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Quick Summary of CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) and Animal Welfare
Elizabeth Overcash (2011)

Over the past century, animal agriculture (meaning the raising of animals for food) has undergone great change. Although American agriculture traditionally consisted of small family farms, agriculture today is a large industry, with only four companies producing most of the meat that Americans eat. In the current agricultural industry, the traditional small, outdoor farms have been replaced by Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, commonly called “factory farms.” Rather than having animals graze in outdoor pastures, CAFOs congregate large numbers of animals in small lots or indoor pens, crates, or cages.

Modern farming attempts to produce as much meat as possible at as little cost as possible. However, this system results in animal welfare, environmental, and human health consequences. With so many animals being raised on CAFOs, many animal welfare issues arise concerning the confinement of these animals and the overcrowded conditions in which they live. These crowded conditions and large numbers of animals also create an overwhelming amount of animal waste, which raises environmental and human health concerns because it pollutes the surrounding soil and water.

In response to the animal welfare concerns arising from the treatment of animals on CAFOs, several states have enacted laws to regulate the treatment of these animals. These laws may concern issues other than just the confinement of agricultural animals, such as the manner of slaughter of the animals, the treatment of nonambulatory (meaning unable to walk or stand without assistance) animals, tail docking, and the force-feeding of birds. Ballot initiatives, which are forms of legislation created and voted on directly by individual persons, rather than by the state legislatures, have also been enacted to provide protections for animals on CAFOs.

Ballot initiatives concerning the treatment of animals on CAFOs began in Florida in 2002 and were supported by animal interest groups. Since then, ballot initiatives have arisen in several states, generally empowered by animal welfare or animal interest organizations. Since these ballot initiatives come directly from the people, rather than through any state’s legislative body, they tend to provide more protection for animals on CAFOs than do regular acts of legislation.


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Overview of CAFOs and Animal Welfare
Elizabeth Overcash (2011)

American agriculture has changed dramatically over the past century, moving from traditionally small family farms to a large agricultural industry, where currently only four companies produce eighty-one percent of cows, seventy-three percent of sheep, fifty percent of chickens, and sixty percent of hogs that Americans eat. To keep up with the increase in meat consumption, the agricultural industry now produces as much meat as possible with as little cost as possible, turning modern farming into a business. In 2009, there were 8.6 billion chickens, 113 million pigs, and over 34 million cattle, including 944,000 calves, killed for agricultural purposes. Almost all of these animals are raised on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.

Commonly referred to as “factory farms,” Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, are animal producing operations that have become a common part of today’s agricultural industry, providing most of the food animals that Americans eat. CAFOs are large Animal Feeding Operations, or AFOs, which “congregate animals, feed, manure and urine, dead animals, and production operations on a small land area. Feed is brought to the animals rather than the animals grazing or otherwise seeking feed in pastures, fields, or on rangeland." CAFOs may confine over 125,000 chickens, over 10,000 pigs, over 1,000 cows, or many other large quantities of animals.

CAFOs raise animal welfare, environmental degradation, and human health concerns. In terms of animal welfare, one of the greatest concerns is the close confinement and crowdedness of the animals. These conditions create boredom and stress in the animals, as well as physical and mental illnesses. In terms of environmental degradation and human health concerns, the number one problem is animal manure, which is produced in such massive quantities that the soil cannot absorb the waste, thus leaving it to run off fields and pollute the surrounding soil and water, including human drinking water. Additionally, methane emissions from CAFOs both contribute to greenhouse gases and create adverse physical and mental health impacts in humans. CAFOs also increase the prevalence of antibiotic resistant diseases, due to the antibiotics regularly given to the animals.

While agribusiness has rapidly expanded, measures to protect animals, the environment, and human health have not kept pace with its growth. Beginning in 2002, several states enacted ballot proposals that focused on creating minimum confinement standards for animals on CAFOs. In reaction to these ballot initiatives, state legislation concerning animal welfare on CAFOs also sprang up. Concerns of this legislation included confinement standards, the treatment of nonambulatory animals, humane slaughter methods, the force-feeding of birds, and tail docking.

Ballot initiatives are much more effective than legislation in providing relief to animal confinement concerns, as they are created and voted on directly by the people, thus bypassing political constraints that might otherwise hinder legislative progress on these issues. Ballot initiatives tend to make greater advancements for animal welfare than do legislative acts, and are often begun by animal interest organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States or Farm Sanctuary. These initiatives have tended to spur legislation because agribusiness leaders attempt to preempt the more progressive ballot initiatives by encouraging legislatures to enact more conservative animal legislation before the ballot initiatives ever come to vote. Ballot initiatives, therefore, currently provide the most effective way of enacting change in animal welfare and treatment on CAFOs, as well as the most progressive form of change.

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