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Crosspost of this on my blog.  

1 Introduction

See, there's the difference between us. I don't care about animals at all. I'm well aware of the cramped, squalid, and altogether unpleasant conditions suffered by livestock animals on many factory farms, and I simply could not care less. I see animals as a natural resource to be exploited. I don't care about them any more than I care about the trees that were cut down to make my house.

Random person on the bizarre anti-vegan subreddit

I’ve previously argued against factory farming at some length, arguing that it is the worst thing ever. Here I will just lay out the facts about factory farming. I will describe what happens to the 80 or so billion beings we factory farm every year, who scream in agony and terror in the great juggernauts of despair, whose cries we ignore. They scream because of us—because of our apathy, because of our demand for their flesh—and it’s about time that people learned exactly what is going on. Here I describe the horrors of factory farms, though if one is convinced that factory farms are evil, they should stop paying for their products—an act which demonstrably causes more animals to be tormented in concentration camp-esque conditions.

If factory farms are as cruel as I suggest, then the obligation not to pay for them is a point of elementary morality. Anyone who is not a moral imbecile recognizes that it’s wrong to contribute to senseless cruelty for the sake of comparatively minor benefits. We all recognize it’s wrong to torture animals for pleasure—paying others to torture animals for our pleasure is similarly wrong. If factory farms are half as cruel as I make them out to be, then factory farming is inarguably the worst thing in human history. Around 99% of meat comes from factory farms—if you purchase meat without careful vetting, it almost definitely comes from a factory farm.

Here, I’ll just describe the facts about what goes on in factory farms. Of course, this understates the case, because much of what goes on is secret—the meat industry has fought hard to make it impossible to film them. As Scully notes

It would be reasonable for the justices to ask themselves this question, too: If the use of gestation crates is proper and defensible animal husbandry, why has the NPPC lobbied to make it a crime to photograph that very practice?

Here, I will show that factory farming is literally torture. This is not hyperbolic, but instead the obvious conclusion of a sober look at the facts. If we treated child molesters the way we treat billions of animals, we’d be condemned by the international community. The treatment of animals is unimaginably horrifying—evocative of the worst crimes in human history.

Some may say that animals just cannot be tortured. But this is clearly a crazy view. If a person used pliers to cut off the toes of their pets, we’d regard that as torture. Unfortunately, what we do to billions of animals is far worse.

2 Pigs

Just like those who defended slavery, the eaters of meat often have farcical notions about how the beings whose mistreatment they defend are treated. But unfortunately, the facts are quite different from those suggested by meat industry propaganda, and are worth reviewing.

The worst horrors of factory farming could soon be phased out in Europe -  Vox

Excess pigs were roasted to death. Specifically, these pigs were killed by having hot steam enter the barn, at around 150 degrees, leading to them choking, suffocating, and roasting to death. It’s hard to see how an industry that chokes and burns beings to death can be said to be anything other than nightmarish, especially given that pigs are smarter than dogs.

Factory-farmed pigs, while pregnant, are stuffed in tiny gestation crates, unable to turn around. As the human league notes

The process of breeding animals for food is highly exploitative. Female pigs—known as “sows”—are repeatedly impregnated through artificial insemination, giving birth to litters of up to 12 piglets at a time. Throughout their pregnancies and after giving birth, mother pigs are kept in "gestation crates." These crates are so small that the pigs can barely move or turn around.

These pigs will never be able to lie down comfortably over the course of their entire lives.

Male pigs are castrated with no anesthetic. This is done because it makes the meat taste better than it would if the pigs went through puberty. Sometimes, they’re castrated with a sharp knife, but other times, a rubber band is tied around their testicles until they wither and die from lack of blood flow. Those of us who are male can imagine with acute horror what it would be like to have rubber bands wrapped around our testicles until they wither and die, and it’s about as horrifying as can be imagined.

Pigs have their tails ripped out with no anesthetic. Their teeth are also ripped out with no anesthetic. This is admitted to by the industry, and it isn’t bothered by it.

