Factory Farming

Farming has changed dramatically over the last 50 years. Cruel industrialised farming practices are now commonplace in Australia but remain largely invisible to many consumers.

Factory farming header

Factory farming causes the most suffering to the largest number of animals in Australia – almost 700 million sentient beings every year.1

What is a factory farm?

Today, very few animals roam freely on traditional farms. Most animals are confined in large industrial facilities known as factory farms. On factory farms, animals are kept in a state of permanent confinement, crammed together in cages or sheds for the entire duration of their short lives.2 Producers also use a variety of artificial methods to increase production, such as the constant administration of antibiotics, the use of artificial lighting and selective breeding.3

The purpose of intensive farming is simply to produce the most meat, eggs and dairy at the lowest possible cost. This focus on cost-cutting invariably comes at the expense of the health and welfare of individual animals whose pain and distress are often disregarded.4

Animal farming is big business

Over the past fifty years, meat consumption has increased steeply while the number of meat producers has significantly reduced. This means that most animal farming no longer happens on small family farms – it is now big business.

Australians now eat more than ten times the amount of chicken than in 1960,5 but the number of chicken farms in Australia has plummeted and over 70% of the market is now supplied by just two corporations.6 Similarly, since the early 1970s pig meat production has increased by over 50%7 while the number of pig producers has dropped from 40,0008 to just over 1,500 in 2014.9

This concentration means that individual corporations can be responsible for over one million animals at any one time.10 The sheer scale of this business transforms animals from sentient individuals into units of production. 

Animal suffering

In reality, the animals who we use for food are emotionally complex, intelligent beings with rich experiences of the world.11 Most will never see the sun, feel the earth under their feet, nurture their young, build a nest, roost, forage for food or socialise as nature intended.

Instead, they are permanently confined in cages or packed together in such large numbers that they struggle to find space to move or reach their food. On factory farms, baby animals are mutilated in sensitive painful areas without pain relief – the tails, teeth and genitalia of piglets12 and the beaks of chicks are clipped,13 as well as the horns,14 tails,15 and testicles16 of calves – because it is practical, cheap and, alarmingly, lawful to do so.

Legalised cruelty

In Australia, not all animals are equal under the law: many practices which would qualify as animal cruelty if performed on a dog or cat are completely legal if performed on a pig or chicken who is being raised for food.

While each state and territory has animal cruelty legislation in place, significant exemptions exist for the treatment of farm animals. This is because the law defines the acceptable treatment of animals according to their use rather than their capacity to suffer. For example, NSW law17 makes it an offence to not provide an animal with adequate exercise except if that animal is a cow, sheep, goat, pig or chicken.

Factory farming isn’t just hurting animals

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.18

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,19 while other studies put the figure closer to 51%.20 Either way, livestock production contributes a bigger share of greenhouse gas emissions than the entire global transport sector.21

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.22

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.23 The average ‘water footprint’ per calorie of protein from beef is six times larger than for legumes.24 Moreover, in order to produce 1kg of meat protein, an average of 6kg of plant protein is required.25

Not only is meat production wasteful in this way, it is also destructive. Around 30% of the total land surface of the planet is now used for livestock production. Meat is a key driver of deforestation, with 70% of previously forested land in the Amazon now occupied by pastures and feed crops for livestock.26

Lifting the veil

Animal industries operate with very little transparency, but there is hope.

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.27 Tasmania has also made moves to ban construction of new battery cage facilities.28 It is time for the rest of the country to follow suit.

As consumers are learning the truth behind their food, the call for change is growing louder. In 2011, 83% of Australians said they support or strongly support laws to ensure food animals have access to the outdoors, companions, natural materials and enough space to carry out their instinctive behaviour.29 Beyond the law, caring consumers have the power to end the cruelty of factory farming simply by refusing to buy into it.

Take action

You can take action against factory farming by:

  • Learning more – Find out more about the factory farming of pigsbroiler chickensbattery hens and ducks.
  • Making kinder choices – Make the switch to animal-free alternatives.
  • Contacting your MP – Tell your MP that you support a ban on factory farming practices in your state.  
  • Donating to Voiceless – Help us continue to provide a voice for animals by donating today.


Last updated June 2017