Factory Farming: What Is It & What Foods Are Factory Farmed?

drone shot of factory farm sheds

Most people say they do not approve of factory farming but most don’t realise just how common it is, or that the very foods they commonly eat have come from animals who were forced to live in the most appalling factory farm conditions. So, what is factory farming, how common is it, and how do we avoid supporting this cruel and damaging industry?

What Is Factory Farming?

Factory farming is the most common method of farming animals in the global north, and is becoming increasingly common in the rest of the world, too. It relies on the same factory-production methods of other industries, except here the ‘products’ here are living, feeling beings. They do not deserve the suffering they have no choice but to endure for the production of cheap meat, milk, and eggs.

When Did Factory Farming Start?

The intensification of farming has been building for decades but truly got underway in the 1920s. At that point, egg farmers discovered that birds would continue to lay eggs even when crammed into sheds. From the farmers’ perspective, this meant more hens could be kept in one small space, and more eggs produced, and that meant more profit, and all without the bother of having to actually go looking for the eggs in farmyards and pastures.

battery chicken

After the second world war, intensification ramped up again, as governments incentivized farmers to produce more and more cheap food. Today, pigs, turkeys, chickens, fish, ducks, geese, goats, and cows farmed for their milk all endure factory farm conditions.

Where Is Factory Farming Most Common?

It is most common in the global north — in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, and right across Europe. In these countries, almost every animal is intensively reared, despite the ethical, environmental, and health crises caused by this food system. But this is not enough for the industry; it is expanding right across the world.

Is There Factory Farming In The UK?

There is. Around 95 percent of chickens are intensively reared inside vast barren warehouses. Pigs, fish, turkeys, ducks, goats, and dairy cows are also commonly reared in factory farm systems. 

UK chicken farm
Moy Park chicken factory farm in the UK

Factory Farming Companies

The leading producers of intensively farmed animals include: Moy Park, Avara (formerly Faccenda and Cargill), 2 Sisters (chickens); Cherry Valley, Gressingham Foods (ducks); Tulip, Pilgrim’s Pride, Cranswick (pigs); Arla, First Milk (dairy cows);  Cooke Aquaculture, Scottish Sea Farms, The Scottish Salmon Company (fish).

These, and other producers, supply the main supermarkets, including Tesco, Morrisons, and Lidl, as well as food outlets KFC, McDonald’s, Nando’s and more.

What Does Factory Farming Do?

Factory farming purpose breeds billions of animals, incarcerates them in appalling conditions, and denies them their natural behaviours and everything that would make their lives worthwhile. During their lives, they may suffer legal mutilations, be forcibly inseminated, and have their young stolen from them. Millions suffer extreme pain that is never treated and they will die right there in the cage or shed, having never known a moment’s joy.

factory farm shed of broiler chickens


Chickens are the most abused animal on Earth. Billions have been engineered to grow faster than their hearts and bones can support, which means vast numbers of birds suffer heart failure or broken bones that go untreated throughout their lives. In the UK, almost all chickens are factory farmed, which means they have no fresh air, nowhere to go, and nothing to occupy their bright and inquisitive minds. When they reach a profitable size, the only thing they have — their life — is also taken from them.

dairy cows confined in factory farm


Increasingly, cows are being factory farmed inside “zero-grazing” systems. This is just what it sounds like. Instead of allowing cows out to roam and graze on pastures as they naturally need to do, they are kept inside barns or lots, and processed feed is brought to them. This has a significant physical impact on their hooves and legs, which increases lameness. It also affects digestion and their emotional wellbeing.

pigs confined in cages


Pigs are commonly factory farmed in the UK, with the mothers locked inside tiny crates for up to four weeks as they give birth. For their babies who will soon be slaughtered, their lives may be spent locked inside filthy sheds or pens, alongside large numbers of stressed animals. Injury and illness are rife in these conditions, with serious lacerations, breathing issues, and prolapses commonly seen.

