Factory farming produces the highest quantity of meat, eggs and dairy at the lowest possible cost. However, a growing number of experts and consumers believe that costs to the health and welfare of animals are simply too high.1
Every year, about 700 million animals in Australia are confined in factory farms.2 Kept in a state of permanent confinement, animals are often crowded together in cages or sheds.3 Producers use a variety of artificial methods to increase production, such as the constant administration of antibiotics, artificial lighting and selective breeding.
According to scientific research, farmed animals are sentient, emotionally complex, intelligent and have rich experiences of the world.4
On factory farms, animals experience numerous impacts on their welfare, including:
- permanent confinement in cages or in sheds in such large numbers that they struggle to find space to move or reach their food,
- mutilation of sensitive areas without pain relief – the tails, teeth and genitalia of piglets5 and the beaks of chicks are clipped,6 as well as the horns, tails, and testicles of calves7 – because it is practical, cheap and, alarmingly, lawful to do so.
The law defines the acceptable treatment of animals according to their use rather than their capacity to suffer. Many practices which would qualify as 'cruelty' under the law if performed on a dog are instead 'legal' if done to a pig or chicken raised for food.
While each state and territory has animal cruelty legislation in place, significant exemptions exist for the treatment of farmed animals. For example, in NSW it is an offence to fail to provide an animal with adequate exercise except if that animal is a cow, sheep, goat, pig or chicken.8
In 2014, the ACT became the first Australian state or territory to legislate against certain factory farming practices, by prohibiting the use of cages for commercial egg production, the debeaking of chickens and the use of sow stalls and farrowing crates for pigs.9 Tasmania has also made moves to ban construction of new battery cage facilities.10
Large corporations have replaced family farms
Over the past fifty years, animal product consumption has increased steeply while the number of producers has significantly reduced. Most animal farming no longer happens on small family farms – it's big business.
Australians now eat more than ten times the amount of chicken meat than in 1960,11 but the number of chicken farms in Australia has plummeted and over 70% of the market is now supplied by just two corporations.12 Similarly, since the early 1970s pig meat production has increased by around 50%,13 while the number of pig producers has dropped from 40,00014 to just over 1,500 in 2014.15
This concentration means that individual corporations can be responsible for more than a million animals at any one time.16
Food production has a massive negative impact on the environment, but the production of meat, dairy and, to a lesser extent, eggs have a particularly disproportionate effect on our climate and natural resources.17
In particular, livestock production has been found to significantly contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that livestock production is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions,18 while other studies put the figure closer to 51%.19 Either way, livestock production contributes a bigger share of greenhouse gas emissions than the entire global transport sector.
The most significant source of these greenhouse gas emissions is from methane produced by animal digestion. In Australia, this process creates about three million tonnes of methane annually. By 2022, this methane will have a greater effect on global warming than emissions from all of Australia’s coal-fired power stations combined.20
Animal agriculture also has a devastating impact on our environment because of the huge amount of water and resources it wastes. In the late 90s, agriculture consumed 70% of the total water used in Australia.21 The average ‘water footprint’ per calorie of protein from beef is six times larger than for legumes.22 Moreover, in order to produce 1kg of meat protein, an average of 6kg of plant protein is required.23
Around 30% of the total land surface of the planet is now used for livestock production. Animal products are a key driver of deforestation, with 70% of previously forested land in the Amazon now occupied by pastures and feed crops for livestock.24
- Find out more about the factory farming of pigs, broiler chickens, battery hens and ducks.
- Explore the Voiceless Animal Cruelty Index (VACI), which evaluates and ranks countries according to farmed animal cruelty. Fifty countries have been evaluated, accounting for almost 80% of the world's farm animal production.
- Read Voiceless's submission to productivity commision on the regulation of agriculture draft report, 17 August 2016.
Last updated October 2018
- 1. John McInerney, ‘Animal Welfare, economics and policy - Report on a study undertaken for the Farm & Animal Health Economics Division of Defra’ (2004) <http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20110318142209/http://www.defr....
