Unrestrained technology applied to animals, fueled by the desire for increased profit, exacts a price on human values, the environment, the health of consumers and the welfare of small farmers that we can no longer afford to pay. Mason and Singer address these problems and offer solutions in Animal Factories Update. Black-and-white photographs. Updated in 1990.
The Story Behind Animal Factories
In the early 1970s, I (Jim) worked part time doing research for Friends of Animals on Columbus Circle, New York City. After a couple of small jobs, the then-president and founder, Alice Herrington, asked me to write a pamphlet on factory farming. The only work on the subject at that time was Animal Machines by Ruth Harrison, published in 1964, and it covered only the issues in the United Kingdom. I went to the public library at first, then subscribed to magazines aimed at American animal farmers — publications with names such as Hog Farm Management, Broiler Industry, Dairy Herd Management, and Beef Today. Month by month, my eyes opened to the brave new world of animal farming–to things I could not have imagined when I was a farm boy during the 1940s and ’50s. Cruel economies of scale had replaced old-fashioned husbandry. It felt like I had stumbled onto something big, something terrible, and–the worst of it–nobody seemed to know about it. Or if they had heard anything about it, it was dismissed as unbelievable, impossible.
Then in May 1976, Friends of Animals (FoA) published a 24-page pamphlet entitled “Factory Farming.” The first line states: “Cruelty to animals is practiced on a larger scale by the food industry than by any other single sector of human activity.” The pamphlet included photographs of animals in factory farms. Some of them were taken by Peter Singer for his book, Animal Liberation, published the year before.
Once the initial shock of encountering modern factory farming settled down some, sheer outrage set in. Peter and I discussed it back and forth in our correspondence. Somewhere along in there, the idea of a new book came up — one that would thoroughly investigate and document factory farming in the United States. I contributed my farm experience and my growing mass of references from farming publications; Peter contributed his experience and contacts as a published author and his important suggestion that we load the new book with photographs of the animals and conditions in factory farms. Animal Factories was in the works by 1976, and, after months and thousands of miles of travels to see and photograph factory farms with photographer Joe Adreon Keller, we submitted our manuscript and 40-some photos to our publisher, Crown, now part of Random House, by 1979. Animal Factories was released to the public in June 1980.
The surest way to start working against factory farming is to stop consuming its products. You can refuse to eat ‘milk-fed’ veal, factory eggs, feedlot beef and other factory-farmed animal products. Of course, you can stop consuming animal products altogether, as is recommended by an increasing number of health experts. In either event, consumer demand can make a difference in that it will encourage independent farmers to seek the safest, most humane methods in animal production lest they destroy their markets.
Individual dietary changes will not be enough, however. While you get your food shopping, preparation and eating habits under control, you should work actively toward broader changes in agriculture and food policy. Since consumer demand affects food production, we should begin by making the following demands:
- Demand the prohibition of the use of antibiotics, growth pro-motants and other feed additives in animal agriculture. The Food and Drug Administration’s efforts to ban or regulate these drugs are under way, but they are being stymied by drug and agribusiness corporations. Without these shortcuts to genuine animal care and health, animal losses in crowded factories would be so great that factory systems and methods would not be profitable.
- Demand an end to the public subsidies that prop up factory farming. If society is to subsidize agriculture, it could make much better choices about the kinds of production to be supported and the kinds of food to be produced.
- Demand an end to tax-supported research and technological development of factory systems. The present funding scheme is one big boondoggle for drug and equipment manufacturers. Demand that this money and expertise be directed instead to work on farming methods that farmers can afford and manage, and ones that give consumers safe, wholesome food.
- Demand local markets and food co-operatives where farmers and consumers can trade directly. Every community has a square or park where space could be set aside for outdoor markets. Find the food co-operative in your community; if there is none, start one.
- Demand meatless meals and non-factory farm products from restaurants, hotels, airlines, caterers, school lunch services and all other public food outlets. Let them know that you are aware of where food comes from and that you are worried about food produced by factory methods.
- Demand labelling laws that will ensure the marking of all factory-produced animal products. (Don’t settle for a statement to the effect that the farming systems have been approved by an animal welfare organization; there are some that will rubber-stamp anythingjust to get their names around.)
- Demand that supermarkets and other food outlets separate factory and non-factory foods. (In the USA there is a precedent for this in state laws regulating the labelling and display of kosher foods and, in some states, ‘organic’ or chemical-free foods.)