overhead shot of fish farm


Fish belong in rivers and oceans but around half the fish consumed around the world now comes from factory farmed animals. In pens and sea cages, these wild creatures swim in circles in filthy water. The stress is immense and leads to serious illness and injury, as well as stereotypic behaviour. Huge amounts of chemicals are poured into the water to try to keep the animals alive, and these cause environmental devastation and kill local wildlife populations.

thousands of turkeys crammed in a factory farm


Like chickens, turkeys are commonly factory farmed and in very similar conditions. They are forced to live inside warehouse-style barns with thousands of other birds. The ammonia from their waste burns their feet and skin, and leg injuries are rife as the birds have been bred specifically to put on so much weight so quickly. The profitable traits that farmers want almost always cause suffering to the animals themselves.

What Foods Are Factory-Farmed?

Just about any food that comes from an animal is likely to have come from a factory farm. That includes chicken nuggets, burgers, bacon, hot dogs, cheese, yoghurts, fish fingers, turkey meat, and so much more. The only foods that are guaranteed to be factory-farm free are those made from plants. That’s why we recommend buying vegan chicken nuggets, burgers, bacon, hot dogs, cheese, yoghurts, fish fingers, turkey meat and so much more! All the flavour but without the appalling suffering to animals.

Is Factory Farming Cruel?

Factory farming is undeniably cruel. There is nothing natural about factory farming, and animals are denied anything and everything that would make their lives worth living. Cows cannot roam or graze; pigs cannot make a nest in which to rear their young; chickens are denied space to stretch their wings and can never roost; fish will never swim in open water; ducks never get to dabble and dive because they are denied even that most basic requirement, water.

Newly hatched chicks crammed in a metal cage

Animals Are Confined

In factory farms, animals are closely confined, either in cages or crates, or inside barren warehouses. None gets the freedom to behave as they need to — they cannot roam, swim, fly, nest, root or scratch in the earth, choose a mate, or rear their young.

chicken debeaked

Chickens Are Debeaked

Because of the appalling conditions that chickens are forced to endure, these intelligent birds experience extreme stress. Unsurprisingly, they take out their frustrations on one another and can cause physical injury. Instead of removing the cause of the stress, farmers cut off the ends of birds’ beaks with a red-hot blade to reduce the amount of damage they are able to do, which really is only adding injury to injury.

Cows And Pigs Are Tail-Docked

Similarly, to prevent animals biting each others’ tails, pigs are commonly tail-docked in the UK, and cows sometimes are too. This is done without anaesthetic, and yes, it does hurt.

Genetic Manipulation

All farmed animals have been specifically bred to have the most financially profitable traits, even though these unnatural characteristics can cause severe and life-long suffering for the animals themselves. Cows have been bred to produce far more milk than their calves could ever drink, and this increases infections and lameness. Turkeys have been bred to have unnaturally large breasts, and as a result turkeys cannot breed naturally anymore (just search online for “turkey milkers” to see the true horror of turkey farming). Chickens have been bred to grow so fast that they suffer heart failure and broken bones, even when just a couple of weeks old. Financial profit and cheap food comes at a huge cost to animals.

cow forced

Inhumane Treatment

Hundreds of undercover investigations all around the world show workers on farms and in slaughterhouses causing severe and deliberate suffering to animals. We have seen workers kicking, beating, punching, slapping, dragging, and burning animals with cigarettes. This is what happens when we as a society see animals as “things” not “beings”. 

Unhealthy Levels Of Ammonia

Vast numbers of animals produce vast amounts of waste, and that waste is full of ammonia. This causes irritation to the animals’ eyes and skin, and can also cause respiratory distress in farm workers and neighbours. When ammonia gets into the waterways, as it does when this waste is disposed of, it pollutes them, and can have a lethal effect on wildlife.

Why Is Factory Farming Bad?

Factory farming is bad for animals first and foremost but the damage done by this system of food production goes even wider.

Animal Welfare

In the factory farming world, “animal welfare” just means the animals are afforded the bare minimum they need to be kept alive just long enough to reach a profitable weight for slaughter. It is something of a meaningless term, as if we truly cared about their welfare, these animals would not be kept crammed into cages, crates, and warehouses.


