CONCENTRATION PRACTICES: A BRIEF OVERVIEW
American’s love for chicken, egg-laying hens, dairy cattle, calves (raised for veal), and pigs have resulted in the documented concentration practices within CAFOs for decades. Described as “scavenging conditions, with little attention to disease control, housing, or feed[ing],” animals in CAFOs are at the highest risk of endemic diseases due to their close contact with other livestock (11).
To illustrate this proximity, it’s advised that four egg-laying hens and chickens be placed into battery cages (Image 1)—identical cages connected together, in a unit, as in an artillery battery—but 5-10 chickens are more often crammed into this space instead, where each chicken has the amount of floor space equivalent to less than one sheet of letter size paper (12).
Egg-producing chicken are among the most abused livestock. To meet the demand for eggs, 280 million hens laid 77 billion eggs in battery cages like this in 2007 alone (12).
From hatching to slaughter, hens live in these cages for about 95% of their life, experiencing confinement, mutilation, and deprivation of natural social patterns (12).
As the hens grow, they are habitually pressed into the wire cages, which rubs against their body and leads to feather loss, bruises and abrasions (12).
In battery cages, it’s impossible for hens to spread their wings, and even the act of standing on wire is abrasive to their feet. Stress from overcrowding and agitation go hand-in-hand; it fosters aggressive behaviors that forces them to step on or peck each other, thereby inflicting new wounds, sores, and infections (12).
For dairy cattle, thousands can be packed into feedlots (i.e. zero-grazing opportunities), particularly in their last 3-4 months of feeding, where they are exclusively fed grains like corn (13). Feedlots are teeming with massive amounts of manure that can infect the cow’s hide with bacteria and seep into slaughterhouses and packaged foods if not properly dealt with at the facility (14). Furthermore, calves reared for veal are deprived from their mothers immediately upon birth and housed in veal crates for a majority of their lives (Image 2) (15).
Calves share an immediate bond with their mothers in natural herds, often remaining grazing partners years after maturation. On dairy farms, calves are forcibly removed from their mothers shortly after birth and raised in veal crates (15).
Maternally deprived, denied of natural sucking behavior, unexposed to natural sunlight, and subject to residing in their own urine and feces, these calves spend the rest of their days in veal crates, ranging from 22-30 inches wide by 58-66 inches long (16-18). Once slaughtered, contamination of just one calf has the potential to contaminate thousands of pounds of meat (19).
Growing pigs face much of the same: packed on bare, concrete and slatted floors, and live on top of their excrement (20). Pregnant sows spend their pregnancy in metal enclosures or gestation crates that severely limit movement (Image 3) (21). Discomfort is compounded by the development of abnormal behaviors due to social isolation, as well as the growth of skin lesions due to the lack of thermal protection and local/systemic cold stress (22).
Breeding sows are tightly confined within gestation crates, which are lined up row after row in large sheds. Like egg-laying chickens and newborn calves, pigs experience extreme confinement and stress throughout their existence. Naturally curious and intelligent, pigs are denied the opportunity to engage in their natural foraging and socializing behavior. Female pigs are first impregnated at seven months, and subsequently live through confined cycles of pregnancy, birth, and nursing until slaughtered. Gestation crate floors are composed of slats, which allows their waste to fall directly through. Again, just like egg-laying chickens and newborn calves, sows, too, have to live directly above pooling piles of manure. As a result, sows are exposed to high levels of ammonia, and associated respiratory disease by design (21).
Standing on slatted flooring can lead to excessive hoof injuries, damage to joints, and lameness, an abnormal gait or stance. Lameness can be observed in pigs that stand with their back arched, head tucked down (to reduce the weight on their feed), and all four feet tucked under their body (21).
Boredom and frustration of confinement are thought to be responsible for abnormal behaviors like repetitively biting at the bars of the crate or chewing with an empty mouth.
How did the traditional, time-honored practice of animal husbandry transform so drastically into the inhumane, rapid-growth cycle that CAFOs embody?
In short, consumer demand sparked a competitive producer response. As Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, writes, “The McNugget [of the early 1960s] helped change not only the American diet but also its system for raising and processing [its livestock].” The fast food industry had to revolutionize red meat and poultry processing in order to supply the demand for abundant and affordable animal proteins, which was an untapped market.
For the first time in human history, meat was no longer a luxury item only reserved for the wealthy—anyone could easily partake in this previously affluent culture, and there was substantial buy-in from the masses (23). As chains like McDonalds grew, consumers voted with their dollars, and the market listened. To meet the demand, the industry knew that their animals needed to grow rapidly in the smallest space and the fastest way possible in order to maximize profits. This explains why all cattle are fed corn in the last 4-5 months before being slaughtered (i.e. increasing weight gain and total fat content yields more product to sell).
Labelling of animal products such as “organic”, “grass-fed”, “pasture-raised”, “wild”, and “cage-free” have become popularized since customers want to continue imagining the best case scenario regarding farming practices. Unfortunately, these terms do not translate to what the reality actually is at the farm since consumers’ demand for animal protein remains increasingly high. Federal regulations and enforcement are extremely loose regarding these terms in animal farms since the incentive at the end of the day is to drive profits.
As long as consumers’ demand for animal protein continues to exponentially rise, the animal farming industry and government agencies have no real advantage to change practices even at the determinant of the environment and human health.
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Our expert team of integrative holistic practitioners work with patients suffering from chronic health concern. And we take it a step further. We understand how you fit into the environment around you. We help our patients reverse disease by better understanding how the body optimally functions and providing personalized treatment plan—a plan that removes a lot of the common food items that are making them sick. To learn more and book an appointment, contact Advanced Health or call 1-415-506-9393.