The Tragedy of Factory Farming

March 10, 2021

Animals are not simply a food source for us humans

Factory farming exists because we believe animals exist only for our use.  There is some recognition that farm and other animals are ‘sentient beings’ but this is not enough.  Animals are our fellow creatures. We must recognise a sense of equality.  

(It should be noted that the UK government, so boastful of its good animal welfare standards, no longer even recognises animals as ‘sentient beings’ post-Brexit. Is this a fabled post-Brexit dividend, the legal right to treat animals as machines?)

I think we will look back on these decades in which industrial farming has flourished as a time of extraordinary and unbelievable cruelty.  We will judge harshly the generations of humans that allowed, indeed profited from, factory farming. We will condemn them.

In a lecture today on factory farming and the link to pandemics, Peter Stevenson[1] argued that the reason factory farming continues to flourish, despite its many disadvantages for human health, is our common belief that it is both necessary (to feed us all) and efficient (best way to produce enough food for the 9.8 billion humans on the planet by 2050).

These, said Stevenson, are the twin myths of industrial farming.  

We already produce enough food for the projected 9.8 billion of us, yet some 60% is lost, through wasteful practices, over-consumption and the use of ‘human edibles’ to feed animals who convert these edibles into meat and milk. And these ‘edibles’? – they are the cereals and grains that are grown increasingly on land that encroaches on wild habitats.

And the system is inefficient.  Conversion from cereal to meat offers less protein, less energy than if the animal link in the chain were cut out completely and humans just ate the cereals and grains.  However, the argument is not that everyone should become vegan or vegetarian.  The argument is that ignorance kills.

The lies of ‘cheap food’ and ‘consumer demand’ depend upon environmental destruction and degradation of human health. Why on earth would we seek to damage both ourselves and the planet we live on and take for granted?

This is what we have chosen because we can’t distinguish between lies and truth anymore.

  • If you knew that all male chicks are destroyed via suffocation or maceration;
  • If you knew that male dairy calves are slaughtered just after birth;
  • If you knew that broiler chickens are grown to their slaughter weight in 35 days, yet are kept alive beyond that date on a starvation diet until slaughter time;
  • If you knew that dairy cows are worn out after four lactations;
  • If you knew that sows have been bred to produce more piglets than they have teats (currently 17 to a litter in Denmark);
  • If you knew that piglets have their teeth ground down without pain relief in order to stop them biting in frustration at not finding a teat;
  • If you knew that this kind of mechanistic approach to farming provided a terrific breeding ground for pathogens and hence, disease;
  • If you knew that viruses just love overcrowded animal sheds;

…would you still believe in the ‘efficiency’ and ‘necessity’ of factory farming?


In order to find out how we have come to this – surprise, surprise – you only have to follow the money.

There is much of it to be made in a host of manufacturing industries: pesticides; making and designing farm machinery – the crates and cages in which we like to imprison animals; creating animal antibiotics to combat diseases caused by poor farming practices; genetically modifying animal breeds that will grow fast and give birth to greater numbers; and more.

And whose money supports these factory farming practices? Why, we need look no further than the financial institutions, the banks.


Is this what we want? Do we have to be vegan to contribute to improving how we look after ourselves, our fellow creatures and our planet, our home?  Not necessarily. But we have a duty to know what we are doing and why. It is our behaviour that can put an end to factory farming. We must recognise the harm and the unbearable suffering we are causing. We must recognise that each animal is as individual as each human.

Look into a fellow creature’s eyes. What do you see?

[1] Peter Stevenson, Compassion in World Farming. (10 March, 2021).  Factory farming – portal to pandemics? Lecture at University of Winchester.

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