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Factory farms, also known as CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations), contain half of the nation's meat, egg, and dairy animal populations, operating on a scale inconceivable to previous generations of farmers. Sanderson Farms, the fourth largest chicken producer in the United States, annually processes 397 million chickens. Circle Four Farms in Utah annually raises more than 1 million hogs for slaughter. CAFOs are characterized by the following conditions:

Confinement: Animals are strictly confined to prevent any unwanted, energy-wasting movement. Chickens are kept in "battery cages" so small (50 square inches) that they cannot turn around or open their wings. Calves raised for veal are kept in "veal crates" that prevent turning around during their 16- to 18-week lives. During pregnancy, hogs are kept in "gestation crates" typically 2 feet wide. Just before birth, they are moved to "farrowing crates" that are equally small.

Use of Chemicals and Drugs: The extreme density of animals on CAFOs requires heavy use of pesticides and antibiotics to prevent disease. Some 13.5 million pounds of antibiotics are used annually in animal feed and water. Artificial growth hormones are also used to force rapid growth and amplify milk production. Poultry grow so large that they are often unable to stand or walk properly.

Unfit Feed: Herbivores such as cattle, chickens, and turkey are often fed same-species meat byproducts, including ground-up chicken; feathers; chicken, swine, and cattle excrement; and cattle blood and fat. Farms in the Upper Midwest feed dairy cows waste from candy manufacturers, unheated starch, and rejected French fries and potato chips. The recent egg salmonella outbreak was caused by infected feed.

Disease: The above ...

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The Grim Realities of Factory Farms
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In the Magazine

November 2010

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