Piglets crowd one another in filth on a factory farm.

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / Essere Animali

The Issues

Factory Farming

Piglets crowd one another in filth on a factory farm.

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / Essere Animali

Nearly 10 billion animals are killed for human consumption each year in the United States. 99% are raised on factory farms, which maximize agribusiness profits at the expense of the animals, the environment, social justice, and public health.
Nikki pig with her piglets at Farm Sanctuary. Graphic content warning on image.

VIDEO 11:10

What Came Before, featuring Steve-O: The Truth About Meat and Modern Farms

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[MUSIC PLAYING] I want to introduce you to someone. When devastating floods hit Iowa, Nikki was washed away from a factory farm. Nikki swam for miles before making her way to a levee where she built a nest, gave birth to seven piglets, and spent the next week protecting them from the flood.

Hi, I'm Stevo. Pigs like Nikki are some of the smartest animals on Earth-- even smarter than the dogs and cats, we live with. Like dolphins and elephants, pigs understand how mirrors work. And like some primates, they've even been taught to play simple video games.

Nikki has dreams when she sleeps at night, and her piglets understand their names and respond when called. Like dogs, pigs are loyal and affectionate, and they love a good belly rub. As terrible as the flood was for Nikki and her babies, it actually saved their lives, because what came before it was even worse.

At a nearby factory farm, Nikki had spent her entire life locked in a metal cage so small she could barely move. Pigs like Nikki are raised in such cramped conditions that they often go insane from stress, abuse, and lack of mental stimulation.

On that farm, Nikki's piglets would have been taken away from her just weeks after they were born.


They would have been castrated and had their tails chopped off, all without pain relief. If they were sick or if they didn't grow fast enough, they would have been killed by being slammed headfirst into the ground or by being tossed into bins and gassed to death. All of this is standard in the pork industry.

Older piglets are crammed into filthy pens. They never spend a day outdoors. They never feel the sun on their backs or grass beneath their feet. At just six months old, they're stuffed onto transport trucks and shipped to slaughter plants where they're hung upside down, stunned with electrical tongs, and have their throats slit.

The sad reality is that nearly all farms--


--whether large or small, local or distant, treat pigs like Nikki with incredible cruelty.

That's why I stopped eating meat. And it was so easy, it's ridiculous. There are delicious, meat-free alternatives to anything you can eat, and they're way healthier. Cutting cruelty out of my diet has benefited every area of my life. I feel so much better physically, mentally, and spiritually. It's amazing.

If you make the same choice, every year, you will personally spare 31 animals like Nikki from a life of daily misery, and you'll be in good company. About 15 million Americans have decided to ditch meat entirely, and many more are eating less meat. According to the American Dietetic Association, there are a lot of health benefits to going meat-free. Bottom line-- a cruel diet is bad for your body, and a kind diet is good for your body.

But now, let me introduce you to someone else. Symphony was one of millions of egg-laying hens confined on a single farm in Ohio. Symphony's life was also saved by a natural disaster. Tornadoes demolished the dark warehouse she was kept in, and Farm Sanctuary volunteers rescued her from the wreckage.

Chickens like Symphony are intelligent, unique individuals with personalities every bit as varied as those of dogs and cats. Scientists have found that chickens like Symphony can anticipate the future, and that they pass knowledge down to their children.

Sadly, actions that would be felony animal cruelty if done to dogs or cats are perfectly legal when done to Symphony and other farm animals. At the hatchery, egg industry workers quickly separate the male chickens from the females. Because male chicks don't lay eggs, they're not useful to farmers, and so they're killed on the first day of their lives.

If Symphony had been a boy, she would not be alive today. Her tiny body would have been crushed by being tossed, alive and fully conscious, into a giant grinding machine. This is standard practice in the industry.

But what was in store for Symphony was even worse. First, part of Symphony's sensitive beak was sliced off. Then, she was packed into a wire cage so small, she could barely move. Until her rescue, she had probably never even fully spread her wings. Chickens like Symphony often lose their feathers from constantly rubbing against the metal bars, and their feet become crippled by the wire flooring.

Chickens and turkeys raised from meat have been genetically selected to grow so large that they often suffer heart attacks, crippling leg disorders, and chronic pain. Like most farm animals, they get no individual veterinary attention. Instead, the sick bird will slowly suffer to dead on the floor of the barns. A worker might also break her neck or club her to death if she becomes sick.

There are no laws that effectively protect the welfare of chickens and turkeys at the slaughter plant. This footage was taken at a small, organic, free-range chicken farm that invited filmmakers in to take video. Even at the very best farms, the treatment of animals is far from humane. Few of us would want to subject Symphony to a horrible death like this one.


By leaving chicken off your plate, you can spare 31 animals like Symphony each year from this cruelty.

