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Down on the Factory Farm

It's a life sentence for animals


Intensive animal agriculture means that more animals suffer now than at any time in human history. Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) statistics show that over 665 million factory-farmed animals were slaughtered in Canada in 2004. Behind these statistics are sentient beings.

Intensive animal agriculture means that more animals suffer now than at any time in human history. Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) statistics show that over 665 million factory-farmed animals were slaughtered in Canada in 2004. Behind these statistics are sentient beings.

Today, “Millions…of Americans are merrily eating away, unaware of the pain and disease they are taking into their bodies with every bite. We are ingesting nightmares for breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” said John Robbins in the introduction to his 1987 bestseller, Diet for a New America.

Twenty years later the situation is worse: the farm has literally become a factory. Economies of scale dictate what happens to animals and how they are treated.

Foul Conditions on the Farm

Chickens may well be the most abused animals on the planet, suffering both acute and chronic pain due to selective breeding, confinement, transportation, and slaughter.


Meat chickens, or broilers, live in huge indoor sheds in groups of 5,000 to 50,000, eating and sleeping in their own waste for their entire lives.

In 1950 it took 84 days for a broiler to reach market weight. Today it takes 38 to 40 days, according to Chicken Farmers of Canada. Although referred to by industry as “free-run” because they are not caged, the space and quality of their environment decreases as their size increases.

Broiler chickens endure a litany of ailments caused by their crowded conditions:

  • litter burn from their manure
  • respiratory problems from ammonia and dust particles
  • painfully weakened bones and circulatory problems from rapid weight gain

Battery Hens

Egg-laying chickens, or battery hens, spend their lives crammed in tiny wire cages–stacked like shipping crates–with four to six others, each hen living in a space smaller than this page. Windowless sheds contain thousands of hens that breathe toxic air.

In addition, battery hens endure

  • calcium leaching from their bodies from excessive egg production of approximately 320 eggs per year;
  • having part of their beaks seared off, often causing chronic pain, to prevent them pecking each other due to aggression from extreme crowding;
  • bones so brittle they can snap, making transport and slaughter a nightmare.


As with chickens, turkeys in the wild would naturally forage in the fresh air for most of the day, seeking out grains, seeds, worms, and insects. On factory farms, however, they have almost no opportunity for natural behaviours.

Raised indoors in huge, crowded barns, turkeys often suffer from

  • painful lameness
  • foot ulcerations
  • heart and respiratory problems

Genetically selected for large breasts, turkeys now walk on their toes, with a subsequent increase in leg problems, and can no longer breed naturally.

Too Many Pigs in a Poke

Over 17 million hogs are produced in Canada each year. Although the total number of farms has decreased, the average number of pigs on each farm has increased exponentially–from 177 in 1981 to 902 in 2001.

Massive hog barns house up to 5,000 pigs in crowded pens. Stress from overcrowding creates aggression and boredom, so most pigs have their tails cut off to prevent tail-biting.

Breeding sows are confined for almost their entire reproductive lives in stalls that are just slightly bigger than the sows themselves. They eat, sleep, and defecate in the same space; their manure falls through slatted floors to a cesspool beneath.

In nature, pigs spend their time foraging and rooting for food; in crates, they cannot turn around or move more than one step in any direction. This results in

  • lameness
  • foot injuries
  • weakened bones
  • abrasions.

Out of sheer boredom, pigs confined to crates perform repetitive behaviours such as bar-biting and attempting to root at the concrete floor–symptoms of severe psychological suffering, according to experts.

Where’s the Beef?

Out in the pasture–but only for part of the time. For the last 60 to 120 days of their lives, beef cattle live in feedlots of up to 40,000 animals. Standing in steaming piles of manure and fitted with growth-hormone ear implants, they are fed mostly grain to increase their market weight and meat marbling.

This can wreak havoc on ruminants’ digestive systems, which are more suited for grass, creating painful bloating and severe discomfort.

It has also been blamed for virulent E. coli O157:H7, which can contaminate meat at slaughter. Contaminated manure used to fertilize fruits and vegetables increases the public health threat.

The Long Journey

Animals that survive the farm must then endure further suffering–and sometimes death–during transport to slaughter. Transport regulations under the federal Health of Animals Act are inadequate and poorly enforced, with only spot checks on Canada’s highways. Violations such as inadequate bedding, surpassed time limits, and lack of protection from weather routinely go unnoticed.

Animal compartments of transport trucks are rarely equipped to deal with weather extremes, and in Canada’s varied climate, animals are routinely exposed to searing heat and vicious cold. Undercover film footage obtained in 2004 by the German organization, Animals’ Angels, showed severely stressed animals suffering from frozen skin, thirst, overheating, and trampling injuries due to overcrowding.

Loading and unloading can involve excessive electric prodding and kicking of large, uncooperative animals. To save time and money when preparing for transit, chickens are grabbed by the legs and pitched into transport drawers that are stacked on trucks to offload at the slaughterhouse.

Transporting pigs, horses, and chickens can mean travelling without food, water, or rest for 36 hours, bovines for up to 52 hours–all within the law. However, according to a 2002 report by Alberta Farm Animal Care, spent or unproductive dairy cows can spend up to three weeks in transit since economics dictates that only full loads are worth taking to the slaughterhouse.

The End of the Road

Many of us have toured a winery or fruit-processing plant, but how many of us have toured an abattoir? The public is excluded from the final process of turning living animals into neat, bloodless packages devoid of identifiable body parts–it’s not a pretty PR picture.

Mammals are supposed to be rendered unconscious before being hoisted and having their throats slit. The method used to stun cattle can deliver a blow so strong that brain matter is often driven into muscle tissue, a serious concern for the spread of mad cow disease.

However, unconsciousness is not always achieved. A 2002/2003 audit of Canadian slaughterhouses by Dr. Temple Grandin, professor of animal science at Colorado State University, revealed conscious cattle hanging upside down and bellowing as workers attempted to slit their throats.

Poultry, on the other hand, are hung upside down by metal shackles before stunning–a painful practice according to Dr. Mohan Raj, a poultry scientist at the University of Bristol, who cites “inevitable stress, pain, and trauma.”

Before throat-slitting, the birds’ heads are dragged through an electrical stunning “bath”; if wings make contact with the water, birds are subjected to painful pre-stun electric shocks. Some birds are not properly stunned, resulting in birds entering the scalding tank (for feather removal) fully conscious.

Do You Still Eat Meat?

While buying meat may seem like an inexpensive way to get enough protein in our diets, the associated costs–avian influenza, BSE, antibiotic resistance, environmental pollution, and institutionalized animal cruelty–should give us pause. Factory farming is bad for humans, the environment, and for the animals themselves.

If you choose to eat meat, check your health food store for organic or humane-certified products that usually have higher, audited welfare standards. Better yet, go vegetarian.

Factory Farming Facts

Intensive industrial agriculture, or factory farming, blossomed in the 1940s when the discovery of antibiotics coupled with the use of vitamin supplements allowed larger numbers of animals to be packed into smaller spaces with a much-reduced incidence of disease.

Farmers began to specialize in chicken meat and eggs, discovering the economic advantages of cramming thousands of animals into a confined space. Scientific “progress” by breeding, drug, and equipment companies extended the mass production concept to pigs, dairy cows, turkeys, and geese, reducing them to mere production units.

Three Sentient Truths

  1. BC SPCA and Winnipeg Humane Society (WHS) humane-certified meat, dairy, and eggs comply with standards for the handling of farm animals that go beyond “accepted practice.”
  2. Animal “welfarists” believe eating animals is acceptable, if the animals are treated humanely. Animal “rightists” believe that eating animals is inherently wrong as it denies their basic right to life.
  3. You will save more animal lives in a year by giving up eating chicken and turkey than you would in 90 years of not eating pigs or 300 years of not eating cows!


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