Factory Farming vs The Lucky 3% | St. Lawrence University Sustainability Program

Factory Farming vs The Lucky 3%

Monday, October 30, 2017

I was not directly involved with helping board the pigs onto the trailer on their final morning. I was on the peripherals of the activity, getting my final glimpses of the two unnamed swine while I was finishing up morning chores. Nevertheless, it provoked thought regarding how we get meat and made me realize I only have a vague understanding of the industrialized alternative to this form: factory farming. Thus, I want to dedicate this blog exploring the dynamics of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) for pigs.

            Historically, CAFOs had a quick period of expansion that consumed small scale farms during the 1980’s. CAFOs are fewer in number, but much larger in size. They are defined as an area that confines the designated animal for 45 days or more in a year. Since they can hold up to 2,500 pigs weighing 55lbs or more CAFOs are promoted as a cheap, efficient way to support our societal rates of food consumption. Today, there are 66 million pigs raised for food in the United States and the vast majority of them (97%) find themselves in one of these factory farms.  

            Various factors contribute to the bleakness and bluntly inhumane existence of these pigs in CAFOs. They live in small, confined spaces that have are metal grate floor where all their excretion goes. For sows (females that produce piglets) the places they live their entire lives are even smaller, so much so that they are unable to turn around. Further, they are fed constant low-level antibiotics to prevent the ammonia and other poison gases that accumulate from the environmentally detrimental and inefficient system of waste disposal.  Although, often this strategy leads to the strains of bacteria becoming resistant which has health implications for them and the people that consume them. In 6 months of life without light, ability to move, and prevalent disease they are slaughtered.

Overall, there are ethical, environmental and health reasons to not support CAFOs. This puts into perspective the quality of the lives of the two pigs that were raised on our sustainability site. I admit, I felt like I couldn’t look at the pigs days prior to their slaughter, but becoming more aware of how industrial farms treat their animals in comparison eases my conscious. Most of the CAFOs I have encountered seem to be in the south like North Carolina where it is reported there are more pigs then people, but I want to conclude by noting the presence of CAFOs in New York State in which there are more than 500. Yet, given our economics they mainly consist of dairy cows and not pigs.

Sources used in composition of this piece: