air quality in animal sheds
  • Social stress and injuries caused by overcrowding
  • Health problems caused by extreme selective breeding and management for fast growth and high productivity
  • Reduced lifetime (longevity) of breeding animals (dairy cows, breeding sows)
  • Fast-spreading infections encouraged by crowding and stress in intensive conditions.

Confinement and overcrowding of animals results in a lack of exercise and natural locomotory behavior, which weakens their bones and muscles.  Movement between farms by people, materials, and vehicles poses a threat and breaches in bio security are possible. Intensive farming may be creating highly virulent avian flu strains. With the frequent flow of goods within and between countries, the potential for disease spread is high.

Confinement and overcrowding of animals’ environment presents the risk of contamination of the meat from viruses and bacteria. Feedlot animals reside in crowded conditions and often spend their time standing in their own waste.  

The large concentration of animals, animal waste, and the potential for dead animals in a small space poses ethical issues. It is recognized that some techniques used to sustain intensive agriculture can be cruel to animals.

Environmental impact

Intensive Factory farming has grown to become the biggest threat to the global environment through the loss of ecosystem services and global warming. It is a major driver to global environmental degradation. The process in which feed needs to be grown for animal use only is often grown using intensive methods which involve a significant amount of fertiliser and pesticides. This sometimes results in the pollution of water, soil and air by agrochemicals and manure waste, and use of limited resources such as water and energy at unsustainable rates.