- 2. Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘Livestock Products, Australia, Dec 2016’, Table 1 and Table 2 (February 2017) <https://goo.gl/35aK7M>.
- 3. See for example Battery Hens and Pigs.
- 4. See <www.voiceless.org.au/the-issues/animal-sentience>.
- 5. Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals - Pigs (3rd edition) (2007) section 5.6.
- 6. Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals - Domestic Poultry, (4th Edition) (2002), section 13.
- 7. Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Cattle (Edition One, Version One) Endorsed January 2016, Section 6 and 9.
- 8. Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 (NSW), s 9.
- 9. Animal Welfare (Factory Farming) Amendment Act 2013 (ACT).
- 10. Animal Welfare (Domestic Poultry) Regulations 2013 (TAS), s 5.
- 11. Australian Chicken Meat Federation Inc, ‘Industry Facts and Figures’ <www.chicken.org.au/facts-and-figures/>.
- 12. Baiada Poultry Pty Limited and Inghams Enterprises Pty Limited supply more than 70% of Australia’s broiler chickens. See Australian Chicken Meat Federation, ‘Structure of the Industry, <www.chicken.org.au/structure-of-the-industry/>.
- 13. Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘Table 12. Red Meat Produced – Pig Meat: All Series (tonnes)’, 7218.0.55.001 - Livestock and Meat, Australia, Feb 2015 (9 April 2015) <https://goo.gl/bvxgxW>.
- 14. Productivity Commission 2005, Australian Pigmeat Industry, Report no. 35 (18 March 2005), 9 <www.pc.gov.au/inquiries/completed/pigmeat-2005/report/pigmeat.pdf>.
- 15. Australian Pork, ‘Get the Facts on your Pork Industry’ (April 2015) <http://australianpork.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/1113329_Australi....
- 16. Chicken farmers Gerry and Chris Apostolatos pleaded guilty to starving more than one million chickens in their care in 2015. See Shannon Derry, ‘Chickens forced into cannibalism in shocking case of animal cruelty’, Herald Sun (25 March 2015) <https://goo.gl/XUGwNv>.
- 17. Karen Soeters, ‘Foreword’ in Karen Soeters (ed) Meat The Future (Nicolaas G. Pierson Foundation, 2015), 11.
- 18. Henning Steinfeld et al, Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options (2006, Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations) xxi. This figure refers only to anthropogenic emissions and has been the subject of much debate and discussion with the global meat industry, which has been investing heavily in efforts to debunk the UN’s statistics. (See: <https://goo.gl/w8eM1f>). Much of this debate is dependent on particulars of methodology, difficulties of quantification and differing assumptions about the role of methane, a gas which accounts for a large proportion of livestock emissions and has a particularly potent effect on warming.
- 19. Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang, ‘Livestock and Climate Change’, WorldWatch (November/December) 11 <https://goo.gl/JFWkXo>.
- 20. Barry Brook and Geoff Russell, ‘Meat’s Carbon Hoofprint’ (November/December 2007) Australasian Science (November/December) 37, 38 <www.scribd.com/document/21838202/Meat-s-Carbon-Hoofprint-Barry-Brook-and....
- 21. Australian Bureau of Statistics, ‘Year Book Australia, 2003’, Environmental impacts of agriculture (2004) <https://goo.gl/4rkVXo>.
- 22. Arjen Y. Hoekstra, ‘The Meat Eater, a Big Water User’ in Karen Soeters (ed) Meat The Future (Nicolaas G. Pierson Foundation, 2015), 93.
- 23. This protein conversion depends on the type of animal under consideration, as well as the prevailing conditions. See Harry Aiking, ‘Food Security – What is New?’ in Karen Soeters (ed) Meat The Future (Nicolaas G. Pierson Foundation, 2015), 21.
- 24. Ibid, 22.
- 25. This consumer survey of 1000 randomly selected Australians was commissioned by Voiceless and conducted by Pure Profile in September 2011.