- Demand a tax on meat and animal products that would provide funding to subsidize the production of other crops. This would be no more absurd than our present policy of subsidizing the production of what are essentially luxury foods. If people want to continue to prop up costly, risky animal production, they should have to pay a premium, and the premium could be channelled towards the support of better foods and production methods.
- Demand an end to meat industry propaganda in local schools; demand to know how nutrition is being taught to your children.
- Demand a change of government policy so that it puts good food and farm livelihood first. The present prevailing pro-agribusiness bias is a scandal that has driven millions of farmers from the land and has saturated consumers with junk food.
- Demand land reforms and zoning laws that would bring small, diversified farms closer to populated areas. Too large a proportion of the cost of food is attributable to transport, handling and profiteering as food moves from the farm to the consumer.
- Demand that food products be labelled to carry the name of the corporation that owns the brand line. This would expose the monopolism behind the myth of a competitive food industry — and the lie that your ham, eggs, milk, etc., come from good old Farmer Jones down on the farm.
- Demand an end to the animal products industries’ ‘check-offs’, which charge consumers and small farmers for advertising that props up our diet which is wasteful and weighted towards animal products.
Some of the genetic manipulations of higher productivity seem to work against factory farmers. In beef cattle, for example, the fastest gainers are not the most efficient converters of feed to flesh; slower gainers are more efficient because they eat less and waste less. Although chickens are laying more eggs than ever before, the eggs are different. Factory eggs now are smaller, with more white and less yolk than eggs produce a decade ago, they are also paler and more watery than eggs from barnyard chickens.
Many government and university scientists act as publicly supported inventors for industry. They develop a drug, machine, or system and then allow a company to turn it into a commercial product. Much of factory farming technology is developed in this way, and publicly supported scientists have no qualm about it. But they assure us that their tax-supported work to help agribusiness companies brings progress and improvement for everyone. Under such a system of technological development though, any benefit to farmers and consumers is coincidental rather than intentional. Agribusiness, not farmers or consumers, makes the vital decisions about what subjects should be investigated and what direction technology should take.
Today’s day-to-day cash requirements can hardly be met by traditional methods of animal farming, however. Thus begins the capital-expansion spiral into factory systems and methods. First, flock or herd size must be increased substantially if more money is to be made. But then labor requirements impose limitations unless the farmer can afford to invest in factory buildings and equipment. The expense will be prohibitive unless the farmer is willing to maintain a very large number of animals and push them through with factory-like speed and efficiency. As one expert puts it, ‘With a $1,000 investment per sow you want to get as many pigs out of the buildings as possible. It’s a far cry from a $50 individual house and some fencing used in the past.’
Animal industries are adopting other kinds of information control in reaction to attacks against animal agriculture for its wastefulness and for the health risks associated with its products. Confinement magazine indicates this defensiveness, claiming that ‘foods of animal origin are under continuing attack in this country by a broad army of uninformed physicians, misinformed media people and various health-food nuts.’
Animal factory technology seeks to increase productivity and efficiency in food accumulation. But when sows are routinely dosed with hormones and surgically scraped to extract greater productivity and efficiency in protein production, doesn’t one wonder whether this end might be better achieved in another way? When calves are forced into an anemic, neurotic condition just to satisfy the gourmet’s desire for pale flesh, increased productivity is not even the goal. Productivity for and catering to the whims of the market may be all right in the plastics or automobile industries, but it can be cruel and abusive when the factory methods is applied to animals. Moreover, one must challenge any claims of productivity and efficiency in a mode of agriculture that has inherent in it so great a waste of land and resources. As we have seen, there is no real human need being satisfied by these methods, just habits and appetites. The justification of necessity is frequently offered when our dealings with other animals are concerned, but the ‘necessity; so often turns out to be entirely unnecessary that one suspects it to be a tacit admission of our awareness that those dealings are morally indefensible.
Agriculture was a great advance for humans, but it spelled doom for much of the rest of the planet. Ten thousand years of human control over the soil has turned good land into deserts, monocultures, and weed patches. To feed ourselves — now  over 4 billion strong and bound to double early in the twenty-first century [note: 7 billion humans as of 2012] — we destroy ecosystems with bulldozers, plows, and pesticides. Other beings, their habitats destroyed, have neither food nor shelter. Those that survive by adapting to our crops become pests and targets for our poisons, traps, and guns.