Pigs have parts of their ears cut off—also with no anesthetic—all for the sake of identification.

Pigs are genetically manipulated to grow much too quickly. This leaves them with high rates of arthritis, often unable to stand or turn around.

Also noted by the human league, pig slaughter is cruel.

A typical slaughterhouse kills more than 1,000 baby pigs every hour. The pigs are stunned before their throats are slit open. They're left to bleed out, then dipped into scalding water in order to remove their hair. However, the speed of the slaughter lines makes it nearly impossible to ensure every pig is properly stunned before slaughter. This means many pigs are able to see, hear, and smell the pigs around them being killed, and they will be boiled alive when they reach the scalding tanks.

Reports differ, but some have found that as many as 80% of pigs have pneumonia upon slaughter. This is because pigs spend all of their time living in ammonia and feces—two terrible-smelling substances. This is done despite pigs having a sense of smell that is far more acute than humans.

Pigs that are too small to grow properly are useless to the industry. As a result of this, in totally legal industry practice, farmers grab them by their hind legs and smash them against the concrete until they die. This even happens at supposedly high-welfare farms.

Undercover investigations found some rather horrifying things: workers were found ripping out the testicles of piglets with no painkillers, piglets had herniated intestines as a result of botched castration, and pigtails are often torn off with dull clippers. Really, take a moment to imagine one of your limbs—perhaps a finger—being torn off by dull clippers. This is what happens to untold numbers of pigs.

Pigs were covered with open wounds—often pus-filled, often based on pressure sores from their poor confinement. “Mother pigs — [who were] physically taxed from constant birthing — [were] suffering from distended, inflamed, bleeding, and usually fatal uterine prolapses.” Management would often throw pigs across the room. Pigs without proper veterinary care were left to languish and die.

Pigs have almost their entire tails snipped off. However, they don’t cut off their entire tail. They keep a little stump that has lots of nerves. The reason they do this is that when the tails are kept, the depressed pigs let other nervous pigs chew on their tails which become infected and sometimes result in death. However, the small stump is incredibly tender, so when other pigs chew on their tails, even in their dejected state, they thrash to get away.

Pigs never get to turn around, spend time outside, or see the sun, except immediately before slaughter. As a result, they develop learned helplessness, a sort of senseless, apathetic misery resembling depression. Harsh notes “Factory farms crowd pigs into barren enclosures with solid floors, which are uncomfortable and painful for pigs to rest on.”

Pigs have virtually no space to move around—there’s about one pig for every 7.2 square feet. The average bedroom is about 132 square feet, so this would be equivalent to cramming just over 18 pigs into a bedroom of the average size.

Undercover reporting found that pigs were eating food laced with feces.

Lots of rotting dead pigs adorn the floor, and pigs often cannibalize the dead pigs.

“One of the most distressing findings was a young pig, bitten and bullied by the others in her pen. Covered in lacerations, she endured nearly 48 hours of brutal attacks before the farmer moved her to the gangway, swollen and sore.”

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) documented 14 humane-slaughter violations at one processing plant, where inspectors found hogs who “were walking and squealing after being stunned [with a stun gun] as many as four times.””

One undercover report finds the following. “The shocking images show sick piglets, pigs who mutilate each other as a consequence of the high stocking density. Some piglets have significant skin problems (probably exudative epidermite, due to staphylococcus). Unable to protect himself, a pig is literally eaten alive.” Later, it notes, “The conditions of breeding in a context of industrialization have led the animals to adopt behaviours such as self-harm. The pigs in these buildings are not put in a condition where they can meet their basic needs.”

Pigs are crammed into tiny areas in transport such that they have “only half a square meter on average. This creates a highly stressful situation due to lack of space, leading to conflicts and aggressive behavior between animals due to the mixing of different families in tight conditions.” All as one would expect. Pigs, despite their frailty, are crammed together in tiny spaces and transported to slaughterhouses—during transport, they have no room to move or lie down and they are given no food or water. Huge numbers die along the way—about 170,000 annually, and 420,000 end up significantly injured.

