Factory farming must be brought to an end

Jason Burns, Website Coordinator

Most Americans have little to no connection to who grows or raises their food and how that is done. Further severing the connection between the food and the home is the fact that most foods have already been prepared for cooking. Whether it be pre-cooked, gutted, or deboned, there is very little effort that needs to be put in to prepare a meal. This disconnection between the average American and their food has become a major problem, as factory farming encourages cutting corners, harming the environment, and torturing animals for profit. Factory farming as it stands must be ended so that Americans may once again become familiar with where their food comes from, and so that the environment may be preserved.

The factory farming of chickens presents some of the worst examples of the industry and demonstrates the cruelty and carelessness that is abound in the industry, as well as the secrecy surrounding it. Within the last decade, chicken has become the most consumed meat in the U.S. with 65.2 pounds of chicken being available per capita in 2018. This totals to around nine billion chickens slaughtered every year according to statistics published by the USDA. Many of these chickens come from factory farms contracted by larger-than-life meat corporations such as Tyson, Pilgrim’s Pride, or Perdue.

Chickens are kept in barns with no natural light and no fresh air. Having been bred to grow large amounts of breast meat very quickly, they suffer deformations that prevent them from walking. With thousands of chickens piled into single buildings, ammonia burns from mass defecation are common. These are the birds that many Americans are buying at supermarkets. One might think twice about buying these chickens from their local supermarket if they saw the deformed, burned, feces-covered bodies; however, this is all kept from public view on farms across the United States. According to an investigative report by the New York Times, chickens face a mortality rate of 5%, which amounts to millions of chickens dying before they ever reach the slaughterhouse; their corpses lie amongst the other chickens, rotting until the farmers come and take them to be incinerated.

The corporate side of chicken farming ends up harming both the farmer and environment. More than half of the U.S. ‘s chicken is produced by three megacompanies: Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, and Sanderson Farms. These companies regulate what goes on in farms they contract to raise their chickens; grain, light levels, how many chickens, and types of equipment are all determined by the company. Farmers who are locked into contracts have taken out gigantic loans to pay for the equipment needed to meet the demanding specifications of these companies and are unable to escape because they need what little income they receive to pay them off.

The process by which the industry transitioned from local farms to factory farms is called “vertical integration.” The National Chicken Council (NCC) portrays vertical integration as a benefit to both consumer and farm, stretching the truth very thin. According to the NCC, 90 percent of chickens raised for consumption in the U.S. are grown under contract, but these contracts are not as favorable as the NCC makes them out to be. In addition, the NCC claims that the consumers are benefited by “less man hours to produce more chicken…[and] being able to go to the market at any time of the year and buy tender, flavorful chicken products.”

The NCC goes on to espouse other benefits of vertical integration such as food safety and broiler breeding; consequently, the deformations that many broiler chickens face is ignored. The NCC’s skewed view of the industry is no surprise given that executives from some of the largest chicken companies have served in its leadership and continue to donate thousands of dollars a year according to Open Secrets, a non-profit organization dedicated to tracking money in U.S. politics.

What can be done to topple not only the factory farming of chicken but other factory farming industries? The first possible solution could be Community Supported Agricultural (CSA) projects, which is defined by the USDA as a “community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation…with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production.” Scaling factory farming operations down to community-oriented farms could reduce animal cruelty, increase the quality of meats and vegetables sold, and even aid the environment through a reduction in greenhouse gases and manure runoff. As of 2015, the USDA found that 7,398 farms in the U.S. sold products directly to consumers through a CSA arrangement.

Encouraging the creation of CSA programs across the nation can help to end factory farming industries and provide a better product to consumers. A modern CSA could invest in technology allowing farmers to grow crops outside of their normal growing seasons and sell their products through electronic purchasing methods. Farmers could directly profit from their work, instead of relying on contracts that dig a financial hole for them from equipment costs alone.

Americans are blissfully unaware of the horrors animals face as well as the complacency of the industry that continues these practices. The industry continues to feed bogus labels such as all-natural, cage-free, and free range to consumers to intentionally mislead them about the realities of their food. Through CSAs, the U.S. could create a sustainable future for itself, but it will take a great amount of effort to topple an industry that is complacent in the torture of millions of animals. A wider education is needed for Americans so that they know where their food is coming from. The scarred bodies of deformed chickens need to become synonymous with the products we see in our supermarkets. Connecting Americans with their food sources can promote environmental consciousness and even satisfy the stomach with higher-quality food.