How Big is Big Ag?

Belindablog, Food, Health Leave a Comment

Maybe you’ve heard about the gross mistreatment of animals in agricultural facilities. Maybe you’ve even seen some of the videos from our undercover investigations and logically been horrified. It’s tempting to respond by telling oneself that these are rare and isolated incidents and they aren’t happening at scale.

However, these injustices are actually widespread in the animal agriculture industry. While bad apples do exist, that can obscure the fact that the whole industry’s business model is based on cruelty. And the whole industry is bigger than what a lot of people might think.

Perhaps the most damning statistic of all is simply the number of animals in agricultural facilities in the US. According to the USDA, a staggering 32 million cows are slaughtered every year, alongside 127 million pigs. Additionally, 3.8 billion fish and 9.15 billion chickens are slaughtered. And “billion” is not a typo. There are more chickens slaughtered in the US alone each year than there are humans on the planet.

There are 24,000 agricultural facilities across every state in the US, and very few, if any, would match up to our image of a cute little farm. In fact, the vast majority of chickens being raised for meat are on farms with over 500,000 chickens. Those that aren’t still can carry hundreds of thousands of chickens each. The same goes for cows and pigs, with virtually all of them in facilities that operate on a large industrial scale. Small facilities, over time, have been rooted out because they can’t compete with more efficient and yet more cruel operations.

So many facilities at this scale are enough to have produced similarly large negative effects. In a given year, animals in facilities will produce over 940 million pounds of manure—twice the amount of humans and enough to do serious environmental damage. Animal agriculture has also been identified as one of the top risks of pandemic outbreaks. Diseases like avian flu can easily take advantage of the close confinement of animals to spread and evolve faster.

Animal agriculture also takes up an enormous amount of land. According to the USDA, around 41% of land in the US goes towards livestock production. The percentage is massive because not only does animal agriculture require the land to raise animals, but also the land to grow the feed for animals. This is land that could be used to produce crops for human consumption, but just to exist, animal agriculture demands an unreasonably large amount of land.

Each chicken, pig, cow, or other animal being used by Big Ag goes through a shortened life where mistreatment is the norm. Each one of them has to deal with pain every day, whether from being put in a cage so small they can’t turn around or watching their children get taken away to be slaughtered.

Big animal agriculture is so entrenched in the food system that getting rid of it is difficult. A lot of consumers still believe that the cruelest treatments are rare instead of the industry standard. The only way to reject the system that Big Ag presents is to embrace a new one based on plants and alternative proteins.


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