Lastly, let me introduce you to Fanny. At just four years old, Fanny was so sick and crippled from her life on a farm that she was unable to even stand before being rescued and brought to Farm Sanctuary. Cows like Fanny are intelligent. They remember faces for years. And when they solve a problem, they'll sometimes jump in the air with excitement. Like other cows, Fanny has a best friend and a group that she prefers to hang out with.

Sadly, on today's farms, cows endure mutilations without pain relief, including dehorning, having their tails cut off, castration, and branding with a hot iron. Female cows like Fanny, including those on organic and local farms, spend most of their entire lives standing on filthy concrete floors or crammed into small mud lots.

All of the footage you're seeing represents the standard treatment of animals on today's farms.

Pigs, cows, and chickens aren't the only ones who endure unnecessary suffering for the sake of our taste buds. Scientific studies have made it clear that fish feel pain and suffer like other animals. They just don't have the vocal cords to scream.

Marine biologists tell us that fish are also intelligent and unique individuals who can be highly social. They sometimes eavesdrop to pick up new information, and they will often rub gently against one another for pleasure, just like a cat rubbing against your leg.

Yet fish endure unimaginable cruelty. As they're dragged up from the water, the intense change in pressure can rupture their swim bladder or cause their eyes to pop out of their head. Many are cut into pieces while still fully conscious.

The massive trawler nets used to catch wild fish also catch and kill millions of dolphins, turtles, and other animals each year. Today, many fish are confined on fish farms-- crowded, feces-filled pools where they're packed so tightly together that they can barely move around.

I hope that you'll remember Nikki. She's every bit as intelligent, affectionate, and able to feel pain as the cats and dogs we live with. You wouldn't personally do any of the things you saw in this video to Nikki, Symphony, Fanny, or any other animal, so I'm sure you don't want to pay others to hurt them for you.

Each of us can choose to leave Nikki and other animals off our plates and replace them with delicious, animal-free foods that we already know and love. By making this choice, every year, you will personally spare 31 individuals like Nikki from a lifetime of misery. And it's easier than ever. There are meat-free items in every country store and in many restaurant chains as well.

Ethnic restaurants like Chinese, Mexican, Italian, and Thai offer delicious, meat-free options. And I'm here to help. Meal suggestions, recipes, and other information to help you make the switch are just a click away. On behalf of Nikki, Fanny, Symphony, and every other animal at Farm Sanctuary, thank you.

VIDEO 11:10

What Came Before, featuring Steve-O: The Truth About Meat and Modern Farms

Warning: The video above contains graphic content which some people may find disturbing.

Far from the idyllic, spacious pastures that are shown in advertisements for meat, milk, and eggs, factory farms typically consist of large numbers of animals being raised in extreme confinement. Animal agriculture is an inherently cruel and exploitative practice. From birth to slaughter, animals on factory farms are regarded as commodities to be used for profit. They undergo painful mutilations and are bred to grow unnaturally fast and large for the purpose of maximizing meat, egg, and milk production for the food industry. Their bodies cannot support this growth, which results in debilitating and painful conditions and deformities. They are separated from their families, and are only allowed to live a small fraction of their natural lifespans before being sent to slaughter.

The factory farming industry also puts incredible strain on natural resources such as land, water, and fossil fuel, and is a leading cause of climate change, land degradation, species loss, and water pollution and waste. Oftentimes factory farms are in low-income communities of color. Their employees often work long hours, suffer from a high risk of injury, and are paid minimally. Neighboring community members experience various health ailments because of careless and harmful practices of these facilities. The unnatural feeds, hormones, excessive quantities of antibiotics, and overcrowded, unsanitary conditions on factory farms put the human population at risk for chronic disease, obesity, and drug-resistant bacteria, while posing the threat of major zoonotic disease outbreaks.

A Brief History of Factory Farming

9,000 to 8,000 BCE

Hunting and gathering was Homo sapiens’ food system for almost 90 percent of human history. Following the last ice age, a changing climate offered favorable conditions for the dawn of agriculture, and humans in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East began domesticating wild animals – ancestors of domestic sheep, goats, cows, and pigs. In the following millenia, agriculture spread and independently arose across the world, leading to a shift from hunter-gatherer to agrarian societies.


Following Christopher Columbus’ first voyage to the Americas in 1492, European colonists brought people they enslaved to the New World, as well as diseases and animals, in what is known as the Columbian Exchange. The initial eight pigs, twenty-five horses, and other animal species brought by Columbus and subsequent voyages became populations of millions of new animals in the Americas in a matter of decades.

16th century

Colonial society in the Americas became economically dependent on a livestock-based farming model, in contrast to indigenous people’s traditional relationship to food, being far less centered on domesticated animals. This livestock-based farming model required extensive use of land and was a driving force in further colonization and expansion.

17th century

The middle of the 17th century in Britain saw the start of a progression of discoveries and innovations known as the British Agricultural Revolution. Among these changes was the widespread adoption of a more intensive crop rotation system, which in turn increased productivity and made it feasible to feed and produce larger numbers of animals.

