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Factory farm animals are deprived of everything that makes life worth living

Peter Roberts MBE. Founder of Compassion in World Farming1

Billions of chickens, pigs, cows and fish are kept cruelly in sheds, cages, or pens on the world’s factory farms. They live in suffering and pain, unable to express their natural behaviours, until transported in distress to their slaughter.

Examples of factory farm cruelty include:

  • Meat (broiler) chickens bred to grow so unnaturally large and fast that it often causes them painful crippling before slaughter at just six weeks old.
  • Rabbits kept in crowded and bare wire cages, each with no more space than a single sheet of typing paper.
  • Laying hens kept in cages that severely restrict natural behaviours such as exercising, dust-bathing, perching naturally and wing-flapping. Their brothers, male chicks of the laying hen strain, are seen as useless and so are gassed or minced alive when just a day old.
  • Pigs kept in cramped fattening pens, sows confined in crates for weeks or months at a time, so narrow they cannot even turn around.
  • Cows kept permanently indoors or in huge mega-dairies, with no natural grazing, bred to produce unnatural volumes of milk and worked so hard that they are worn out and slaughtered at a fraction of their natural lifespan.
  • Fish farmed in over-crowded pens, fed on wild-caught fish or soy; and killed inhumanely.
  • Animals mutilated – their beaks cut or tails docked or teeth clipped – to stop them injuring each other through frustration or boredom in overcrowded conditions.

We believe farm animals should not, and need not, suffer, and that we have to bring an end to this cruelty.

Together, we can stop the suffering and allow them to experience the joy of being allowed to live as nature intended.

Animal welfare

two piglets face to face outside

Farmed animals are sentient beings and deserve a good quality of life and humane death. Animal welfare is not just about the absence of suffering, but about the provision of ‘what animals want and need’ so that they can lead healthy happy lives. An animal is considered to have good welfare when he/she is in good physical condition, has a strong mental state (for instance: confident, not fearful, or in pain) and is able to express important behaviours (such as foraging; dustbathing; making a nest; socialising).

Good animal welfare is underpinned by good feeding, housing / environment, health, breeding, and critically good stockmanship / management (animal care).

How we treat animals is our ethical and moral imperative; how they perceive their lives is their welfare state.

Introduction to the problem and scale

  • Demand for animal protein is growing at an unprecedented rate, driven by population growth, rising incomes and urbanisation.
  • Over the past 50 years, meat production has more than quadrupled, with the world producing more than 340 million tonnes of meat in 2018 compared to 71 million tonnes in 19612
  • In 2018, this equated to an estimated 69 billion chickens; 1.5 billion pigs; 656 million turkeys; 574 million sheep; 479 million goats; and 302 million cattle killed for meat production per annum2
  • Chicken meat accounted for only 12 percent of global production in 1961. However, with its value undermined by commoditisation, its global share tripled, representing 36 percent of global production in 2018 (see Figure 1).
  • Beef and buffalo meat nearly halved its share of global production in the same period (now accounting for around 22 percent), whilst pigmeat’s share remained constant at approximately 35-40 percent.
  • In 2020, the FAO estimated more than 85 billion animals were kept for food each year globally; 77 billion were slaughtered for meat, and 7.5 billion laying hens produced 1.4 trillion eggs, and 280 million dairy cows produced 660 billion liters of milk3.
  • Regionally, Asia is the largest meat producer, accounting for around 40-45 percent of total meat production, largely driven by the production scale in China. Europe, and North and South America are also major producing regions (see Figure 2).
  • Most animals reared for food are kept in intensive systems.
  • Intensive animal farming threatens several planetary boundaries, including climate change, biogeochemical flows (nitrogen and phosphorus), land-system change, freshwater use, and the loss of biodiversity.
  • Intensive livestock production is already responsible for 14.5% of global anthropogenic greenhouse emissions. Under a business-as-usual model of food production, in which meat and dairy consumption rises in line with a growing global population and rising GDPs, the agriculture sector alone would emit enough greenhouse gasses to take up the entire two degrees Celsius emissions budget by 20504
  • The intensification of crop production used for animal feed has accelerated land and soil degradation5
  • Around one million plant and animal species are now threatened with extinction6, with intensive animal production a primary factor7. As meat consumption rises, so farmland expands depriving wildlife of their natural habitat and bringing them into dangerous proximity to human activity providing the perfect opportunity for pathogens to spread, some of which are zoonotic and pose a threat of pandemics.
  • Every year there are around 600 million cases of foodborne diseases and 420,000 deaths8 predominantly from Salmonella, Campylobacter and E. Coli. In addition, agricultural intensification is associated with 50% of emerging zoonotic diseases since 1940.
  • Intensive livestock systems have an enormous impact on the welfare of the billions of animals reared for our food each year.

What are the welfare issues associated with factory farming?

Back view of goats with mutilated tails and woman farmer attaching milking clusters to udders of animals

This section is taken from Jones 20179.

