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Intensive Farming

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Many arguments exist concerning the issue of Intensive Farming. Emotional, sentimental and diverse views are, as always with a topic such as this, greatly prevalent. Perceptions simply containing arguments of animal welfare are many, however not all arguments fully acknowledge the pressures upon farmers to produce livestock by such means.

The processes used in intensive, or factory farming, have been developed over many years to cater for increasing demand for good quality, inexpensive foodstuffs. As the swell in the population of Scotland and the consequential increase in demand for food forced farmers to improve technological conditions in their farms in the nineteenth century, such pressures have also forced present day owners of agricultural land and livestock to improve their methods to increase production.

However, the pressures prevalent today are concerned mainly with availability of inexpensive products. Farmers have developed many new processes by which they rear livestock. For example, methods used in dairy farming have allowed for a large increase in productivity. This combined with selective breeding, aimed towards enhancing the milk producing capabilities of the dairy cow, has enabled farmers to gain greater returns from their animals. However, these methods have also been questionable with regard to animal welfare.

Most animals held on factory farms are forced to endure poor living conditions. The case of the battery hen is a particularly affecting one. Battery hens are among the most confined animals in modern farming. Chickens have no more than 51 by 46 centimetres of space in the cages in which they are kept. They cannot spread their wings, nor can they scratch or peck the ground on which they stand. As a result, the hens become distressed and attempt to peck one another instead. To combat this, farmers cut off the tips of chickens beaks, however they do not use any form of anaesthetic, thus causing great pain and distress to the chicken. These conditions are mirrored by the treatment of the pig, of which 80% are kept in intensive confinement. These pigs are then mutilated by tail docking and castration, again without the use of anaesthesia. These conditions are obvious causes of great distress to the animals.

The effects of such treatment are great. For example, chickens kept in battery cages are vulnerable to fractures of their bones and skeletal frame because of their idleness. It has been also proven that selective breeding can have negative effects on the health and bodily fitness of later generations of farm animals. For example, dairy cattle have difficulty walking due to their large udders. The udder can also become infected with the pain inducing disease Mastitis. Specialist breeding also affects chickens. In broiler farms, chickens are bred so that their bodies grow to their full size within only 39 days. As a result of this greatly accelerated growth rate, the chickens legs become brittle and can suddenly snap, leaving the chicken lame and forcing the farmer to exterminate the chicken and sell it for a lesser fee.

Another issue involved within this discussion is that of the slaughter of farm animals. The Compassion in World Farming Trust recently compiled a report on this issue. These reports show that many of the processes by which animals are killed are far from humane. It found that livestock are regularly conscious when they are killed. Animal welfare policies state that cattle should be electrically stunned before their throats are slit. Despite this, many animals are fully conscious during their extermination. However, many consumers are ignorant of these atrocities.

Customers who purchase meat are commonly unaware of the conditions which the farm animals endure. Although consumers are likely to avoid purchasing meat from a source that they know has a past record of animal cruelty, their ignorance may cause them to purchase items derived from these farms. In addition, a lack of knowledge concerning the animal welfare situations in law abiding livestock farms, will prevent them from making a conscious moral decision whether they wish to purchase products from such a source rather than an alternative. This poses the question of public awareness concerning this issue, and how to increase it.

Many initiatives to reduce the public ignorance towards animal welfare have been pursued. One example is that of new labelling laws that have been brought into effect. These laws dictate that, in Britain, eggs cannot be labelled “free range” unless the chickens from which they came were given enough space to move freely. However, these laws do not prevent companies using “loose labels”. For instance, many companies choose to advertise their products as “organic”. Many consumers believe this to guarantee that any animals involved in production were treated well and with their welfare being of a high standard. Despite this preconception, the label “organic” simply indicates that the produce has not been exposed to artificial chemicals or treatments. This lapse in public awareness allows companies to manipulate the consumer. Therefore this calls for clearer packaging and labelling of food products.

The main incentive for farmers to utilise the methods of intensive farming is that of economic pressures. Because of the demand for inexpensive foods, farmers have developed their methods to allow for the optimum produce to be created with the least possible expense. One of these methods allow for over 50 000 hens to be looked after by one farm worker, in just two large broiler sheds. Yet, this method causes health defects such as brittle bones and other health problems. However, these situations are unlikely to change unless consumers choose to purchase foodstuffs from sources that use other methods. These alternative sources have greater expenses; therefore the price of their produce will also have to increase. As result of this, many consumers may choose not to purchase these items, as the majority of meat eating customers wish to purchase the most inexpensive foodstuffs.

In conclusion, the only possible solution to end the use of intensive farming methods is a direct decision by the consumer to choose by source, rather than price. The decision is, and always will be an economic and moral one. Consumers must decide whether they wish to purchase foods that are inexpensive or those that are higher in price but are guaranteed to have derived from a farm which rears its’ animals in a welfare-concerned manner. They must also be made aware of the situations in which the animals are reared. Therefore, despite many atrocities being present in the processes of intensive farming, the only true solution is for customers to purchase produce from non-industrial farms aided by their enlightenment on the issue.

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