Industrial vs. Family Farms Comparison

Have you ever asked yourself “why is sustainable agriculture is so much better than industrial agriculture?” The table below should give you a quick and easy comparison of the two types of production methods and the benefit of sustainable meat production should be clear.

Family Farm

Industrial operation

Health Issues:

  • foods are produced without the use of pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and other hazardous inputs
  • overuse of antibiotics lead to antibiotic resistance
  • odours can cause nausea, headaches, and respiratory problems especially to barn workers1
  • bacteria and parasites from animal waste which are chlorine resistant and may cause human disease2

Antibiotic (antimicrobial) Issues:

  • animals are raised with out the routine use of antibiotics.
  • antibiotics are only administered to a sick animal.
  • organic farmers pull the sick animal from the herd before treating it and the meat is not sold under that label
  • routine use of antibiotics is used to promote growth and prevent disease3
  • due to crowded and unhealthy conditions routine use of antibiotics in industrial facilities is believed to lead to antibiotic resistance in humans4 making antibiotics less effective leaving the elderly, medically vulnerable, and children at risk
  • up to 90% of all antibiotics used in livestock production in Canada are not used to treat sick animals but are used as growth promoters5

Environmental Issues:

  • sustainable farmers recognize the importance of protecting the natural environment and act as stewards of the land
  • industrial facilities contribute to numerous environmental issues such as damage to our air, water, and soil. (see these topics for more detail)
  • overapplication of manure can lead to contamination of water

Animal Waste Issues:

  • sustainable farms only raise what the land is capable of handling
  • farmers use manure or composted manure as fertilizer for crops which reduces or eliminates the need for commercial fertilizers and chemicals.
  • industrial livestock production concentrates large numbers of animals in one area. As a result, there is too much manure concentrated in one area for the land to handle.
  • Manure is stored in large holding pits, lagoons, or stock piled.
  • Due to high transportation costs, manure is often over-applied to fields close to the operation.
  • Manure becomes something factory farms must dispose of instead of a fertilizer.
  • liquid manure is often sprayed onto land and crops as raw, untreated sewage.
  • such large amounts of manure not only cause excessive odours but they also release hazardous gases into the air and contaminate water sources with pathogens, phosphourous, and nitrogen.
  • manure storage emits gases such as ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and methane. These gases can cause noxious odours, as well as a suite of health problems6

Water Waste Issues:

  • sustainable farms protect water sources and conserve water
  • industrial operations use huge amounts of water for liquefying manure, flushing barns, and drinking water for animals
  • industrial operations often contaminate water sources with excess nutrients, hormone and antibiotic residue, and harmful pathogens
  • livestock manure has up to 30 times more power to pollute surface water than human waste7

Soil Issues:

  • sustainable farms apply animal manure at a rate that the land can handle protect riparian areas
  • excess nitrogen in manure can evaporate as ammonia8
  • excess nitrogen and phosphorous left behind can not only alter soil characteristics, and thus productivity, but also run off into nearby streams and rivers and affect water supplies9
  • undigested feed may contain trace amounts of heavy metals and salts that accumulate in manure storage units. The accumulated metals may sit in the bottom of storage container for extended periods. When a spill or leak occurs, these metals end up in the soil
  • metals that are often found in manure include copper, zinc, cadmium, molybdenum, nickel,lead, iron, manganese, and boron. If applied to the soil or spilled, high concentrations of heavy metals can reduce the types of crops that will grow in soil10

Hormone Issues:

  • no hormones are administered to animals on sustainable farms
  • 3 natural hormones and 3 synthetic hormones have been approved for use in beef in Canada11
  • hormones are used to achieve leaner beef, increase in growth using less feed, and to reduce the cost for producers12
  • consumption of hormone-treated beef may cause girls to reach puberty earlier, thus making them more susceptible to breast and other cancers13

Genetic Diversity Issues:

  • sustainable farms help preserve genetic diversity by raising a wide range of animal breeds
  • many of these breeds are chosen due to the geographic areas in which they are raised
  • Industrial farms reduce genetic diversity in animals because they only raise a few selected breeds
  • the need for quick growth and high output requires genetic qualities that provide a more uniform product

Fuel Issues:

