Inside Factory Farming: A Look at the Consequences of Mass Meat Production

by Neil Desai on February 18, 2014

          The concept of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), also known as factory farms, has influenced the United States’ governments’ current perception of ideal meat production since the 1970s. CAFOs, however, largely contribute to environmental destruction, which angers environmental protection advocates, endangers consumer public health, and adds to government expenses. At Smithfield Foods’ main processing plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina, for example, workers inject hogs in overpopulated barns with insecticides, antibiotics, and vaccines to prevent animal deaths from lethal diseases before full maturity. As a result, all of these drugs eventually exist as hog excrement. As writer Jeff Tietz explains, “Industrial pig waste contains other toxic substances: ammonia, methane, hydrogen sulfide, carbon monoxide, cyanide, phosphorous, nitrates and heavy metals. In addition, the waste also nurses more than 100 microbial pathogens that cause illness in humans, including salmonella, cryptosporidium, streptocolli and girardia (Tietz).” In turn, animal excrement is liquidized to conserve space and concentrated in one small area near the CAFO, which devastates the surrounding land and poses severe health risks to all nearby residents (Thu). Because liquid manure is mobile, it easily floods farmland and ruins seasonal crops. The runoff manure can contaminate water supplies and release toxic fumes, which cause specific respiratory issues in individuals (Thu). As a result, the government has spent more than $88 billion on agricultural subsidies since 2001, primarily in response to factory farm destruction (Pollan, Voting). CAFOs also heavily rely on fossil fuels for production. According to writer Michael Pollan, “After cars, the food system uses more fossil fuel than any other sector of the economy — 19 percent” (Pollan, Farmer). In turn, such resource consumption habits result in the excessive release of atmospheric pollutants. Specifically, factory farms contribute approximately 37% of greenhouse gases to the natural environment (Pollan, Farmer). Public outrage will continue to grow unless government puts greater pressure on CAFO corporations’ to cease such environmental abuse. According to writer Kendall Thu, “Symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, dizziness, and shortness of breath appear more frequently among neighbors of large-scale swine operations as compared with other groups in rural areas (Thu).” As a result, nearby residents experience devastating health problems because avaricious CAFO owners refuse to adapt a slightly costlier, yet environmentally responsible waste management system. 

The CAFO process of meat production takes advantage of vulnerable farm animals, restricting them to cruel living conditions and death, which indirectly endangers American consumers. At the Smithfield Food plant, workers raise thousands of hogs in warehouse barns in the absence of sunlight, fresh air, straw, and earth. As Tietz explains, “Taken together, the immobility, poisonous air, and constant terror of confinement badly damage the pigs’ immune systems (Tietz).” As a result, these animals are susceptible to diverse infections that persist throughout the densely populated barns. Warehouse barn temperatures can exceed ninety degrees, increasing hog death rates because of dehydration, overpopulation, and inhalation of toxic excrement fumes (Thu). Proponents of CAFOS cannot deny this clear abuse of animal rights. Even today’s nutrient poor, mass produced animal feed demonstrates employer objectification of animals. For example, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), switching a cow’s diet from corn product to natural hay in the final days before slaughter reduces the population of E. coli in its manure by approximately seventy percent (NRDC). While natural hay may be costlier than corn product, it prevents the chances of national E. coli outbreaks among American consumers.


A Concentrated Pig Factory Farm

          In conclusion, CAFO owners fail to recognize their indirect, yet harmful operational risks toward consumer public health and acknowledge their obvious violations of animal rights. Individuals have several lifestyle options to raise awareness and protest against factory farm abuses, including eating more vegetarian meals, buying fewer amounts of animal food products, and buying poultry from local, community-based farms (What). If enough people implemented such changes, the market would eventually force factory farms to permanently alter their habits to become environmentally sustainable and animal-friendly. 



“Top 10 Reasons to Eat Grass-Fed Meat.” NRDC. Web. 5 Feb. 2014



“What You Can Do – The Healthy Table.”  Daniel Imhoff, Ed. The Cafo Reader: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories. Web. 5 Feb. 2014



Thu, Kendall. “CAFOs Are in Everyone’s Backyard: Industrial Agriculture, Democracy, and the         Future.” Daniel Imhoff, Ed. The Cafo Reader: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories. Web. 5 Feb. 2014



Pollan, Michael. “Farmer in Chief.” Michael Pollan. The New York Times Magazine, 12 Oct. 2008. Web. 5 Feb. 2014. <>.


Pollan, Michael. “Voting with Your Fork: On the Table.” The New York Times. 7 May 2006.   Web. 5 Feb 2014.



Tietz, Jeff.  “Boss Hog: The Dark Side of America’s Top Pork Producer.” Rolling Stone. 14 Dec. 2006. Web. 5 Feb. 2014 <>


“CAFO-Concentrated Pig Farms.” Thoughtful Cooking. Image. Web. 17 Feb. 2014 <>

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