Food Systems FAQs

What is factory farming? Why is factory farming bad?

Factory farming is an industrial system that puts profit over the interests of animals, people, and the planet. Factory farms are the greatest source of animal cruelty in the world. 80 billion land animals are farmed each year. As a very conservative estimate, 56 billion (70%) animals are in factory farms, that inflict pain, stress, and appalling suffering.

Is factory farming cruel to animals? What happens in Factory Farming?

In the factory farming industry, animals are viewed as mere commodities, not sentient, living beings. Factory farming strips them of everything that is normal and natural for them. Factory farming involves a lifetime of cages, painful mutilations, early weaning, poor air quality, unnatural feeding regimes, rough handling, long distance transport and often cruel slaughter. Animals suffer from stress, injuries, depression, chronic hunger, and social deprivation.

How many animals are bred in factory farms?

Annually, 80 billion land animals are used for farming. It is estimated that 56 billion are trapped in industrial farming systems. On factory farms they live in unnatural environments and endure extreme psychological and physical suffering. Most of them will know little but pain, fear, and misery from the time they are born to the time they are slaughtered. This vast number does not even include the billions of fish who are locked in underwater factories.

Which animals are involved in factory farming?

The suffering of pigs and chickens highlights the cruelty inherent in factory farming. Globally, more than 72 billion chickens are reared and slaughtered for meat each year. Of these, more than two thirds are raised in intensive indoor systems where birds live in spaces smaller than an A4 piece of paper, in windowless barns crammed with up to 100,000 animals, sitting or lying in their own waste. An estimated 600 million pigs live in intensive and confined conditions where natural foraging and social behaviours aren’t possible. Mother pigs in factory farms spend their lives in cages too small to turn around in, developing painful sores and biting the bars of their cages in frustration. Piglets have their tails cut and teeth clipped, and the males are castrated, usually with no pain relief. Genetic selection brings another layer of cruelty, forcing animals to grow fast, have large litters, lay high numbers of eggs, or produce a maximum amount of milk. This can cause great distress and physical harm. In addition to pigs and meat chickens, factory farming means suffering for billions more animals around the world, including laying hens, beef and dairy cattle, and fish. No living being should be denied the right to express natural behaviours, interact with others, or even experience something as basic as seeing sunlight or grass.

What is the purpose of factory farming? What are the perceived benefits of factory farming?

Global meat production is almost five times higher today than it was fifty years ago. Food production has fundamentally changed to meet global demand, leading to a rise of factory farms around the world. Animals are reared, transported, and slaughtered in their billions as the global food system seeks to meet the rising demand for animal products as cheaply as possible. One false argument in favour of factory farming is that it is the economical way to feed the planet’s growing population. In reality, food security is undermined as land is diverted to crops to feed animals destined for consumption, rather than humans. Experts describe the use of cereals to feed animals as “staggeringly inefficient” and “a very inefficient use of land to produce food.” The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation warns that further use of cereals as animal feed could threaten food security by reducing the grain available for human consumption. If we consider the true costs of this system, including the suffering of billions of animals, huge impacts on the environment, and serious threats to human health, there can be no doubt that the true costs of factory farming are unacceptably high.

Where does factory farming happen?

Factory farming is a global system. The world’s top five meat producers are China, the US, the EU, Brazil, and Russia. It is estimated that in the countries with the largest production, 95-99% of meat production comes from factory farming. We have local staff working in many of the countries that are the largest producers of meat, dairy and eggs including China, Brazil, India, and the US. Being based in these countries allows us to directly influence some of the world’s largest producers.

What are the alternatives to factory farming?

Our vision is a world where respect for animals and nature sits at the heart of our food system, which is equitable, sustainable, resilient, and capable of feeding the world. We believe there is no future for factory farming and will work tirelessly towards this vision, including building support for a moratorium on new factory farms as a key step towards our vision. We will move millions of people to join a food revolution by raising awareness of the catastrophic impacts of factory farming on animals, the environment, and human health. We will also reveal the global investment and government policies that perpetuate factory farms. The time to embrace change in our food production and agricultural systems is now. Many consumers, governments and food businesses are already joining this movement, influenced by our campaigns to raise awareness of the cruelty inherent in factory farming.

What is the history of factory farming?

We live in the era of factory farming. In the second half of the twentieth century, the industrialisation of animal production picked up pace, radically changing the experience of farmed animals. These animals were brought indoors and treated as cogs in a machine. Since then, numbers of farmed animals have skyrocketed over this time. Meat production is 470% higher in 2018 than it was 50 years ago, having increased from 70 million tons annually to more than 330 million tons. In fact, the global livestock sector has grown to the extent that farmed poultry now represent 70% of all live birds, with wild birds representing only 30% of the global bird population. The history of factory farming is not an accident. It has been underpinned by government policies and subsidies supporting a ‘produce at lowest cost’ mentality under a misguided belief that this will bring greater food security. Instead, we have seen natural resources dwindle, widespread pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. As big businesses get richer, smallholder farmers go out of business and local communities suffer food insecurity.

What is the environmental impact on factory farms?

Destruction of natural habitats

Habitat loss is the greatest threat to the world’s biodiversity and agriculture is the single largest cause, accounting for 80% of all land-use change globally. Nearly 80% of this agricultural land is used for livestock production which includes growing huge amounts of crops for animal feed.

Climate change

Factory farming is a leading cause of climate change. Animal farming accounts for 17% of global greenhouse gas emissions and is the biggest contributor of two of the three main greenhouse gases - methane and nitrous oxide. Without fast and large-scale shifts in global meat consumption, agriculture will consume the entire world's carbon budget, necessary for staving off the global temperature rise to well below 2°C, by 2050.


Every year around 1.3 million tonnes of pesticides are used to grow crops destined for animal feed. The manure from farms pollutes air and waterways. Together these pollutants cause more than 400 ‘dead zones’ in rivers and oceans where nothing can live. They contaminate drinking water, edible crops, and they impact wildlife.

How can factory farms prevent cruelty to animals?

Animals cannot live good lives within factory farms. A moratorium on new factory farms is needed to prevent the spread of suffering. However, the reality is that existing factory farms will continue to operate for decades. It is imperative that factory farms end the worst forms of animal cruelty by implementing the Farm Animal Responsible Minimum Standards (RMS)

How are factory farms regulated?

Animal cruelty in factory farms is generally tolerated by governments, with minimal animal welfare regulations in most countries. Even where regulations exist, they are often poorly enforced. People have little way of knowing how animals are treated behind the closed doors of factory farms. Regulations for transport and slaughter are more common, however are usually based on food safety or hygiene considerations first and foremost, with the consideration of animal welfare variable. Enforcement also remains a key challenge. Governments will generally have regulations on the zoning and size of factory farms, as well as some regulations relating to environment and waste management.

How are animals fed in factory farms?

Animals in industrial factory farms are bred to grow fast, have large litters, lay high numbers of eggs, or produce a maximum amount of milk. This causes great suffering over their short lifetimes. To achieve such high yields, animals must consume specialised high protein diets which drives the trade in destructive animal feed. Soy is the most traded animal feed crop due to its high protein and energy content. *Please see more in the animal feed FAQ section*