Primarily, agriculture should provide people with a sensible, healthy diet. Our national agricultural policy should promote the kinds of farming that do so, and it should guarantee information, technology, and economic incentives to people who want to run these farms. There are many dedicated, progressive people in consumer, food, and farm organization and in the U.S. Department of Agriculture making efforts toward this sort of agricultural policy. But they are up against agribusiness interest who see agriculture primarily as a provider of profits and balancer of trade deficits. These interests control agriculture policy and technology, and they want to keep it that way. As the fray intensifies in the next few years, pro-food and farm people will need a lot of popular support. Consumers and farmers alike will be subjected to propaganda and threats of increased food prices from those who dominate farm and food policy. It will be necessary to go to some trouble to get information and analysis on the issues because newspapers and magazine, reliant as they are on food-establishment advertising, are not likely to be consistently objective.
“Estrus control will open the doors to factory hog production. Control of female cycles is the missing link to the assembly-line approach.” —Farm Journal, agribusiness magazine
Researchers at Virginia Polytechnic Institute suggest that poultry producers may soon be able to ‘use steroid drugs to block stress factors that interfere with optimum performance.’ Research of this kind is good news to drug and chemical companies that are only too happy to market these problem-solving additives. For stressed pigs, a company sells an additive for feed claimed to ‘stop tail-biting within 40 hours.’
“Forget the pig is an animal. Treat him just like a machine in a factory. Schedule treatments like you would lubrication. Breeding season like the first step in an assembly line. And marketing like the delivery of finished goods.” —Hog Farm Management, pork industry magazine
If we are to analyze the real efficiency of animals as food machines, then, we must add in all grain and other food energy spent in rearing and maintaining breeding animals and all losses resulting from infertility and deaths. When these are figured in, only about 17 percent of the usable grain or food energy fed to a dairy herd is recovered in milk, and only about 6 percent of that fed to a beef herd is recovered in edible meat.
“What we are really trying to do is modify the animal’s environment for maximum profit.” —Hog Farm Management, pork industry magazine
A visit to a milk-fed veal factory in northern Connecticut gave us a feel for the business of veal production. Although it was broad daylight outside, the calves’ rooms were pitch-dark. In two rooms, more than hundred calves were crated in rows of wooden stalls. Their eyes followed our movements; some appeared jittery, others lethargic. Many tried to stretch toward us from their stalls in an attempt to suckle a finger, a hand, or part of our clothing. The farmer explained: ‘They want their mothers, I guess.’
Our failure to accept animals as being entitled to ethical consideration in their own right is a barrier to any genuine sensibility in our relations with nature. We lose much that is dear in the process.
During the war [World War II] years, demand for poultry was high. The boom in the chicken business attracted the attention of the largest feed and pharmaceutical companies, and they put their experts to work on the new problems associated with large-scale production.
The breakthroughs to commercial production by factory methods began to come thick and fast. Burning off the tips of birds’ beaks was found to reduce losses from pecking and cannibalism. An automatic debeaking machine was patented, and it use became routine within a few years. Newly developed hybrid corn made chickens put on weight faster. Automatic, chain-driven feeders ended the chore of carrying feed to the birds. Automatic fans, lights, and other labor-saving equipment followed. A mechanical chicken-plucker with whirling, rubber-fingered drums increased processing capacity while lowering labor costs.
In the fifties and sixties, the major feed companies bought up most of these broiler operations, and major pharmaceutical companies began buying up breeding companies that were producing commercial chicken strains.
“Economic considerations also lead to severe crowding of animals in factories. Animal scientists have shown that the animal death rate increases as crowding increases but that these losses are insignificant compared to the much greater yield of meat or eggs per unit of space, labor, and overhead. In the earliest days of the broiler industry, when birds began to be raised indoors, ‘scientists went to work to determine the optimum amount of floor space needed per bird.’ The study of the economics of crowding had begun: dozens of experiments were reported over the next several years. They showed that reducing the floor space below one square foot per bird also reduced growth and feed conversion. But conflicting evidence showed that more pounds of chicken could be produce in a house when the birds were ‘crowded.’” —Broiler Industry
“We’ve got a huge investment; we can’t afford to let it sit idle. The building has to be working for us all the time. That means keeping it at capacity all the time.” —Farmer quoted in Farm Journal
After conception, sows are put in a ‘gestation’ building for about sixteen weeks. In this building, a sow shares a small pen with a few other pregnant sows, or, in newer systems, she is confined to an individual stall. In either event, she remains in her pen or stall for the entire sixteen weeks — all, so the experts say, to give the producer ‘better control’ over pregnant sows. In fact, the strict confinement creates a need for controls: to hold down stress and excitement, the rooms are kept dark except at feeding time; to hold down excessive weight gain (and feed bills) in the inactive sows, they are ‘limit fed’ once every two or three days.
The ‘controlled environment’ of the animal factory can be a hothouse of air pollution and airborne germs. Even with powerful ventilators working properly, the air of pig and poultry factories contains dust raised by mechanical feeders and excited animals. It is also full of ammonia and other irritating gasses from the manure pits. Because factory buildings are usually in use year-round and isolated from the cleansing effects of sunlight and rain, they develop what producers call ‘bacteria buildup.’ A producer may have relatively few health problems in a new factory building during the first year or two, but eventually the interior can become infested with a variety of disease-causing organisms. Farming magazines indicate that both pig and diary factories, for example, are plagued with diseases, some of which are aggravated by factory conditions.
Factory experts are puzzled by some health problems in factory animals for which they are unable to find precise causes. One condition common in layer operations is termed CLF, or Caged Layer Fatigue. According to Poultry Digest, birds with CLF withdraw minerals from their bones and muscles and eventually are unable to stand. These fatigued birds have brittle or broken bones and a pale, washed-out appearance in their eyes, combs, beaks, and feet. Another mystery is the ‘flip-over syndrome’ observed in bigger, faster-growing broiler birds. This condition ‘is characterized by birds jumping into the air, sometimes emitting a loud squawk and then falling over dead.’ Upon post mortem examination, the bird’s heart is full of blood clots, thought these are believed to be a result rather than a cause of death. At one of the boiler operation we visited in North Carolina, the operator had been losing several birds each day from this condition, which he called ‘heart attack.’ He told us that the problem is ‘in the birds — they grow too fast these days.’
“Stressful situations can be greatly reduced by feeding chemicals such as metyrapone or DDD (rothane) which reduce the production of corticosterone by the adrenals.” —Poultry ‘scientists’ quoted in Broiler Industry
If you’re not a vegetarian, you probably will be by the end of this book. It’s like a nightmare on paper. The book was a very informative read. Jim Mason and Peter Singer are two of the best sources for books on animal rights. It was appalling to read what happens to animals that are being raised for slaughter. Some of this book is difficult to stomach. While it may seem unbelievable, it is a true account. Male chicks are literally thrown in the garbage, others are debeaked with a hot iron, pigs are kept confined in tiny stalls, so tiny that they cannot turn around. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who think that this kind of abuse can’t possibly happen, but it does. This is a life-changing book.
Reviewer: Sandi, Ontario, Canada
Want to know what you’re eating?
I bought this book years ago and became a vegetarian after seeing how horribly the animals are treated and how wasteful meat production is. I don’t think there is anything worse than closing your eyes to what really goes on just so you don’t have to take action and possibly change your lifestyle. This book will open your eyes.
Reviewer: A reader, California
Very informative and many pictures
This book really opened my eyes to the conditions in which animals are being raised. Not only is it inhumane to the animals, but it is contaminating OUR food. It has many pictures, which I like, being a visual person. Read this book and you will find it very educational.
Reviewer: Sylvia Joy Swan, Chicago
This is the book that made me become a vegetarian
When I was first exploring the issue of eating meat vs. becoming vegetarian, a friend recommended this book. Mason and Singer look inside the world of modern factory farming, providing an unsentimental look at the reality behind your dinner. Even those who don’t give a damn about animals and their suffering will be alarmed at the information concerning what’s in animal feed and the conditions in meat production. An eye-opener.
Animal Factories — First Edition
IBSN-10: 051753844X; IBSN-13: 978-0517538449
Book (hardcover); Crown Publishers; 1980
9.2 x 6.2 x 1 inches; 174 Pages; $19.95
Animal Factories — Second Edition
IBSN-10: 0517577518; IBSN-13: 978-0517577516
Book (paperback); Three Rivers Press; September 1990, revised
8.9 x 5.9 inches; 240 Pages; $19.95
1980 hardcover original edition: 11,000 copies sold
1984 paperback: 36,000
1990 revised edition: 9,144