Terrified pigs are often beaten in order to get them into transport. When they get to the slaughterhouse, in order to bring them to the place where they’re slaughtered workers employ “extreme violence.” One worker said

“If you get a hog in a chute that... has a heart attack or refuses to move, you take a meat hook and hook it into his [anus]. You’re dragging these hogs alive, and a lot of times the meat hook rips out... I’ve seen hams–thighs– completely ripped open. I’ve also seen intestines come out. If the hog collapses near the front of the chute, you shove the meat hook into his cheek and drag him forward.”

It would not be hard to find many more horrible facts. But the point should be clear enough.

Summary: Mother pigs spend their life in tiny crates unable to turn around. When pigs are babies, they’re separated from their parents at a young age, and sent to live in a tiny shed with virtually no space to turn around, covered in feces, such that horrifying diseases develop. Physical abuse is routine, castration is near universal, and the pigs are bored constantly. Pigs spent their life in a state of extreme boredom, with no space to roam, subject to constant disease and wounds, with no comfortable place to lie down, and subject to genetic manipulation that causes constant agony, even aside from specific mistreatment. Their welfare is totally unimportant to the industry, so the industry does nothing to improve it. The industry does not care if they’re stressed, hot, cold, or castrated unless it threatens their bottom line.

3 Broiler Chickens

“One of the most enduring marks of our impact on Earth will be the sudden appearance in the fossil record of copious chicken bones.”

Broiler chickens are the type of chickens that are grown and sold for meat, rather than eggs. These chickens are treated rather horrifyingly. Here’s what it looks like in a chicken farm.

UK factory farm for chickens

Most broiler chickens are part of fast-growing breeds. These breeds have reduced welfare, as a result of inactivity and rapid growth causing stress to their muscles. “The fastest growing strains spent more time sitting, and less time standing and walking than slower strains, even at the same ages.” “Time spent sitting, standing and walking can be an important welfare indicator if differences relate to a bird’s inability to stand and walk, or if differences increase the birds’ risk for contact dermatitis (footpad lesions and hock burns).” Kelsey Piper summarizes “Farms have bred chickens so large that they’re in constant pain.” This image shows how much the chickens have grown over time.

In 1960, the average man weighed around 167 pounds and the average woman weighed around 140 pounds, so if our weight had increased proportionately as much as chickens did, by 2005, the average weight of women would be around 650 pounds and the average weight of men would be 770 pounds.

The report concluded “Birds spent a large majority of their time (70-80%) inactive,” which they note “becomes a welfare concern if the birds are motivated to be active and cannot due to physical limitations, or if the inactivity itself causes welfare issues such as contact dermatitis.” The report finds that many birds struggle to do much moving, hence they spend most of their time inactive.

During transport to slaughter, birds are stuffed into tiny crates, with the higher ones often exposed to extreme temperatures. Between 1,000 and 1,500 animals are loaded into trucks per hour, which is about one every 4 seconds, using the lower number. This leads to frequent breaking of bones and other grievous injuries—the same way that it would if one was packing 15 human babies into crates every minute.

This transport process kills 15% of broiler chickens. Much of this is caused by stress as “Various studies have noted the presence of high levels of stress hormones during the transport of the birds to their deaths.” The chickens have no food to eat during this transport process or water for the two or so days during which they’re being transported.

Chickens spend their entire life in windowless sheds. These sheds can house tens of thousands of birds, meaning that the chickens don’t have enough space to rest, comfortably turn around, run, or play. In these sheds, chickens never breathe fresh air or see the sun.

Rapid growth in broiler chickens often leads to leg deformities. Even when chickens don’t have any easily identifiable diseases, they’re in constant extreme pain just from excess weight—the same way you’d be in pain if you weighed 600 pounds.

