The Analysis and Critique of Animal Factories

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The reality of the modern animal factory presents a sharp and clear contrast to the types of country-dwelling farms that most people like to think of. The truth is, these stereotypical modern day farms are slowly being replaced with towering animal factories. There are no pastures, streams, or sounds of nature inside these factories. Inside these desolate factories, the changing of seasons cannot be observed, nor are there signs of sunlight to differentiate between day and night. Jim Mason and Peter Singer’s book, Animal Factories, has raised a storm of controversy since its original publication in 1980.

In this book, Mason and Singer address the issues involving the change in agriculture, the environment, the health of consumers, and the welfare of animals in agribusiness. First, Mason and Singer discuss many of the problems that have grown from the transition to animal factories. One of the first topics covered in their book is the extreme change that agriculture has seen since animal factories have grown in number. Mason and Singer state that big farms are getting bigger, while the number of farms is declining. This means that the very few, but largest agribusiness companies have taken control of the market.

According to the two authors, the increasingly capital-intensive industry has caused very few firms to gain control of the market. This statement is entirely true and is supported by several statistics and scientific findings. For instance, over 90% of broiling chickens are produced by just fifty of the largest agribusiness companies in the United States [1]. Last, less than thirty large agribusiness companies control all egg production in the United States [2]. Another example is that at the start of the 1940’s there were 6 million farms with a labor force just shy of 11 million in the United States.

During the first years of the 1980’s there were only 2. 7 million farms with a labor force of only four million workers, a dramatic decline from the 1940’s [3]. Last, a specific example lies in the state of Texas, where the largest cattle operations make up less than 5% of all farms in the state, yet they dominate the industry by controlling almost half of the state’s total cattle production [4]. In addition, Mason and Singer cover many of the problems and consequences of the new factory farming methods. Animal Factories discusses factory hazards, waste, pollution, and diseases associated with factory farming.

First, with regards to diseases that are directly related to factory farming, Mason and Singer argue that the controlled environment of an animal factory is a perfect home for pollution and airborne germs. Since these factories are in use all year and are isolated from sunlight, wind, and rain, bacteria can build up rather easily. Science supports these claims made by Mason and Singer. For instance, 15-20% of calves are lost to disease or infection on the average dairy farm. In rare cases, losses can even reach up to 40-50% [5].

Not only are the animals at a high risk of disease, but the humans that work in animal factories are also exposed to these same diseases. For example, around 20% of swine confinement workers suffer from organic dust toxic syndrome, an acute influenza-like illness [6]. Mason and Singer also mention the negative effects of factory waste, such as manure; saying that animal excretions can often be harmful is confined spaces. They also argue that our capacity for storing waste will soon be exceeded. In support of this, manure is composed of many chemicals like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide [7].

In addition, the odor of swine manure is a combination of approximately 121 different compounds, some of which can be very harmful to both humans and animals [8]. Also, science supports Mason and Singer’s concern about the hazards of waste and pollution in animal factories and how animal agriculture is the greatest producer of sewage waste in the United States. For example, broiler hens generate nearly 5. 8 tons of manure per year per 1,000 birds, each excreting up to 18 pounds of manure per year [9]. Once again, using the specific example of Texas, 14. million cattle produce approximately 676 million pounds of fresh manure in the state.

This translates into an estimated 247 billion pounds of waste per year that must be handled by Texas cattle facilities [9]. Next, in addition to approximately 17. 4 million laying hens, Texas poultry facilities produced an average of 480 million broilers in 1998, with each broiler and laying hen producing approximately 62 and 95 pounds of fresh manure per year, respectively. The Texas poultry industry alone generates almost 31. 4 billion pounds of chicken waste each year [9].

A caged layer composed of 60,000 birds produces around 82 tons of manure each week. In addition, 2,000 swine produce nearly 27 tons of manure and 32 tons of urine in a typical factory. All in all, farm animals in the United States produce an equivalent of more than ten times the human population in tons of manure each year, 50% of which come from confinement operations [10]. Last, Mason and Singer’s book, Animal Factories, presents several ethical issues such as the practices of debeaking and the use of battery cages in factories.

The first ethical issue covered in Animal Factories is the use of battery cages. Mason and Singer claim that the use of battery cages to house egg-laying hens is a practice that has negative consequences. For example, the tibia has been shown to be up to 41% stronger in floor-housed hens than in caged birds [11]. Finally, with regards to debeaking, Mason and Singer argue that many beaks are sloppily cut. They state that even if the beaks are cut properly, it is a painful process that affects the birds’ health in the future.

In support of this, a bird’s beak contains nociceptors, which sense pain and noxious stimuli [12]. When a bird’s beak is trimmed, the nociceptors are excited. Following debeaking, the nociceptors show abnormal patterns of neural discharge, which can be interpreted as acute pain and discomfort. But, the tangled axons, called neuromas, eventually heal and the acute pain no longer persists [13]. Jim Mason and Peter Singer’s book, Animal Factories, is a very accurate and interesting book that is comprised of many arguments against animal factories, which are heavily supported by scientific research and findings.

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