Over the past 50 years, meat production in the U.S. has changed dramatically. Most meat, dairy products, eggs, and poultry are no longer produced on scenic family farms. Today, most meat is produced by animal factories, which confine thousands (often hundreds of thousands) of food animals in extremely small spaces, primarily on concrete surfaces without access to pasture or fresh air. In fact, more than 80% of U.S. meat production is controlled by a handful of huge, multi-national corporations.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates these animal factories, officially referred to as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). You can learn more about CAFO regulatory definitions by clicking here. [pdf]
Not only do CAFOs force animals to live in inhumane conditions, they use copious amounts of antibiotics to accelerate animal growth and fight infections caused by stress and overcrowding. In their 2013 Threat Report, the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that antibiotic overuse in food animals contributes to antibiotic resistance in humans. The same report documents that 23,000 people die each year in the U.S. due to antibiotic-resistant infections.
CAFOs devastate the environment and human health, destroying rural communities. They produce vast amounts of manure and urine, which poison the air and pollute waterways and wells. This toxic air, polluted drinking water, and prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria all compromise the health of people and animals living anywhere near CAFO facilities. Manure-polluted rivers kill fish and kill tourism by making the water unsafe for recreation.
As CAFOs drive traditional family farms out of business and tourists are repelled by CAFO odors, rural economies crumble. Communities that once thrived on family farming are left polluted, financially depressed, and unlivable.
Americans still envision food animals living in red barns on rolling green hills. But the reality is that CAFOs are extraordinarily cruel to animals, forcing them to spend their entire lives cramped in deplorable conditions without the freedom to express their natural behaviors. CAFO animals never feel the earth under their feet or the sun on their backs.