Intensive farming relies on systems and practices that at the minimum level do not meet the needs of animals, do not provide animal choice, do not promote positive welfare experiences mentally or behaviourally and require modification of the animal to fit the animal to the surroundings rather than fitting the surroundings to the animal. The most obvious causes for concern are:

  • Confinement. Examples of the most severe forms of confinement are cages for laying hens, rabbits, quail and even broiler chickens (in countries such as Russia, Turkey, China); sow stalls and farrowing crates; tethered systems for dairy cows; veal crates for calves. Confinement systems are associated with a lack of movement and opportunity to express even the most basic of behaviours, such as wing stretching and scratching (laying hens), sitting upright or hopping (rabbits), walking and turning around (sows), or having the comfort of one’s own kind (calves). Severe confinement leads to stereotypic behaviours, such as bar-biting and sham chewing, even depression (in sows), and is associated with muscular weakness.
  • Overcrowding. High stocking densities and limited space allowance per animal in barns and pens, limit behaviour. Broiler chickens constantly bump into each other and disturb each other at commercial stocking densities10 are averse to sitting in such close proximity11; sit in a compressed state12; and choose areas with more available space if given choice13. Animals such as pigs have barely enough room to lie down simultaneously near slaughter weight and are unable to create functional areas (separate feeding, drinking, resting and activity zones) in their pens.
  • Barren environments. These are usually associated with fully or partially slatted systems indoors or with feedlots outdoors. A lack of stimulation and meaningful occupation leads to boredom and frustration in pigs and laying hens, contributing to damaging behaviours such as tail biting in pigs and aggression and feather pecking in laying hens. It also leads to stereotypic behaviours such as tongue rolling in cattle and over-mating in broiler breeders.
  • Mutilations. A range of mutilations are commonly performed in commercial practice. These include: beak trimming of hens and turkeys; tail docking of pigs, dairy cattle and sheep; mulesing of sheep; dehorning or disbudding of cattle; castration of male pigs, cattle and sheep; and spaying of female pigs and cattle in some regions of the world. Most mutilations are performed without anaesthesia or analgesia and so involve short- and long-term pain, neuroma formation, and associated depression of appetite and behaviour modification.
  • Breeding for high production traits. Livestock are selected for ever higher growth rates in meat animals, milk yields for dairy animals, litter sizes in pigs and egg yields for laying hens. Rate of growth in the modern broiler is directly linked to lethargy, poor walking ability14 and cardiac dysfunction15. It is also associated with severe feed restriction and chronic hunger in the parents of the meat chicken16. High production performance is correlated to high rates of lameness, mastitis and poor reproductive performance in dairy cows17, high rates of stillborn and low litter weights in pigs, and osteoporosis in laying hens.
  • Transport. The concerns centre on handling stress during loading and unloading and space allocations that do not allow for normal standing postures or for animals to lie down without the risk of being trampled. The duration of transport (i.e. transport time itself) is also of concern because of animal hunger, thirst and fatigue, and the occurrence of deaths in transit.
  • Slaughter. The concerns at slaughter centre on the provision of rest in lairage, handling stress to the point of slaughter, whether the animals are effectively stunned before slaughter, and the distress associated with the slaughter method.
  • Animal health. The prevention of disease and maintenance of healthy animals is a major topic. One aspect of this is ensuring that farm animals are fit and healthy. In addition, there are important public health concerns linked to the way disease is prevented; examples include the overuse of antimicrobials in livestock production resulting in the development of antimicrobial resistance and the food safety impacts that result from food contamination with bacteria such as Salmonella, Campylobacter, and E. coli. Of increasing concern, is the risk of pandemics following zoonotic transmission of animal origin viruses18.
  • Poor welfare outcomes. Physical conditions that impair welfare are increasingly being measured. Examples include the incidence of lameness and mastitis in dairy cows, feather loss due to feather pecking in laying hens, poor walking ability in broiler chickens, and the incidence of tail biting in pigs. To date, most indicators of welfare are associated with the physical condition and production of animals (such as growth rate and mortality), while measures of behaviour are still in development (for a further discussion, see19 and the work of the Animal Welfare Indicators project20 Welfare Quality21 and the AssureWel project22

Link to the relevant Sustainable Development Goal (SDG)