18th to 19th centuries

The Industrial Revolution – a period which emphasized increasing profit and productivity – saw the innovation of technologies for mass production and set the stage for the future industrialization of animal agriculture. Agriculturalists Robert Bakewell and Thomas Coke developed selective breeding of animals in agriculture, creating sheep who grow unnaturally long wool and cows who grow unnaturally large.


After seven weeks going undercover at meat processing plants in Chicago, Illinois, author Upton Sinclair published The Jungle to expose the dangerous working conditions for laborers and cruelty towards animals in the industry. Instead, the public became infuriated over the details surrounding food quality, as his work also pointed out the extremely unsanitary practices involved. As put by Sinclair, “I aimed at the public’s heart and by accident I hit it in the stomach.”


Public outcry about food safety in 1906 had led to the passage of the Federal Meat Inspection Act and Pure Food and Drug Act, which mandated inspection of food products and animals used for food but did not address labor conditions nor animal welfare. The Meat Inspection Act was assigned to the Food Safety and Inspection Service under the USDA. The Pure Food and Drug Act was assigned to the Bureau of Chemistry, which was renamed the FDA in 1930.

1930s to 1940s

The discovery of antibiotics in the early 20th century made its way to application in the agriculture sector in the U.S., first being marketed for use in animals in 1938. The ability to drastically reduce the spread of disease in farmed animals led to higher productivity and even greater intensification in animal agriculture.

1930s to 1960s

The U.S. government began to strongly endorse industrialized farming as a means of production. As new technologies continued to intensify agriculture, legislation granting federal monetary support aided this growing level of production. The first of these bills was the 1933 Agricultural Adjustment Act, a price-support program designed to sustain agricultural production post-WWI and during the Great Depression.


Toward the end of the 20th century, the general structure of industrialized agriculture we see today was established and the relationship of our food system to animals, rural communities, consumers, and agricultural workers had radically changed.


After documenting abusive practices of the animal agriculture industry through undercover investigations, Farm Sanctuary was founded in 1986 as a national nonprofit dedicated to exposing and challenging these practices and working to change the way society views and treats farmed animals.


From 1950 to 1997, U.S. farms on average doubled in size and the number of farms was halved. Animal agriculture shifted from many small farms with few animals, to fewer and larger farms with thousands of animals. Agricultural labor went from employing 47% of the U.S. population to 2%.


The 2009 swine flu (H1N1) pandemic made its way across the world, killing an estimated 150,000-575,000 people. An earlier strain of the virus had been identified in U.S. factory farms in the 1990s and circulated throughout pig farms over the following decade before making the jump to humans. A combination of high-density animal confinement and poor regulation likely fostered an environment conducive to the spread of the virus.


Factory farming in the U.S. represented 99% of animal agriculture. By the end of the decade, the annual number of animals slaughtered neared 10 billion. Agricultural subsidies became disproportionately allocated to commodity crops. Corn and soy production alone, grown predominantly as feed for farmed animals, received over 45% of U.S. agricultural subsidies. Less than 1% of U.S. agricultural subsidies went toward the production of non-commodity crop vegetables and fruits.


A broad-based movement of anti-factory farming advocacy organizations, representing the interests of workers, rural communities, animals, the environment, and public health, have mobilized to shine a light on the dark realities of industrialized farming and advocate for legal and structural change, including models for a community-centered, plant-based food system and an end to all animal agriculture.

The San People and their Huts on the Beach, by Robert Jacob Gordon, 1777-86, Scottish drawing, watercolor, ink, on paper. Hunter gathers at a fire with bivalve shells scattered about

Image: Everett Collection/shutterstock.com

9,000 to 8,000 BCE

Hunting and gathering was Homo sapiens’ food system for almost 90 percent of human history. Following the last ice age, a changing climate offered favorable conditions for the dawn of agriculture, and humans in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East began domesticating wild animals – ancestors of domestic sheep, goats, cows, and pigs. In the following millenia, agriculture spread and independently arose across the world, leading to a shift from hunter-gatherer to agrarian societies.


  • A dairy cow.

    Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

  • 9 billion+

    chickens are slaughtered for food each year in the United States.

  • Animal agriculture is responsible for 14.5% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

  • Many slaughterhouses experience a very high rate of labor turnover, sometimes greater than 100% in a year.

  • The CDC warns that 3 out of every 4 new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals.

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Broiler chickens. Taiwan, 2019.
“Thousands of people who say they love animals sit down once or twice a day to enjoy the flesh of creatures who have been utterly deprived of everything that could make their lives worth living and who endured the ... terror of the abattoirs.”
- Dr. Jane Goodall

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

The Animals in Animal Agriculture

A hen in a cage at a factory farm.


A cow at a dairy farm.


Goat on a goat meat farm.


Sheep at a sale yard.


Turkey photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / Djurrattsalliansen
All other photos: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Turkey photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / Djurrattsalliansen
All other photos: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

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