The world’s population is expected to exceed 10 billion people by the year 2050. We have some catching up to do in the agricultural sector if we’re going to be able to feed that many people. One of the methods that has been proposed to solve this problem and is a solution that is currently implemented is factory farming.
Factory farming is the practice of creating livestock products on a mass scale. Intensive methods are used for cattle, poultry, or pigs to keep them in controlled conditions that encourages fast reproduction and rapid weight gain so that food products can be taken to the market.
Here are the factory farming pros and cons to consider.
What Are the Pros of Factory Farming?
1. It keeps prices down for consumers.
Factory farming allows for livestock products to be produce on a large economic scale. Size allows for development pricing, such as feed or livestock care, to be kept down. This allows the price of food at the market to be kept down as well. At the same time, both the market and the farm can make a profit with the economy of scale, allowing local, regional, and national economies to keep moving forward.
2. It allows automation to help provide food resources.
In the past, farming meant an intense amount of daily manual labor to produce a crop. Mechanization has helped to reduce that workload. Factory farming brings automation into the equation, which further reduces individual workloads. This means fewer people can care for larger farms with an improved level of care compared to what farmers had to do in the past.
3. It improves production efficiencies.
Factory farming allows for livestock products to reach the market faster and provide more of a food resource. In 1950, the National Chicken Council reports that the average bird sent to the market was 70 days old and weighed just a little over 3 pounds. In 2015, the average bird sent to the market was 47 days old and weighed over 6 pounds. Assuming that no antibiotics were used with the livestock, the health benefits are similar and this allows for more people to be fed.
4. Factory farms make it possible for market variety in every season.
Factory farming can happen all year long. That means multiple cycles of aging within livestock populations can occur on the same farm. This allows for a wider variety of food choices to be available at the market and reduces seasonal shortages that used to occur under different farming methods.
5. A factory farm can be established almost anywhere.
Larger farms are more resilient to changes in the environment, water access, or geographical locations. This means unused or under-utilized lands could be converted into factory farms to help increase global food production capabilities. That is why factory farming is often seen as a potential solution to a hunger crisis that may occur in the future.
6. It can lengthen food availability.
Factory farming has helped to innovate new transportation, storage, and processing technologies that have allowed for food products to last longer without spoiling. This has increased the overall amount of food that is available while reducing waste at the same time.
7. Factory farming helps local economies.
Factory farms require workers, which means local jobs are created when one is established. Farms need drivers to take their products to the market. They need meat processors to prepare their product. These jobs require other businesses to support their efforts, like having a local feed store, which helps to create more jobs. A factory farm can economically help local communities in a variety of ways.
What Are the Cons of Factory Farming?
1. Factory farming increases the fat content of foods being eaten.
The weight of the average chicken might be more than double what it was 60 years ago, but so is the fat content of the animal proteins that are being sent to the market. In some instances, the fat content of chicken is over 220% higher today than it was in the 1950s. This fat can be rendered out in some forms of cooking, but it doesn’t all disappear. There may be more foods because of factory farming, but not all of it may be as healthy as the foods that were eaten in the past.
2. It requires large amounts of water to be effective.
Water grows crops. It is also required for livestock to survive. Many factory farms focus on beef because of its profit margins. That means there must be a large water investment made for that farm. At 70F degrees, the average 800-pound growing cattle will consume 9 gallons of water per day. Multiply that figure by 1,000 head and that’s a consumption of nearly 10,000 gallons of water every day. The quality of the livestock products sent to market rely on high-quality water supplies, so an increase in these farming practices could increase the risk of localized drought.
3. There are environmental concerns.
Factory farming can contribute large amounts of methane to the atmosphere through livestock care efforts. The livestock themselves can even contribute methane in concentrated pockets. Over a 20-year lifespan, methane is 20 times more effective as a greenhouse gas when compared to carbon dioxide. Add in the high manure levels, nitrates, and fertilizers that are used in factory farming and the impact felt by the environment could last for generations.
4. It increases the risks of animal cruelty.
Factory farming often requires animals to be kept in tight spaces. Some are even kept in cages that restrict movement. Because the goal of these farms is to produce animal products as quickly as possible, the quality of the food given to the animals can be questionable on some farms as well. Workers can see the animals as a commodity instead of a living, breathing thing. These all factor into the higher risk of animal cruelty and abuse that is associated with factory farming.
5. Factory farming may encourage animal diseases to mutate to human diseases.
Two large threats that come out of factory farming are swine influenza and bird influenza. In 2009, a swine flu strain labeled H1N1 infected 22 million people in the United States and killed more than 4,000. In 2013, a bird flu strain called H7N9, which was never seen in humans before, was detected in China. By keeping animals and people in close, restricted quarters, the chances for a zoonosis event greatly increases.
These factory farming pros and cons show that the potential for this process is great, but there are great risks that must also be managed. One way or another, we’re going to have more mouths to feed on this planet in the coming generations. Factory farming offers one solution that could be beneficial. We still have time to get this right, but that time is quickly dwindling.