  • SDG 15: Life on Land: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss33
  1. Peter Roberts, MBE (7 June 1924 – 15 November 2006) founder of Compassion in World Farming.
  2. World in data source: Hannah Ritchie (2017) - "Meat and Dairy Production". Published online at OurWorldInData.org. [Online Resource. First published in August 2017; last revision in November 2019. Webpage. Accessed 11 November 2020.]
  3. Data sourced from Compassions’ calculations based on FAOSTAT, 2020
  4. Bajželj, B., Richards, K. S., Allwood, J. M., Smith, P., Dennis, J. S., Curmi, E., & Gilligan, C. A. (2014). Importance of food-demand management for climate mitigation. Nature Climate Change, 4(10), 924-929).
  5. United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. 2017. The Global Land Outlook, first edition. Bonn, Germany.
  6. IPBES (2019): Summary for policymakers of the global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. S. Díaz, J. Settele, E. S. Brondízio E.S., H. T. Ngo, M. Guèze, J. Agard, A. Arneth, P. Balvanera, K. A. Brauman, S. H. M. Butchart, K. M. A. Chan, L. A. Garibaldi, K. Ichii, J. Liu, S. M. Subramanian, G. F. Midgley, P. Miloslavich, Z. Molnár, D. Obura, A. Pfaff, S. Polasky, A. Purvis, J. Razzaque, B. Reyers, R. Roy Chowdhury, Y. J. Shin, I. J. Visseren-Hamakers, K. J. Willis, and C. N. Zayas (eds.). IPBES secretariat, Bonn, Germany. 56 pages.
  7. Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. Rome 2018. Transforming food and agriculture to achieve the SFG’s. Accessed 12 November 2020.
  8. World Health Organisation. Estimating the burden of foodborne disease. Accessed 12 November 2020.
  9. Jones 2017. The key issues in farm animal welfare. Chapter 2. In: The Business of Farm Animal Welfare (The Responsible Investment Series) 27 July 2017, by Nicky Amos (Editor),and Rory Sullivan (Contributor).
  10. Dawkins, M.S., Donnelly, C.A., & Jones, T.A. (2004). Chicken welfare is influenced more by housing conditions than by stocking density. Nature, 427, 342-344
  11. Buijs, S., Keeling, L.J., Vangestelc, C., Baertd, J., Vangeyted, J., & Tuyttens, F.A.M. (2010). Resting or hiding? Why broiler chickens stay near walls and how density affects this. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 124, 97-103.
  12. Bokkers, E.A.M., de Boer, I.J.M., & Koene, P. (2011). Space needs of broilers. Animal Welfare, 20, 623-632.
  13. Buijs, S., Keeling, L.J., & Tuyttens, F.A.M. (2011). Using motivation to feed as a way to assess the importance of space for broiler chickens. Animal Behaviour, 81, 145-151.
  14. Kestin, S.C., Knowles, T.G., Tinch, A.E., & Gregory, N.G. (1992). Prevalence of leg weakness in broiler chickens and its relationship with genotype. Veterinary Record, 131, 190-194.
  15. Olkowski, A.A. (2007). Pathophysiology of heart failure in broiler chickens: structural, biochemical, and molecular characteristics. Poultry Science, 86(5), 999-1005
  16. D’Eath, R.B., Tolkamp, B.J., Kyriazakis, I., & Lawrence, A.B. (2009). “Freedom from hunger” and preventing obesity: the animal welfare implications of reducing food quantity or quality. Animal Behaviour, 77(2), 275-288.
  17. Oltenacu, P.A., & Broom, D.M. (2010). The impact of genetic selection for increased milk yield on the welfare of dairy cows. Animal Welfare, 19(S), 39-49.
  18. Compassion in World Farming: Is the next pandemic on our plate? 2020.
  19. Broom, D.M. (2014). Sentience and Animal Welfare. Wallingford, UK: CABI Publishing.
  20. Cordis: Report summary - Welfare Indicators (Development, integration and dissemination of animal-based welfare indicators, including pain, in commercially important husbandry species, with special emphasis on small reminants, equidae & turkeys). Last accessed November 2020.
  21. Elisabetta Canali & Linda Keeling (2009) Welfare Quality® project: from scientific research to on farm assessment of animal welfare, Italian Journal of Animal Science, 8:sup2, 900- 903, DOI: 10.4081/ijas.2009.s2.900
  22. Assurewell. Webpage. Last accessed November 2020
  23. EU Council Directive 98/58/EC of 20 July 1998 concerning the protection of animals kept for farming purposes. Last accessed Nov 2020
  24. EU Council Regulation (EC) No 1/2005 of 22 December 2004 on the protection of animals during transport and related operations and amending Directives 64/432/EEC and 93/119/EC and Regulation (EC) No 1255/97. Last accessed Nov 2020
  25. EU Council Regulation (EC) No 1099/2009 of 24 September 2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing and Commission implementing regulation (EU) 2018/723 of 16 May 2018 amending Annexes I and II to Council Regulation (EC) No 1099/2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing as regards the approval of low atmospheric pressure stunning. Last accessed Nov 2020
  26. EU Council Directive 1999/74/EC of 19 July 1999 laying down minimum standards for the protection of laying hens
  27. EU Council Directive 2008/119/EC of 18 December 2008 laying down minimum standards for the protection of calves
  28. EU Council Directive 2008/120/EC of 18 December 2008 laying down minimum standards for the protection of pigs
  29. EU Council Directive 2007/43/EC of 28 June 2007 laying down minimum rules for the protection of chickens kept for meat production
  30. European Union Legislation on the Welfare of Farm Animals. FAO Investment Centre 2012
  31. Compassion in World Farming: Is the next pandemic on our plate? 2020.
  32. Special Eurobarometer 442. Attitudes of Europeans towards Animal Welfare
  33. United Nations Department of Economic Social Affairs Sustainable Development
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