Factory farming refers to large-scale, industrialized, intensive rearing of livestock, poultry and fish. The practice is widespread in developed nations - much of the meat, dairy and eggs available in supermarkets is raised in this manner.

The term factory farming is a pejorative term favored by environmental activists and organic consumer groups. Another term sometimes used is concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO).

Operations typically called factory farms focus on producing a marketable product at the lowest unit cost. Common factory farming practices include:

  • confinement - To save space and improve supervision and feeding operations, animals are confined in pens or cages. In some extreme cases animals may be confined in small indoor areas, unable to turn around or move without contacting other animals. This may increase the incidence of behaviors such as cannibalism, which may be countered through procedures like debeaking and tail docking.
  • drug programs - Antibiotics, vitamins, hormones, and other supplements are preemptively administered, in part to counteract the effects of crowding.
  • processed feed - Feeds may be processed on site. While traditional feeds such as hay and grain may be fed to animals, other types of feed may be added or substituted (eg: cows may be fed food processing by-products such as molasses and cottonseed meal or in some cases poultry litter; calves might be given cow blood protein concentrate in place of milk).
  • nutrient management - The large quantities of generated manure and urine are collected in local sewage systems and redistributed to local agricultural lands as fertilizer. Liquid waste may be applied through an irrigation system, while solid waste might be applied with a manure spreader.

Critics claim that factory farming is inhumane, poses health risks, and causes environmental damage. Arguments include:

  • Animals raised on antibiotics are breeding antibiotic resistant strains of various bacteria ("superbugs").
  • Concentrated animal waste is polluting the groundwater, and creating dust, fly, and odor problems for their neighbors.
  • Crowding, drugging, and mutilating animals (often, debeaking and tail-docking, performed without anesthetic) are cruel practices that should be outlawed.
  • Large populations of animals require a lot of water and are depleting water resources in some areas.
  • Factory farming is displacing family farming and undermining society.

Proponents claim that factory farming is a useful agricultural advance:

  • Intensive agriculture is necessary to meet demand for affordable food.
  • Properly run factory farms meet government standards for safe and humane food production.
  • Animals raised in large groups can take advantage of local sources of food processing by-products.
  • Animals in confinement can be supervised more closely than free ranging animals and diseased animals can be killed or treated more quickly.

See also: agribusiness, feedlot, organic farming, hog lot, PETA

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