Being constantly in filth, painful sores as well as other skin conditions constantly erupt on the skins of chickens. Ammonia burns result from their constant contact with feces. They develop a whole host of other horrifying diseases including “Wooden breast syndrome: breast muscles that become diseased, tough, and woodlike.”

Rapid development results in numerous diseases including ascites and sudden death syndrome. Sudden death syndrome is pretty mysterious, and results in shocking, unexpected, sudden deaths. Ascites, on the other hand, results in gradual, horrifying, painful deaths.

Chickens are raised in highly unnatural environments. They begin their life in massive hatcheries, separated from their parents, of course, before being sent to the factory farms. They spend most of their life in feces, often with very little space to turn around, such that they’re constantly given antibiotics because they’re constantly sick and injured. Whittleton notes “The barren sheds are stuffed full of chickens and provide little to keep these naturally curious, playful animals from abject boredom,” in an article describing chickens as “one of the most abused animals on the planet.”

It’s nearly impossible to get adequate sleep in chicken farms. Whittleton further explains “Rest is a constant challenge, as most sheds don’t provide more than four hours of ‘darkness’ at a time. And for most of the time, the chickens are bathed in harsh artificial light and crammed in alongside tens or even hundreds of thousands of other chickens.” When prisoners of war are deprived of sleep to this degree, we call it torture, but of course, no one cares when we torture chickens. If you treated a dog this way, it would be torture, but when we treat ten billion or so chickens like that in the U.S. alone, that’s not torture—if you mistreat one animal it’s a tragedy, if you mistreat more animals than there are humans, that’s a statistic.

A systematic review of chicken broiler chicken welfare found that chickens were constantly terrified as a result of “Rearing environment, genotypes, high light intensity and human handling.” All as one would expect, the same way that humans would be in constant fear if they were separated from their parents as babies before being forced to endure nightmarish mistreatment that is too cruel to inflict on prisoners of war.

Peta Asia notes “Chickens raised for their flesh—called “broilers” by the chicken industry—spend their lives in filthy, ammonia-filled sheds with tens of thousands of other birds. The sheer frustration of being crammed together with so many other chickens causes many birds to develop destructive behavior, such as relentlessly pecking one another.” Ammonia is one of the foulest smelling substances, so it smells horrible all the time.

Hundreds of thousands of chickens burn to death every year—some broiler chickens, others egg growers. Of course, whenever this happens the industry makes sure to note that no one was injured—for the industry apparently doesn’t consider the birds to be anyone. When individuals set chickens on fire they go to jail, but when an industry recklessly enables conditions that burn half a million chickens to death, there are no legal consequences.

Factory-farmed chickens never meet their parents; they’re separated from them prior to their eggs hatching.

Chickens have their beak cut off, often with a hot knife. This is because they’re so horrifyingly mistreated that they often go crazy and attack other chickens—something that cannot be done without a break. Their beaks have many nerve endings, so this probably feels roughly like it would feel to you if your nose was cut off with a hot knife. Seriously take a moment to imagine what it would be like if someone got a steak knife from your drawer and cut off your nose. This “debeaking itself can cause chronic pain, especially in birds whose beaks are trimmed at older ages.”

Right after hatching, the chickens are subject to horrifying transport conditions as they’re transported to the factory farms. They’re stuffed into small boxes, leading to frequent death as the factory farms inflict upon them immense stress and weather extremes. If we crammed dozens of prisoners in boxes, that would be classified as torture, but we have no problem torturing animals in ways we’d never do to the worst terrorists and criminals on the planet. Having good-tasting flesh apparently makes one deserve worse mistreatment than child molesters. Here’s a discussion of the fate that a typical chicken can expect to endure immediately after being born.

The workers stack crates full of chicks on top of each other and some become trapped and crushed between them. Crates with tens of thousands of chicks are loaded onto a large truck and transported to a factory farm. By now, he’s getting very hungry and thirsty as the last nutrients remaining from his yolk sac are used up. After arrival, crate after crate, the birds are dumped onto a pile.

