Factory Farms: Health Harms

Sasha Rivera, Asst. Editorial Editor

With a population of 300 million, the United States has turned to factory farms to mass-produce food, now practiced by the top food-production companies in America, such as Tyson and Butterball. However, undercover investigations have discovered filthy conditions and animal abuse in these facilities. With food-filled holidays like Thanksgiving approaching, people need to take a closer look at where their food comes from, for the sake of animal welfare and their own health.

Factory farming is the intensive, industrial production of livestock, poultry and fish to make meat, dairy products, and eggs. The main practice in industrial farming is confinement at high stocking density, or tightly caging a large quantity of the animals. So that the animals do not waste energy fighting disease, they are given doses of antibiotics in their feed every day and anabolic steroids to stimulate growth.

In 2011 in Iowa, Minnesota, and Colorado, Mercy for Animals, a non-profit animal advocacy organization, conducted an undercover investigation of Sparboe Farms, which supplies eggs to companies like McDonald’s and Target. The hens were crammed into tight battery cages, and the dead birds were not removed, but left to rot in the cages with the egg-laying hens. The workers burned the beaks off of baby chicks without painkillers, threw live birds into plastic bags and left them to suffocate. The investigation received widespread media coverage and the corporations discontinued their contracts with the supplier.

In June, MFA posted a video of another undercover investigation, this time at the Butterball turkey hatchery in North Carolina. The video displayed horrific abuse that the turkeys undergo at the facility. Baby turkeys were stuck on conveyor belts and injured by equipment, thrown, dropped, and mishandled by employees. According to ABC11, a North Carolina news website, Mercy for Animals claims that the baby birds are “routinely mutilated without painkillers and ground up alive in a macerating machine.” The video also showed abuse towards adult turkeys, in which employees would kick the birds and drag them by their wings, with many left bleeding and without veterinary care.

“We are committed to the ethical and responsible care of our turkey poults and have a zero-tolerance policy for any animal mistreatment … Experts agree the video does not depict any willful acts of negligence or mistreatment,” said Butterball in a statement released to ABC11. However, just from watching the videos and seeing deliberate cruelty from the employees towards the animals, it is easy to see that the statement is far from the truth.

Factory farming is also detrimental to human health from the antibiotics and hormones injected into the animals, as well as the spread of disease. Every year, 80 percent of U.S. produced antibiotics are given to farm animals. These antibiotics leave drug-resistant microbes in meat and milk that settle in the stomach and create a drug-resistance to the antibiotics that humans take, making it difficult to fight treatable infections. The U.S. currently spends $30 million annually on treating these issues.

Industrial dairy farms use rBGH, a bovine growth hormone, on dairy cows to increase milk production. In a 1991 study at the University of Vermont, cows injected with rBGH developed mastitis, an udder infection that causes blood and pus to be secreted into the milk. The use of the hormone increases the risk of mastitis by 25%. This milk also contains higher levels of Insulin Growth Factor -1, which are linked to breast and colon cancer.

It is important to be an educated consumer and know where your food is coming from because by making the wiser choice of organic meat products, you are supporting animal welfare and improving your health. Organic products are the better option because the animals are properly cared for and they do not contain pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, or steroids. This Thanksgiving, think twice before buying that Butterball turkey.