Animal Rights: History and Scope of a Radical Social Movement

By Harold D. Guither | Go to book overview

7
Intensive Animal Production: Efficient, Low-Cost Food or a Violation of Animals' Rights?

Confinement production of livestock and poultry has generated a major conflict between
the meat, dairy, and poultry industries and reformist animal welfare and abolitionist ani-
mal rights groups. Animal activists identify this intensive production as factory farming.
They claim animal crowding, suffering, and environmental degradation. Reformists have
called for more space and alternative practices to make production more humane. Aboli-
tionists call for an end to intensive production. In response, animal industry groups have
supported research to measure stress and reduce it whenever possible.


The Setting

A nimal products contribute about three-quarters of the protein and one-third of the food energy in the American diet. Consumers spent $244 billion on meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products in 1993, or about half of the $491 billion they spent on all domestically produced foods.1

US farmers and ranchers received $88.1 billion in 1994 from the sale of animals and animal products, about half the value of all agricultural products marketed, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

Before World War II, most food animals and poultry were produced in relatively small-scale enterprises, often outside, except during extremely unfavorable weather. Intensive confinement methods, using more capital and less labor, have transformed meat, dairy, and poultry production into what animal activists call factory farming.

Food animal and poultry producers have adopted modern intensive production because they can produce more product with less labor and usually at lower cost. They believe that they are treating their animals humanely when the animals gain weight, appear healthy and free of disease, and are protected from rain, snow, and extreme cold and heat.

Critics see modern meat, dairy, and poultry production much differently. Their

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