By DeEtta Bohling, Communications Specialist
Who doesn’t love choices? I believe it is important to have choices and that informed decisions are vital, especially when it comes to choosing your food.
We all have friends or family that chose to be a vegetarian or vegan. I am always curious to hear why they made that decision. The answer I dread— “because of factory farming”.
I often hear folks throw around the term “factory farming” without any knowledge of modern animal agriculture practices. Animal rights activists continue to spread an astonishing number of half-truths and errors when it comes to animal ag.
People who use the term “factory farming” seem to think family farms are a thing of the past. Perhaps they believe this because family farmers have a certain number of animals or purchased more land to become more profitable. Today 98 percent of all farms are owned by individuals, family partnerships or family corporations. Actually, just two percent of America’s farms and ranches are owned by non-family corporations.
Farmers and ranchers, just like you, expect every ounce of their food to be healthy, affordable and most importantly, safe. That is why they go to great lengths to care for their animals. Not only is it the right thing to do, but animals that are threatened or sick simply will not produce as well as healthy animals. It simply does not make economic sense to mistreat animals on a farm, just as it doesn’t make sense for a crop farmer to mistreat the land he farms. With constant temperature monitoring and on-call veterinary care, America’s farmers and ranchers pride themselves on adhering to the strictest quality assurance and certification standards. This way, you can be assured that your American raised product is the best and safest on the market.
Often times, factory farms are thought of to be where animals are confined and crowded. The truth is, animals are kept in barns to protect the health and welfare of the animal. Housing protects animals from predators, disease, and extreme climate. Housing also reduces the stress of breeding and birth, protects the young animals, and makes it easier for farmers to care for their animals. Today, housing is well ventilated, climate controlled, clean and scientifically designed to meet the needs of the animals.
Chickens are always a hot topic when it comes to farming practices. Broilers (young meat chickens) are not raised in cages. They are raised in large open structures known as grow houses. Again, housing is vital to provide comfortable and safe living conditions for the animal. The broiler chicken today is larger and sturdier than in years past, thanks to continuous advancements in the science of poultry nutrition and selective breeding. There is no genetic modification or genetic engineering in the broiler industry.
Can we ensure pig welfare using current production methods? Today, there are multiple facility options for hog producers and each has advantages and disadvantages. The term “confinement” is commonly used to describe indoor systems. However, all pigs raised for food in the U.S. are confined, including those that are confined by fences or semi- permanent housing systems. Modern indoor confinement systems provide a safe living environment for the hogs and also provide a cleaner and healthier environment for the animals since the floor and surface can be adequately cleaned.
Studies prove that pigs raised in outdoor systems and particularly, antibiotic free pigs, may harbor parasites (such as Trichinella and Toxoplasma) that are simply not found in pigs raised in indoor systems. Salmonella infection is also more common in pigs raised outdoors. Farmers and ranchers choose the housing system that they feel works best for their animal and their operation. Housing systems are so varied that pork producers may even adopt different systems for different stages of production.
How can we be sure that livestock are treated humanely in meat packing plants? Animal handling in meat plants has never been better. For more than four decades, the industry has been subject to the federal Humane Slaughter Act of 1958. Federal inspectors are present in meat plants at all times and are fully empowered to take action against a plant for Humane Slaughter Act violations. No other sector of animal agriculture is regulated and inspected for animal handling practices as thoroughly as meat packing plants.
In the last two decades, the industry initiated a number of voluntary initiatives that include enhanced animal handling training, implementation of voluntary guidelines and the use of self-audits to assess welfare and maintain continuous improvement.
So, if the farms you are calling “factory farms” are family owned and the animals are comfortable and being cared for, the only characteristic left to make it a factory farm in your book must be the size.
Marlys Miller said it best in an article on The Cattle Network:
“At what point is a farm too big to be a family farm? I would argue that size doesn’t matter.
The 20-cow dairy involving a husband, wife and three kids is a family farm. But so is the dairy owned by two adult brothers who milk 3,000 cows, which involves their families and 15 employees.
Size should not be part of the family farm equation and agriculture needs to support each other more broadly and speak more uniformly. There have always been big farms and ranches and small farms and ranches, one is not right and the other wrong. Both can survive and both can fail. As with any business, the key is to find a niche and fill it, just don’t drag others down in the effort. If global food production is to more than double by 2050, there’s enough work to be done by everyone.”
As Chuck Jolley, a Kansas City free lance writer says on The Pork Network,
“Those big, bad, evil factory farms? Most of them are run by your neighbor, his wife and kids. Maybe there are even a few grandchildren lending a hand. And they offer employment in areas where there aren’t a lot of other opportunities. They are the leading businesses in rural America, producing billions of dollars worth of goods at a scant few pennies on the dollar. They feed most Americans and a stunning portion of the rest of the world and, hopefully, your neighbor, his wife and kids can go to bed at night, satisfied with a job well-done and a lifestyle they love.”
We all make choices. Only you can make the best decision for yourself. Be informed and ask questions. Ask a local farmer for a tour of their farm or visit one on the web. There are more than 300,000,000 people living in the U.S. Only 2,000,000 farm so the rest of us can eat. Each and everyday farmers with operations of all sizes wake up and make a decision to provide you with safe, nutritious and affordable food, caring for their animals and giving back to their communities.
A look at the meaning of “factory farm”
Temple Grandin Addresses Animal Welfare
Choose to Choose
USDA Animal Welfare
Cattle Network: What Defines a Family Farm?
Farmers Feed US
HumaneWatch: Animal Agriculture
Life on a KS Cattle Ranch
The Truth About Modern Pork Production
Why I Choose to Eat Meat
Don’t be misled