Factory farming was developed after the Second World War with the aim of producing the maximum output of meat, eggs and dairy products at the lowest cost. Small family farms gave way to industrialized operations that confined large numbers of animals in cramped, unnatural conditions. This inhumane system made food cheaper but the animals paid the price in suffering.
Meat chickens, or broilers, live in huge indoor sheds in groups of 5,000 to 50,000, eating and sleeping in their own waste for their entire lives. Because they are bred for fast growth they develop painfully weakened bones from rapid weight gain, which also causes heart attacks, skeletal disorders and lameness. In 1950 it took 84 days for a broiler to reach market weight. Today it takes 38 to 40 days.
Egg-laying chickens, or battery hens, spend their lives crammed in tiny wire cages – stacked like shipping crates – with four to six others, each hen living in a space smaller than and 8½ by 11 inch piece of paper. Hog barns house up to 5,000 pigs in crowded pens. Stress from overcrowding creates aggression and boredom, so most pigs have their tails cut off to prevent tail-biting.
Breeding sows are confined for almost their entire reproductive lives in stalls that are just slightly bigger than the sows themselves. They eat, sleep, and defecate in the same space; their manure falls through slatted floors to a cesspool beneath.
For the last 60 to 120 days of their lives, beef cattle live in feedlots of up to 40,000 animals. Standing in piles of manure and fitted with growth-hormone ear implants, they are fed mostly grain to increase their market weight and meat marbling. This can wreak havoc on ruminants’ digestive systems, which are more suited for grass, creating painful bloating and severe discomfort.
More than 800 million intensively-farmed animals were slaughtered in Canada in 2017 (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada).