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What are Factory Farms?

Here at Green Owl, we talk a lot about farming practices. So you’ve probably heard us mention factory farms. Massive industrial farming seems to be the norm, but just a few decades ago no such thing existed. So how did our food system change so radically in such a short period of time? What does it mean for our food quality?


What is a Factory Farm Anyway?

Also known as CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), factory farms raise livestock indoors in conditions that maximize production at minimal cost. The goal of a CAFO is to get as many animals as big as possible, as quickly as possible without spending much money. What this has led to is thousands of animals being held in crowded, unsanitary conditions. The largest cattle feedlot houses over 125,000 animals, while the average broiler chicken CAFO in California has 1.4 million birds! Nearly 95% of all the meat Americans consume now comes from large factory farms. But it wasn’t always that way.


95% of our meat in America is produced on a factory farm, or CAFO

Bad Oversight

With the cost of feed low, the biggest financial limitation to CAFO was waste management. Environmental regulations for treating the huge amounts of waste created by livestock should keep CAFO growth in check. But hasn’t been the case.


Some of the money agricultural businesses saved by buying cheap feed was used to pay lobbyists, who have ensured that factory farms are exempt from a lot of EPA oversight. For example, the Clean Air Compliance Agreement in 2005 allowed factory farms to bypass air pollution standards by taking part in an EPA study of emissions. To this day the EPA has not made significant findings from this supposed research, and Clean Air regulations are not being enforced for factory farms. Enforcement for water pollution is shared with state governments, who are unwilling to move against industries that control a huge share of their state’s economy. All fifty states have even passed laws limiting the ability of citizens and local authorities to bring action against farms for environmental pollution and the associated health effects. Without oversight of environmental hazards and the cost of properly treating waste, CAFOs have been free to grow even larger.


Bad Business

The old farming model, in which independent farmers sold to processors on an open market, has been eroded as industrial farming expands. A serious of mergers and acquisitions allowed just a few companies to gain control over every aspect of farm production, from grain supply to packaging. This leaves many farmers with no choice but to buy and sell from a single company. Through heavy-handed tactics and abusive contracts, these massive businesses control farmers and the market.


Until the 1990s, for example, most milk was supplied by regional companies that bought from local dairies. Today Dean Foods controls 40% of the nation’s milk supply, and 55% of all organic milk. Dean and its subsidiaries own more than fifty brands, many of which are marketed as local labels. Consumers have no idea that their milk is coming from Dean. Weakening of anti-monopoly laws have allowed companies in beef-packing to both own cattle and packing companies, manipulating prices and squeezing out smaller farms. In North Carolina one company, now owned by a Chinese corporation, controls 90% of the hog market and farmers have almost no choice but to follow their practices. Using economic leverage and pro-agriculture rhetoric, these monopolies have been able to grow virtually unchecked.




So How Do I Avoid Factory-Farmed Foods?



Shop with Green Owl and know where your food is coming from. Shopping locally keeps money in our communities, following the model that American agriculture was built on. At Green Owl, we’re proud to support traditional farming practices that put quality over profits.