Chickens are killed in horrifying ways. Often they are hoisted upside down by one leg by a machine—which often painfully breaks their leg—before being sent through an electric bath which is supposed to stun them but often fails. Then, they’re brought forward and have their throat cut; but that sometimes fails too. After that, they’re deposited in a tank of boiling water. Given the alarming failure rate of the throat slitting and electric bath, about half a million birds annually are boiled alive while fully conscious. Take a moment to consider what it would be like to be boiled alive the next tine you’re dining on chicken.

Undercover reports on factory farms consistently reveal even greater cruelty than is publicly known. For example, an investigation of a supposedly humane hatchery found that there were numerous violations of the law, including frequently crushing chicks with machinery, chicks suffering for hours from grievous injuries before being ground up, and chicks being scalded or drowned when trays they were in went through washers. “Chickens had no room to move around and were forced to drink from troughs of moldy water.” Chickens were found unable to move or even stand because of their excess weight. Birds were subject to routine cruelty on behalf of workers such as kicking and beating. Dead birds were left rotting among the living, some of whom were cannibalized, and dying birds were left to suffer for hours. These occurred on supposedly high welfare farms. Physical abuse of the animals is rampant—they’re beaten, hit, punched, and kicked routinely by workers many times their size.

Summary: Chickens are endure cruel transport right from the moment of birth, in small crates. They’re sent to overcrowded sheds where they have no space to turn around. They have nothing interesting to do, and not enough space to do it. They express none of their natural behaviors, and are subject to constant horrifying disease, injury, and artificial lighting that leads to torturous sleep deprivation. They spend their days unable to move much, living in feces and ammonia, subject to constant violence, and with horrifying diseases. Then, they’re cruelly slaughtered, wherein they’re crammed into small crates, leading to many chickens dying, and many more enduring bone-breaking injuries and weather extremes. Then, those that haven’t died yet are brutally slaughtered, some stunned, some with their throats slit while they’re conscious, and some boiled alive while fully conscious. Michael Specter gave an accurate summary after visiting a chicken farm

"I was almost knocked to the ground by the overpowering smell of feces and ammonia. My eyes burned and so did my lungs, and I could neither see nor breathe. ... There must have been thirty thousand chickens sitting silently on the floor in front of me. They didn't move, didn't cluck. They were almost like statues of chickens, living in nearly total darkness, and they would spend every minute of their six-week lives that way."

4 Egg-laying hens

“I've seen how the male chicks are culled by throwing them in a meat grinder, and I truly could not care less.”

—Random person on the anti-vegan subreddit.

In this section, I’ll describe the horrors of the egg industry.

Hens live their entire lives in tiny cages with only a few inches of space, unable to move much, stretch their wings, or turn around. “This space is where she eats, drinks, urinates and defecates, and sleeps.” They have less than a piece of paper worth of space.

Overcrowded Battery Cage

Just like the broiler chickens, egg-laying hens are debeaked with a sharp knife, in a process roughly as painful as the chopping off a human’s nose with a knife or chopping off of a human’s fingers with pliers. Additionally, they are horrifyingly mistreated as they’re being hatched—crammed into small boxes, transported, handled as babies by humans, and more. They never see their parents. Like other animals discussed so far, they’re routinely beaten, and many burn alive each year in barn fires. A decent summary comes from rolling stone who notes

You see and smell nothing from the moment of your birth but the shit coming down through the open slats of the battery cages above you. It coats your feathers and becomes a second skin; by the time you’re plucked from your cage for slaughter, your bones and wings breaking in the grasp of harried workers, you look less like a hen than an oil-spill duck, blackened by years of droppings. Your eyes tear constantly from the fumes of your own urine, you wheeze and gasp like a retired miner, and you’re beset every second of the waking day by mice and plaguelike clouds of flies.

