The Tragedy of Pork Agriculture

in #food6 years ago (edited)

The industrialization of pork is a growing disaster for public health and animal welfare in the United States.

Young pigs on a factory farm (Farm Watch / Flickr)

96% percent of pigs and hogs are on factory farms.

Factory farms, when referring specifically to pigs and hogs, are defined as farms with at least 1,000 "heads" of livestock. Creating as much product as possible, factory farms cut corners that harm both animal welfare and worker conditions. To examine what percentage of pigs are on factory farms, I examined some data from the 2012 US Census of Agriculture.

The data show that in 2012, there were 66 million total hogs and pigs recorded on US farms, and 63 million of them were on factory farms. This number has been growing, too. Looking at older census data, the Food and Water Watch noted that since 1997, there has been a 37.1% increase in the number of hogs and pigs on factory farms. As the number of factory farms gets bigger, smaller farms are disappearing. Unless you stand to profit from a factory form, this is bad news.

Data and code available on GitHub.

Factory farming pork is bad for public health.

75% of the total antibiotics used in the US and the EU are used in agriculture to keep diseases down in animal populations. This poses a threat to public health as antibiotic-resistant bacteria is starting to emerge in animal populations and drug-resistant genes spread rapidly on farms.

Factory farms are detrimental to the health of the communities around them. Generating too much manure to properly process, odors and fertilizer spray made by factory farms often reach homes and local water sources. For people living near factory farms, who tend to be low-income minority populations, this means higher rates of asthma and other respiratory issues, decreased quality of life, exacerbated mental stress, and higher blood pressure.

Factory farming is brutal to pigs and hogs.

Pigs are intelligent, social, and emotional creatures. On factory farms in the United States, 82.7% of mother pigs (also known as sows) live their lives in gestation creates, which are cages that confine pigs so tightly they cannot turn around. While Canada and the European Union have both banned the use of these crates, only 9 states in the US had by 2015.

It's no surprise that farms housing pigs in gestation creates are unconcerned about welfare of their animals. On a farm in Kentucky where these creates were used and sick animals were neglected, a diarrheal disease killed at least 900 piglets in a 2-3 day period. While prohibited by state law, the intestines of these dead piglets were ground up and fed back to their mothers. The disease that killed this piglets was porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, which flourished in the unsanitary conditions of factory farms. In 2014, this virus killed more than 7 million piglets, and cost the United States Department of Agriculture $26.2 million to eradicate.

An injured mother pig in unsanitary conditions (DxE)

Do you know where your meat is coming from?

Because 96% of pigs and hogs are on factory farms, there's not much space to assume anything pleasant about the pork on your plate. Without even getting into the environmental costs of eating meat, pork industry is a disaster for animals and people alike. This article really just scratches the surface. In doing research for this post I saw incredibly graphic images and was overwhelmed by papers on the negative effects of factory farms on the community around them. If you haven't already, it's time to ditch pork.


Canada Bans Gestation Crates In Which Pigs Can’t Turn Around. (2014, March 7). Retrieved October 6, 2017, from
European Commision. (2012, April 26). Press Release – Questions and Answers on the upcoming ban on individual sow stalls. Retrieved October 6, 2017, from
Factory Farm Nation: 2015 Edition. (2015, May 27). Retrieved October 6, 2017, from
Harish Sethu. (2014, June 23). Do you know someone who buys meat only from a small local farm? Retrieved October 9, 2017, from
Lindsay Patton. (2015, January 27). 9 States That Have Banned Cruel Gestation Crates for Pigs. Retrieved October 6, 2017, from
Marino, L., & Colvin, C. M. (2015). Thinking Pigs: A Comparative Review of Cognition, Emotion, and Personality in. International Journal of Comparative Psychology, 28(1). Retrieved from
Moyer, M. W. (2016, December 1). How Drug-Resistant Bacteria Travel from the Farm to Your Table.
National Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. (2008). Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America. Retrieved from
Nicole, W. (2013). CAFOs and Environmental Justice: The Case of North Carolina. Environmental Health Perspectives, 121(6), a182–a189.
Survey Shows Few Sows In Open Housing. (2012, June 7). Retrieved October 6, 2017, from
Undercover Exposé: Animals Locked in Cramped Cages, Piglets Fed to their Mothers at Kentucky Pig Factory. (2014, February 20). Retrieved October 6, 2017, from
United States Department of Agriculture. (2014). 2012 Census of Agriculture. Retrieved from
Weathers, S., Hermanns, S., & Bittman, M. (2017, May 21). Opinion | Health Leaders Must Focus on the Threats From Factory Farms. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Until next time

This post is under the CC BY 4.0 License.


Important post, definitely a somethingburger. Hard to imagine this ending well :-(

Thanks for reading, @roused! Yep, it's not headed in a great direction. Hopefully awareness helps.

Government and meat have an interesting relationship... might make for a post one day!

I still eat pork, but I am unhappy with the cruelty and waste of meat production. Are you familiar with vat grown meat?

While vat grown meat is looking like more and more of a promising solution, I'm interested in what I can do today!

For a follow up with some more data, see this post!

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