  • sustainable farms use efficient application of manure and crop rotation to minimize fuel consumption
  • intensive livestock production contributes 80% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions14

Transportation Issues

  • sustainable farms sell their product locally through farmer’s markets, local stores, or community supported agriculture (CSA) programs. This prevents environmental damage and human health problems caused by transportation-generated pollution
  • industrial-scale livestock production is usually centralized and therefore requires extensive transportation
  • as the distance food travels increases, so does the role of chemicals and processing to reduce spoilage before the food reaches the marketplace15
  • food animals often travel many hours without food or water16

Animal Welfare Issues:

  • Sustainably-raised animals are treated humanely and are permitted to carry out natural behaviours such as rooting in the dirt and pecking the ground
  • industrial animals are crammed together in confined areas or cages without access to sunlight, fresh air, or open pasture.
  • Densely populated confinement barns limit animal movement and increase the potential for rapid spread of disease17
  • many undergo painful mutilations such as castration, tail-docking and branding without anesthesia or pain relief18
  • most food animals are forced to endure the agony of long-distance transport. Current federal legislation stipulates that it's legal to transport food animals anywhere from 36 to 52 hours (depending on the species) without water, food or a rest stop19

Economic/Community Issues:

  • sustainable farms support local economies by purchasing supplies and materials from local businesses
  • Owners of small, sustainable farms are actively involved in their communities, helping to build resilient rural communities
  • many communities are left with the cost of environmental damage20
  • negative impacts on a community both socially and economically outweigh any positive
  • industrial livestock facilities hire as few workers as possible and typically purchase equipment, supplies, and animal feed from companies outside the area21
  • small rural communities are divided when industrial livestock facilities are located in rural areas

Worker Issues:

  • sustainable farm owners provide a safe working environment
  • workers are inside the barn where air quality is at its worst.
  • Among the most serious hazards faced by workers is routine exposure to dust and gases emitted from sources of concentrated manure.
  • they are subjected to an array of hazards such as respiratory infections, sprains, bruises, severe head trauma, fractures, electrocution and repetitive motion injury22
    <div id="footnotes">
            1. Intensive Livestock Operations and Health Problems, Paul Hasselback, Encompass, volume 2, no. 2, December 1997 
            2. “Agricultural antibiotics and resistance in human pathogens: villain or scapegoat?” Allison J. McGeer, Msc MD, Canadian Medical Association Journal, Nov. 3, 1998 
            3. Antibiotic Resistant Factories factsheet, Cathy Holtslander, Beyond Factory Farming Coalition, 2007 
            4. “Agricultural use of antibiotics and the evolution and transfer of antibiotic-resistant bacteria”, George G. Khachatoruians, BA, MA, PhD, Canadian Medical Association Journal, Nov. 3, 1998 
            5. It’s Hitting the Fan, Environmental Defence Canada, 2002 
            6. ibid. 
            7. ibid. 
            8. ibid. 
            9. ibid. 
            10. “Understanding Hormone Use in Beef”, Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and Beef Information Centre, February 2006 
            11. ibid. 
            12. “The Real Dope on Beef”, Bradford Duplisea, Canadian Health Coalition, (Calgary Herald), 2001 
            14. Livestock’s long shadow, Environmental issues and options, H. Steinfeld, P. Gerber, T. Wassenaar, V. Castel, M. Rosales, C. deHann, 2006 
            15. “Food Miles”, <a href="">Sierra Club of Canada</a> 
            16. Inching toward humane treatment for food animals, Lynn Kavanaugh, The Vancouver Sun, June 14, 2007 
            17. It’s Hitting the Fan, Environmental Defence Canada, 2002 
            18. Inching toward humane treatment for food animals, Lynn Kavanaugh, The Vancouver Sun, June 14, 2007 
            19. ibid. 
            20. Large-Scale Hog Production and Processing: Concerns for Manitobans, Commissioners’ Report on the Citizens’ Hearing on Hog Production and the Environment, Brandon, Manitoba, October 1999 
            21. Pollution Shopping in Rural America: The myth of economic development in isolated regions, Dr. William J. Weida, March 2001 
            22. Intensive Livestock Operations and Your Health, 
            <a href="">
                Sierra Club of Canada