The tiny cages that they live in are made of wire, which slopes down so that the eggs they lay roll into a place where they’re collected. This means they’re standing on sharp metal all the time, leading to constant foot injuries. Battery cages result in “severe welfare problems, including the thwarting of natural behaviors, bone weakness and breakage, feather loss, and numerous diseases.”

Artificial lighting is used to trick the hens into thinking that it is summer when it is in fact winter, so that their egg production doesn’t dry up.

Pollan says of hens “Every natural instinct of this animal is thwarted, leading to a range of behavioral ''vices'' that can include cannibalizing her cagemates and rubbing her body against the wire mesh until it is featherless and bleeding. Pain? Suffering? Madness? The operative suspension of disbelief depends on more neutral descriptors, like ''vices'' and ''stress.'' Whatever you want to call what's going on in those cages, the 10 percent or so of hens that can't bear it and simply die is built into the cost of production. And when the output of the others begins to ebb, the hens will be ''force-molted'' -- starved of food and water and light for several days in order to stimulate a final bout of egg laying before their life's work is done.” This process of forced molting kills 5-10% of hens. “At any given time over 6 million hens in the U.S. are being systematically starved in their cages.” “5% - 10% of birds die during the molt, and those who live may lose more than 25% of their body weight.” Of course, when we starve millions of hens to death, no one cares much—at least, not enough to stop paying the industry that starves them. For one example of a natural behavior that hens are unable to perform, leading to great distress

Battery hens are unable to dustbathe, perch, forage, or roost—natural behaviors which are replaced by inactivity or inappropriate substitutes on the barren cage floors. Under normal conditions, hens regularly bathe in dust to keep their feathers in good condition, as well as to regulate their temperature. Caged hens still retain the natural urge to dustbathe, even when the stimulus of litter is not present. In fact, battery hens will try to dustbathe against the wire bars of the cage. This leads to the degradation of feather condition.

Dr. Baxter states that hens without access to perches are shown to suffer reduced welfare from “increased aggression, reduced bone strength, impaired food condition, and high feather loss.” Studies such as that by L.S. Cordiner and C.J. Savory have shown that supplementing cages with perches “reduces agonistic interactions,” by providing the means to form a hierarchy natural among laying hens. The floors of battery cages themselves present larger problems, leading to foot and leg problems for the hens.

Because chickens’ toes have evolved to grasp tree limbs and other natural perches, tendon tension causes a high incidence of crooked toes, a severely painful condition, when wire floors are used. Since cage floors are sloped to facilitate egg collection, hens slip down to crosswires, causing calluses that can rupture and become infected. Research shows that hens in cages have a higher incidence of foot damage than those living in litter.

The egg industry has no use for the males because they can’t lay eggs. The egg-laying males are not the right type of chicken to be sold for meat, so billions of baby male chicks are ground up alive or suffocated in bags on their first day of life. This happens to around 7 billion chickens every year.

Because the hens are in unsanitary conditions in close quarters with weakened immune systems, diseases spread rapidly. These include “E. coli and Salmonella infections, fowl cholera, infectious coryza, influenza (bird flu), and infectious bronchitis.” Von Alt notes “In addition to severe mental and social deprivation, forcing a naturally active bird to spend her life in a cramped and nearly stationary position causes numerous health problems, including lameness, bone brittleness, and muscle weakness. Nearly 30 percent of hens have broken bones at the time they are slaughtered.” A HSUS report finds that uterine prolapse, wherein the uterus of the hen is pushed outside her body, is common.

Hens die constantly, leading to chickens often living with the rotting, decaying corpses of other chickens.

Hens have been genetically engineered to be maximally efficient machines for producing eggs. This results in frequent osteoporosis as her production of calcium-rich eggs results in frail bones. “In egg-bound hens, an egg has become stuck and cannot be passed, resulting in infections and systemic disease. Hens are denied any veterinary care for these conditions.” This genetic engineering results in deeply diseased creatures, living in constant agony—and this agony would exist even if they weren’t mistreated. They’ve been selected for hideous deformities leading to constant pain.

