Why We Have Factory Farming, and How to End It

The Reasons for and Solutions to Food Manufacturing

The milking machine at a factory farm aerial view.

Xurxo Lobato/Contributor/Getty Images

Factory farming is the intensive confinement of farmed animals raised for food. The technique was invented by scientists in the 1960s who knew that there was no way to continue feeding animal products to an increasing human population without a significant increase in efficiency. But if so many people are concerned about animal welfare and object to factory farming, why do we have factory farming?

Scientists, economists, and farmers alike argue that in order to meet the demand for commercially produced meats, either too much land or too much food and fuel would be required to allow all animals used for that purpose the freedoms animal rights activists demand they have. Conversely, these animal rights activists argue the mistreatment and slaughter of animals for human consumption is not only inhumane but morally wrong.

Why We Need Factory Farming

Allowing cows, pigs, and chickens to roam free requires more land, water, food, labor, and other resources than factory farming. Roaming animals consume more food and water because they are exercising and therefore, in order to produce meat for human consumption, must be nourished accordingly or risk their meat being too tough or fatty.

Furthermore, rounding up and transporting roaming animals requires manpower and fuel. Grass-fed animals also require more food because the animals gain weight slower on a grass diet than they do with a manufactured, concentrated feed.

There are currently seven billion people on the planet, many of whom eat the animal products produced by factory farming. And while all animal agriculture is inefficient because crops are fed to animals instead of being fed to people directly, the increased inefficiency of allowing animals to roam free is the reason factory farming was invented and popularized.

The Opposition to the Meat Industry

From a more cynical perspective, factory farming exists because agribusiness cares nothing about the rights and welfare of the animals, and continues to lobby against any attempts to better the animals' condition. However, giving the animals more room is not a feasible solution because we are already destroying our environment with animal agriculture.

The solution is not to make animal agriculture more inefficient. The answer might be to move away from animal dependency as a culture entirely. From both an environmental perspective and an animal rights perspective, veganism is the only solution to factory farming. Some scientists predict that with modern consumption trends of cattle alone, the global demand will outweigh the supply, causing a shortage of beef and potentially the extinction of that source of animal protein. 

Further, environmentalists argue that factory farming, especially of cattle, produces a high concentration of methane that is released into the atmosphere, speeding global warming. Transport and processing of the meat itself also pollute the environment with dangerous waste byproducts. 

Any way you look at it, factory farming is necessary for the continued consumption of animal meat and products — but is that the ethical way to move forward as a planet, and is it sustainable? Science says no, but the current legislature in the U.S. says otherwise. Perhaps it is time, as a nation, the United States move away from commercial farming altogether.