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Of all our interactions with non-human animals, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs, or factory farms) pose the greatest animal welfare challenge.
Raised in confinement, most farmed animals live in conditions almost entirely divorced from those that would promote a good life. Laying hens typically live in cages so small they cannot stretch their wings, and most mother pigs are held in pens so tight they cannot turn around. To minimize bodily injuries in these inhumane conditions, most farmed animals are subject to body modifications without anesthetic: chickens are debeaked, pigs have their tails docked, and cattle are dehorned.
Breeding animals to maximize production (milk, eggs, meat) has led to crippling deformities that cause suffering from birth to death. For example, many “broiler” chickens have breasts so heavy that once they reach their final weight they are unable to walk, or even stand. The crowded conditions on factory farms are a breeding ground for pathogens, and to ensure that sick animals stay alive until slaughter they are routinely fed antibiotics, contributing to the growing antibiotic resistance crisis.
In a 2016 survey of 1,000 U.S. adult consumers, 77 percent of respondents were concerned about the welfare of animals being raised for food. The supermajority of consumers care about the lives of farmed animals, and want our agricultural systems to do better. Factory farming is antithetical to good animal welfare. There are things we can, and should, do to reduce animal suffering within factory farms, but ultimately to give animals a “life worth living,” we must end factory farming. Learn more about farmed animal welfare.
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Even at leading restaurants and natural food retailers, where customers pay a premium price for animal welfare, most animal products come from factory farms. What can we really learn from label claims and certifications?