Contrary to the naive fantasies of some vegetarians, there is not a crucial distinction between the egg industry and meat industry. If anything, the egg industry is worse. After the hens are done laying eggs, they’re sent to slaughter, just as a cow would be.

Cage free farms are barely an improvement. Instead of cramming 10 into a tiny cage, they cram many more into a larger space, but the conditions are very similar.

They’re slaughtered in rather horrifying ways. “… most hens are killed horrifically on farms because their bodies are deemed to be worth less than the cost of sending them to a slaughterhouse … Workers roughly yank “spent” hens out of their cages, stuff them into boxes, and gas them… The gas doesn’t always kill them. If they survive, workers beat them or slam them against a hard surface. Some survive all that and are trucked away—severely injured but still alive.”

The reason for their debeaking is not primarily to prevent cannibalism, contrary to what the industry claims, as cannibalism is rare. Instead, according to a HSUS report, it is “performed principally because it reduces “food flicking, food wastage, and food consumption.”

Hens in factory farms are wholly unable to build a nest. This leads to profound welfare issues, as it causes them great distress. The aforementioned HSUS report notes

According to Dr. Ian Duncan, world authority on poultry behavior and welfare, the most significant source of frustration for battery hens is “undoubtedly the lack of nesting opportunity.” Every day, the hens search for the material and space to build a nest, as well as seclusion they will never find, before being forced to lay their eggs among other birds on a metal-barred floor. According to Dr. Michael Baxter, expert on animal housing, this is likely to cause “significant suffering,” and the hens show symptoms of “severe frustration,” often exhibiting stereotypical “pacing” when denied nesting materials and space. Dr. Mench has reported that hens show a preference for nesting sites with litter, concealment, and protection for their nesting and incubation behaviors. Battery cages provide none of these requirements.

Hens suffer distressing feather loss in the ghastly cages. This is caused by their frequent insanity-induced throwing of themselves against the metal walls of the cage, pecking from other chickens, and unsanitary conditions.

Hens’ bones are weak as a result of the impossibility of exercise, low rates of calcium, rates of osteoporosis as high as 89%, and severe vitamin D deficiency. As a result of this, even before transport, 1 in 6 hens suffer broken bones.

Summary: Hens start their lives in hatcheries, where the male chicks are ground up alive, while the female chicks are sent to factory farms. Transport is very lethal. In the factory farms, they’re kept in tiny feces-covered wire cages leading to horrifying injury, as well as numerous diseases. All the things that naturally give them joy are gone, leaving to them lying in misery, with no space to move, turn around, or stretch their wings. They become insane and depressed. They’re starved to increase their egg production. Eventually, they’re either killed on sight or sent to slaughterhouses. In transport, a huge portion of them die, often horrifically.

5 Turkeys

In the Turkey industry, parents are separated from their children. Like in the broiler chicken and egg industries, the birds are born in cruel hatcheries.

While in the wild Turkeys eat a diverse diet, on factory farms, their diets are far more limited—they’re only fed processed grain and legumes.

Like chickens, turkeys in factory farms are kept in tiny sheds with virtually no space to turn around. Like chickens, they live in feces and ammonia, leading to diseases spreading rapidly, go through cruel transport, are painfully debeaked, and are cruelly slaughtered by being dragged upside down through an electric bath, then beheaded, then boiled. They’re subject to similar horrendously painful, unnatural growth.

Baby Turkeys that are too small are ground up in macerators.

Turkeys are produced through artificial insemination. This is because they’re too large to breed naturally. Clara Dell notes

In modern production, all factory-farmed turkeys are bred solely through artificial insemination to make production as efficient as possible. Commercial turkeys are too large and heavily muscled to breed naturally, so semen is collected from male turkeys and inserted into female hens. When hens’ fertility decreases later in the breeding season, producers inseminate the birds more frequently or with additional semen. 

