From small farms to factory farms, what we eat and where our foods come from have changed a lot over the last two decades.
Today, small and medium scale farms have given way to “big” factory farms due to their enormous success, and by adopting factory farms practices, some farmers have gained a greater financial gain.
Statistics in the “Factory Farm Nation 2015” show how much the number of livestock units on factory farms increased, in 2002 it was 23.7 million and in 2012; 28.5 million.
But a common misconception amongst consumers is just how many animals a factory farm needs to have. When most people think about factory farms they picture thousands of animals crowded in very small spaces for their whole life, but actually, a factory farm can mean just, 500 beef cattle, 500 dairy cows, sell 500,000 chickens annually or house 100,00 egg-laying chickens.
It therefore may surprise people to know that a factory farm can be both profitable and be considerate towards the animals’ life-quality. Factory farms are one of the biggest reasons why it's possible to consume meat every day if one wants. Factory farming comes under criticism when thousands of animals are crowded in small facilities, diseases may be common and consumers can be exposed to serious health effects. Unfortunately, knowing the difference between factory farms treatment of animals, based on a foods label or packaging, is impossible for most consumers. There is not enough information provided and the majority of shoppers do not know what the information really means.
The chicken industry does evaluate the welfare of poultry production and reviews twenty-two production systems that range from cage systems to barn systems. But there is currently no standard rating system for beef, pork, or broiler chicken. Whole Foods however, has collaborated with Global Animal Partnership and created a 5-step Animal Welfare Rating System, which increases the transparency in food production and makes it possible to understand animals’ welfare on factory farms.
I believe the food industry should come up with a similar system that would be more extensive and could rate all livestock. Humane treatment would be easy to identify and consumers would be able to choose what farms they want to support. A consumer would recognize a color-coded symbol, which would represent a grade on the rating scale. By reinforcing transparency of our food supply, supermarkets will earn a better reputation and more trust with their shoppers…and at the same time empower customers to make educated decisions. It comes down to promoting a system that would make it easy for customers to choose more humane alternatives.