(Clicking any of the underlined text in blue will take you to a reference on it.)
The documentary “Food Inc.” introduced many to the realities of how the chicken, beef, pork, eggs, milk and other high-protein foods we consume at home and in restaurants are produced. The food industry turns out huge volumes of animal products much more efficiently than it did 50 years ago. The “factory farm” has become the industry norm, and it is clear that Americans would not enjoy our usual abundance at the grocery store without the mass production innovations that have occurred since the 1920s.Wikipedia’s abridged definition:
Factory farming is the process of raising livestock in confinement at high stocking density, where a farm operates as a factory — a practice typical in industrial farming by agribusinesses. The main products of this industry are meat, milk and eggs for human consumption. However, there have been issues regarding whether factory farming is sustainable and ethical. Confinement at high stocking density is part of a systematic effort to produce the highest output at the lowest cost by relying on economies of scale, modern machinery, biotechnology, and global trade. Keeping animals in very cramped conditions requires antibiotics and pesticides to mitigate the spread of disease.
The factory farm model fits the worldview that society can and should use everything in the natural world to further human ends without giving weight to considerations beyond human survival and comfort. It’s a well-established philosophy consistent with the Judeo-Christian concept of “dominion” from Genesis (1:20-28), where man is given “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” This is also called anthropocentric environmentalism, that which is concerned with conservation of the environment only for exploitation by humans, for human purposes.
There are negative effects from raising thousands of animals in very tight quarters, without exercise, and sometimes in all-day darkness. I’m no expert of chicken happiness, but I bet that chickens raised in the dark with beaks cut off so they can’t peck their neighbors are worse off than the “free range” chickens I chased around my grandparents’ farm in the 1950s. Under the “dominion” concept, animal welfare will yield to human convenience every time, but treating animals as we do in factory farms also has some inconvenient effects on people. Odors, water pollution, health effects from consumption of antibiotic-ladden meat and other minuses enter the equation, particularly in the factory farms’ neighborhoods.
Some reject the “subdue the Earth” concept which values nature solely for its services to man in favor of a “deep ecology” asserting that animals and all living beings have inherent worth we should respect, regardless of their short-term ability to satisfy human needs. Deep ecology argues that the natural world is a subtle balance of complex inter-relationships in which the existence of each organism depends on the existence of others within ecosystems. From that perspective, destructive interference with the natural world threatens humans as well as all other organisms.
We will have factory farms so long as Americans continue to eat as we do now. Industrial farms can be made less cruel to animals and healthier for human consumers, but farm operators will resist changes that cost them money. A few days ago the Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed with a corporation’s legal attacks against a town’s efforts to set conditions on the farm’s expansion to 4,000 cows. Wisconsin’s top court said that local communities could not regulate farms any stricter than what the state had already done, even though the town would experience the pollution caused by 4,000 cattle crowded onto a farm.