Nov 052009
Authors: Robyn Scherer

I know you have heard the term “factory farm.” When you think of this, what image comes to mind? Do you think of big steel buildings? Thousands of animals? Evil practices? If this is your thinking, you’re wrong. And you’re not alone.

Ellen DeGeneres had Jonathan Safran Foer, author of the book “Eating Animals,” on her show this week. He touted facts to the audience of Ellen that were untrue about what he calls factory farming. ///////////

“More than 99 percent of animals that are raised for meat are raised on factory farms. Which means they are raised indoors, usually in windowless sheds,” Foer said.

This figure is grossly inaccurate. If 99 percent of the animals were raised this way, you would never see cattle grazing on an open pasture. You would not see sheep or goats out anywhere.

It is true that hogs and chickens are raised in confinement, but this is done for several reasons. There are approximately 65 million hogs in the U.S., according to Although I do not agree with standard commercial hog practices, I can understand why they are raised the way they are.

That many animals would take up a lot of room, and to be honest, it’s not room that is available. Hogs require shelter and would struggle to live out on an open pasture. Farrowing crates are used to protect piglets, because a large sow (mother pig) does not always see all of her offspring and can lie on them. I personally do not use farrowing crates in my operation.

As for chickens, in 2007 there were 455 million birds in the United States. If all of these chickens were put out in large pastures, a couple of things would happen. First of all, chickens also need shelter. Secondly, they are vulnerable to predation.

Raising chickens inside helps to keep them healthier and protected. Although it would be nice to be able to expand these operations, again it comes down to room. Land is expensive to buy and costly to build on. As urban sprawl continues, the amount of land available for agriculture continues to decrease.

Now let’s look at cattle. I don’t know of a single operation that raises cattle in windowless sheds. But I do know of operations that utilize mountain slopes, open pastures and vast fields to graze cattle on.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has classified 1.2 billion acres as agricultural land. Around two-thirds of this land is considered grazing land, but only 10 percent of that is suitable for raising crops because of “limited rainfall, steep slopes, rocky terrain or poor soil,” according to the USDA. The othProxy-Connection: keep-alive

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90 percent is used to graze cattle, sheep, goats, wildlife and other grazing animals.

The next part of Foer’s interview focused on him trying to get into what he calls a factory farm. He talked about how he can get into a grape vineyard, to see how the grapes are produced. He then talked about the meat industry.

“Meat is this incredible exception. I would challenge you or anybody here today to go to the kind of farm that produces the meat that is served in restaurants and sold in super markets. And what does that mean — if there is an entire industry setup asking for our money, asking us to put their products in our mouths, asking us to feed it to our children, they will not let us see how it is produced.”

What Foer doesn’t understand is that there are biosecurity measures in place to protect the animals. The reason Foer could not get onto the places is because he didn’t approach the companies correctly.

Very few people can get onto a confinement operation without going through the necessary training and preparation. A lot of facilities require a shower-in and shower-out, as I talked about in the column about H1N1.

The real point here is to be careful what you read and don’t believe everything you hear on TV. Look for cited facts, and then determine what you believe.


Robyn Scherer is a senior animal sciences major. Her column appears Fridays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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