Factory Farming And The Environment

Factory farming animals has a profoundly damaging effect on the environment. The animal farming industry is responsible for 14.5 percent of all human-generated greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, it is worse for the climate than every car, bus, plane, truck, ship, and train on the planet.  It is also a leading driver of deforestation and wildlife loss; and it pollutes air, land and waterways, creating toxic dead zones.

Human Health Issues

Eating animal products can raise our risk of several chronic diseases, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. And all red meat and all processed meat is carcinogenic. But the impact of animal agriculture goes way beyond our own health. Factory farms are disease factories, in which viruses mutate and proliferate. Public health experts warn that the next global pandemic is likely to come from chicken or pig farms. And because of those appalling conditions, animals in farms are fed vast quantities of antibiotics just to keep them alive. And when we say ‘vast quantities’ we mean far more than are used by people. This reckless overuse allows antibiotic-resistant pathogens to emerge, and these superbugs are already killing more than a million people a year. Why do we put up with this appalling food system?

What Percentage Of Animals Are Factory Farmed?

In the UK, more than 70 per cent of farmed animals are raised inside factory farms. For chickens, the figure is 95 per cent.

How Are Animals Killed On Factory Farms?

Animals are routinely killed on farms. Any chicken, duck or turkey who is too sick to survive, or too small to be profitable, is likely to have his or her neck twisted until they die. Male calves born to dairy cows (because cows must be pregnant to produce milk) are often unwanted as their bodies cannot be monetised, and they may be shot in the head. But most animals are packed into crates or directly onto trucks, and are transported to slaughterhouses where they are killed.

chickens being slaughtered in an electric bath

Chickens may be shackled upside down by their legs while fully conscious, and dragged through electrified water which is intended to stun them. Then their throats are cut. Others may be lowered into a gas chamber where they suffocate to death. Pigs and sheep may have electrified tongs applied to their heads to render them unconscious (which often does not work) and they are then shackled, hoisted, and their throats are cut. Cows may be shot in the head with a retractable bolt in order to stun them, a procedure which often does not work first time, and so cows may be shot over and over at point blank range. They are then shackled, hoisted, and their throats are cut.

Why Isn’t Factory Farming Illegal?

Good question! It should be. The suffering it causes to animals and to people, and the damage it causes to the environment and climate make this one of the most destructive industries on the planet.

What Are Alternatives To Factory Farming?

Animals can be farmed “extensively” which gives them a little more freedom, although countless investigations have shown severe suffering and cruelty within these systems, and all “high-welfare” animals are sent to the same slaughterhouses and suffer the same terrible fate. There is nowhere near enough land to rear all animals this way, and adopting this system would require almost all of us to stop eating animal products.

And that is the most practical and positive alternative. We can just stop eating animal products and choose instead from the wealth of healthy, planet-friendly, animal-kind vegan foods instead.

Factory Farming Facts And Statistics

  • Almost all chickens in the UK suffer the horrors of factory farming.
  • Chickens live no longer than six weeks in British farms.
  • Bird flu is circulating in poultry farms all around the world, and some strains have a 60 percent mortality rate in people. 
  • Animal agriculture is a leading driver of deforestation, pollution, and wildlife loss.
  • Animal farming is responsible for 14.5 percent of all human-generated greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Animal farming is responsible for around 31 percent of all human-generated methane emissions — methane is a powerful climate-altering gas.
  • Animal agriculture drives Indigenous peoples from their land.
  • Animal farming uses 83 percent of all available land but gives us just 18 percent of our calories.
  • Oxford University scientists say going vegan is the “single biggest thing” we can do as individuals to protect the planet.


Factory farming animals is an unsustainable, climate-destroying, Earth-polluting way to produce foods, and it also causes appalling suffering to animals, and does great harm to people, too. When we switch to plant-based foods, we can get all the flavours we love without the immense ethical and environmental price tag that goes with animal farming.

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