Getting to the meat of it: Factory farms in America

In 1994, a meat company built an 80,000-head hog factory next to Scott Dye’s 130-year-old family farm in Northern Missouri, spurring him into action to help save traditional family farms.

“It literally butts up against my 130-year-old farm, and now in five county areas, they raise 2.3 million hogs a year, and 30 miles away from my home is a slaughterhouse where they slaughter 7,000 hogs a day,” Dye said.

Dye is a Missouri native and is passionate about keeping conventional farming and family-run farms from being put out of business by large meat factories.

“This is a battle for rural America,” Dye said.


The factory farm monopoly

Ninety-nine percent of America’s meat comes from animals that spend their entire lives on a factory farm, according to Laura Cascada, evidence analyst for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA.

The American Society for the Prevent of Cruelty to Animals, or ASPCA, defines a factory farms as “large, industrial operation that raises large numbers of animals for food. Factory farms focus on profit and efficiency at the expense of animal welfare.”

Factory farms, also known as concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, are the biggest suppliers of meat in our country: 99.9 percent of chicken, 95 percent of pork and 90 percent of beef and dairy products, according to Cascada. She examines and compiles evidence gathered during field observations at sites suspected of being cruel to animals. Legal complaints and public education materials are developed from this evidence.

Map of Wisconsin showing density and locations factory farms

According to Cascada and Dye, with the rise of consumer demand for meat at a lower cost, factory farms have become the standard way of producing meat.

“There are fewer and fewer small farms and more of these factory farms,” Cascada said. “Basically, the farms cram animals, often by the thousands, into small spaces where they never get to see sunlight, can barely turn around if at all and are kept in their own waste for the rest of their lives until they’re chucked up to slaughter.”

Factory farms are similar to any other major business and are controlled by select few corporations and large conglomerates, such as Smithfield Foods (controlled by a company in China), Tyson and Cargill. These companies are responsible for supplying almost all of the meat in our country, Cascada said.

“Nowadays these factory farms feed these animals to fewer and fewer corporations, so there’s a few big meat companies out there that are producing the meat you see in grocery stores, and they really have control over the industry,” she said.

Cascada said animals in these large operations have no federal laws protecting them from cruel treatment, and there’s little monitoring. She explained that PETA’s work has led to investigations being opened by state and local officials.

“We’ve got these observers who are lawfully employed at these companies and reporting things they see, and they always take it to management, and often management does nothing at all to address their concerns, and so they come to PETA, and eventually we have enough evidence of horrific cruelty to bring to officials and get them to take action,” she said.

Potential benefits of large animal operations

Jerry Huth owns and operates a family-run beef operation in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and manages a 100-cow, registered Hereford beef herd on 650 acres. He is a Wisconsin certified general appraiser who specializes in agricultural properties in East Central Wisconsin including factory farms.

Huth does not believe that factory farms exist. An operation with over 900 animal units, what PETA deems a factory farm, is considered a CAFO, Huth said.


“These diverse operations are very conscientious in producing a product that is safe and wholesome,” Huth said. “The operators pride themselves in land stewardship and sustainability.”

CAFOs, larger dairy operations and feedlots are regulated by a number of different agencies, including the Department of Natural Resources, Huth said. They are also environmentally conscious, producing a much smaller carbon footprint compared to prior agricultural manufacturers, utilizing technology and genetics to improve their animal products.

Huth said that large animal operations are more able to have specific professionals for calf care and development, feeding, animal care, milking and machinery maintenance.

“They are very sustainable and they take their job of producing a quality, safe, wholesome product very seriously,” Huth said. “They are generally the most profitable type of agricultural entities.”

Environmental and economical effects

While many are anti-factory farm for reasons relatied to improper treatment and conditions, Scott Dye holds more of a personal grudge.

Dye is a field coordinator for the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project, an organization based in Missouri. It empowers rural communities to protect themselves from devastating health, environmental and economic impacts of factory farms say its website. Members of SRAP include lawyers, grassroots coordinators and consultants who will provide assistance.

“Essentially the entire organization is composed of people like me who have experienced something horrible,” Dye said.

In 2015, SRAP released troublesome findings regarding water quality as a result of nearby factory farms. The main complaint from the communities, though is decreased quality of life.

“Do we want to see sustainable family farmers on the land producing safe, healthy, wholesome food?” Dye asked. “Or do we want to farm this out to foreign investors and huge conglomerates who quite frankly have no interest at all in the (community)?”

What you get at the grocery

Most people in urban areas buy meat at the grocery store. Brian Dicken, vice president of meat operations for Roundy’s Supermarkets, said Roundy’s does not cut corners.

“All of our ground beef is steer meat, which means it’s cow blended and is a better eating experience,” Dicken said. “[It] costs more money, but we believe in it.”

market-893319_1920Roundy’s offers antibiotic-free, vegetarian-fed, humanely-raised and organic products at its meat counters under the Simply Roundy’s brand, but priced higher. Dicken said Roundy’s could not carry only those products.

He said, “You have to have what I call more of a conventional type buffering, otherwise you’re going to price yourself out of the market, and you have to give consumers a choice.”

What do you think about factory farms? Are they economical or unethical? Leave us a comment!

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