Food & Drink

9 Facts About Factory Farming That Will Break Your Heart (GRAPHIC PHOTOS)

03/17/2014 12:00am ET | Updated December 4, 2014

On the surface, a package of small-farm, grass-fed beef may look entirely identical to a packet of generically-raised beef. Both are wrapped with cellophane and snugly stacked in the open meat fridge, labeled with the price, cut and weight of the meat. But these packages likely have drastically different backstories. Ninety-nine percent of the meat in the US comes from factory farms, a large-scale production that is more akin to a cracker factory than the rolling, green livestock farms you see in the movies.

Factory farms dominate the meat industry, thanks to a focus on efficiency and profits above all else. Although many individual farmers follow humane practices, these large-scale operations not only cause severe distress for the animals that live there, but create a product that is riddled with chemicals, antibiotics, and yes, sometimes disease.

Keep yourself informed of your food choices, and read below to find out the truth behind factory farming.

*Warning: Some of the below images are graphic in nature.*

1
Fowl Are Often "Debeaked" To Avoid Cannibalism
HSUS
According to the USDA, 36.8 billion pounds of broiler chicken were raised and killed for consumption in 2013. Since these animals live in such close quarters, some farm operators remove the beaks of chickens, turkeys and ducks to keep them from pecking one another to death, often by burning or cutting the beaks off. Although a number of scientists claim that this practice does not cause the animals too much pain, a significant portion of them die throughout the ordeal. Despite the mass amounts of chicken, turkey and ducks we consume annually, fowl are exempt from the Humane Slaughter Act. This means that unlike the mammals we consume, chickens can be killed however the farm owner sees fit.
2
Most Antibiotics In The World Go Straight Into Your Meat
HSUS
In 2011, more than 80 percent of antibiotics produced were fed to livestock. Although some of these drugs were necessary to keep animals healthy in conditions that would otherwise make them sick, like living on top of one another's waste, most of it was specifically administered to artificially increase rapid growth. While it may seem like these drugs could be inadvertently protecting consumers from disease, they are actually contributing to the terrifying rise of superbugs -- deadly antibiotic-resistant bacteria that thrive and multiply in the absence of weaker microbes.
3
Pneumonia Runs Rampant In Factory Farmed Pigs
Getty
According to one study, 65 percent of all hogs tested had pneumonia-like lesions on their lungs. Researchers believe this is due to ammonia and other gases released from the massive amounts of manure that the animals come into contact with every day.
4
Millions Of Chicks Are Ground Up Alive The Day They Hatch
Mercy For Animals
In 2009, Mercy For Animals went undercover at a Hy-Line Iowa egg factory and discovered that baby chickens who were of no egg-laying use to the buyers (read: male chicks), were put on a conveyor belt and sent directly to a grinder. Hy-Line defended this practice by insisting that it was industry standard.
5
Many Cows Die Before Their Fifth Birthday
Getty
While cows can live naturally to about twenty years old, many dairy cows living in factory farms are sent to slaughter before they reach the age of five. Though cows can naturally remain productive for 12-15 years, the intensive conditions of industrial dairies can take a toll on their health.
6
Pregnant Hogs Live In Disgustingly Small Crates
HSUS
Every year, millions of sows are kept in cages called "gestation crates," a cost-cutting measure that keeps the pregnant pigs immobilized. The concrete floors beneath the crates are often slatted so that manure can just slip through into huge pits. After spending a full four-month pregnancy in these gestation crates, the sows often suffer from abscesses, sores and ulcers. However, even when the pigs are released from the crates, they are not living a comfortable life: The uneven floors of the hog houses have been proven to cause leg and feet deformities.
7
Veal Calves Are Saddled With Heavy Chains
Mercy For Animals
Notoriously mistreated, veal calves are often forced to wear heavy chains to keep them from becoming overactive in their stalls. The calves are also kept in near or total darkness and suffer from forced anemia, for no reason other than to keep their flesh pale and attractive.
8
Many Fowl Are Stuffed Into Unimaginably Small Cages
HSUS
"Battery cages," the common living space for more than 90 percent of egg-laying hens in America, provide as little as 0.6 square feet of space per hen. That is smaller than a regular sized sheet of paper.
9
82% Of U.S. Dairies Practice 'Tail Docking'
HSUS
Citing health reasons and worker comfort, a majority of U.S. farms practice tail docking, the act of removing the tails of livestock by burning, emasculating, or constricting the tail with an elastic band. This practice causes pain, stress, and sometimes infection in the cows, which is why it has been outlawed in a number of countries, such as New Zealand. However, California is the only U.S. state where tail docking is illegal.