During the past 50 years, animal agriculture has gone through a seismic shift in the United States. Long gone are the iconic scenes of American landscapes dotted with family farms and red barns. Most of these have been replaced by industrialized facilities controlled by large corporations that rely on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). In this system, cavernous warehouses crowded with thousands -- even tens of thousands -- of animals form the equivalent of an agricultural assembly line. And independent farmers, once the cornerstone of rural America, struggle to compete in a marketplace dominated by a few big corporations. As large corporations (known as integrators) have applied an industrial model to farming, they have also generated a host of new problems. The CAFO model relies on three interlinked practices in order to increase profits:
- Maximize the number of animals squeezed into the least amount of space and require the fewest number of employees to provide care.
- Administer continual doses of antibiotics to the animals to prevent the diseases prevalent in their close-quarters housing.
- Minimize the disposal cost for the substantial volume of animal waste produced by the facilities.