Turkeys are desnoodled, which involves cutting off the red flap below their neck. This is done with scissors, without anesthetic. They also have the claw on their toes cut off. Like with chickens, this grotesque mutilation takes place to prevent them from harming themselves and others in the insanity-inducing factory farms. “A debeaked bird cannot eat properly or explore his or her environment fully, nor can they preen themselves or their flockmates.  They may also experience acute and chronic pain in their beak, head, and face.”

In Turkey sheds, artificial lighting shines for 20 hours a day. Combined with the limited space, this makes it nearly impossible to sleep, leading to similar torturous sleep deprivation.

Turkeys die with alarming frequency. As one source notes

And PETA adds, their unnaturally large size also causes many turkeys to die from organ failure or heart attacks before they are even 6 months old. According to an investigative report in the Wall Street Journal on the miserable conditions on turkey farms, “It’s common in a rearing house to find a dead bird surrounded by four others whose hearts failed after they watched the first one ‘fall back and go into convulsions, with its wings flapping wildly.

Summary: Turkey farming is roughly the same as broiler chicken farming. Turkeys are subject to frequent abuse, sleep deprivation, cruel slaughter, a poor diet, separation via hatchery, lethal transport, and numerous diseases.

6 Beef cows

The lives of beef cows are heaven compared to the lives of broiler chickens, but they are horrible nonetheless.

Cows are subject to similar painful castration—sometimes done by having their testicles chopped off, other times done by having their testicles clamped until the blood flow is cut off. If we did this in Abu-Ghraib, for example, this would be widely seen as the worst thing we did. So it’s not just akin to ordinary U.S. torture—it’s worse.

Cows are given third-degree burns for demarcation purposes. This probably feels roughly like putting your hand on a hot stove until you get third-degree burns. Their horns are often burned off. These mutilations take place on the ranch.

Also on the ranch, cows are generally kept outside, but this is sometimes a bad thing. Cows often die from extreme weather—overheating or freezing to death.

After they leave the ranch, cows are shipped to large feedlots. Here, they’re fed an unnatural diet of corn and grain which cause them to get fat quickly. They have to live, while on the feedlots in feces and ammonia. PETA notes

After about a year of enduring harsh weather extremes, cows are shipped to an auction lot and then may be sent hundreds of miles away to massive feedlots—feces- and mud-filled holding pens where they’re crammed together by the thousands. Many are sick on arrival, and some die shortly afterward.

Cattle on feedlots are fed a highly unnatural diet of grain and corn, which is designed to fatten them up quickly. This food can cause their stomachs to become so full of gas—a condition called bloat—that breathing may become impaired because of compression of the lungs. Some may suffer from a severe increase in stomach acid, causing ulcers to form and resulting in a condition called “acute acidosis.”

The feedlot air is saturated with ammonia, methane, and other noxious chemicals that build up from the huge amounts of manure, and the cows are forced to inhale these gases constantly. These fumes can give them chronic respiratory problems, making breathing painful.

Cattle are often fattened by the addition of artificial lighting, which interferes with their sleep, thus resulting in weight gain and similar sleep deprivation.

Naturally, cows often graze. This is, however, fully prevented by factory farms, leading to prolonged distress.

Cows get diseases as a result of their very poor diet designed to maximally efficiently fatten them up. This results in life-threatening illnesses like feedlot acidosis, liver abscesses, sudden death from bloat, anthrax, E.coli, giardiasis, leptospirosis, rabies, respiratory diseases, lameness, mastitis, and diarrhea. Rachels notes “Feedlot cows often get acidosis (kind of like heartburn) which can lead to diarrhea, ulcers, bloat, rumenitis, liver disease, and a weakening of the immune system that can lead to pneumonia, coccidiosis, enterotoxemia, and feedlot polio.”

Cows are often physically abused, as has been discovered by various undercover investigations. This is unsurprising—the industry has to quickly move lots of cows, so often they’re abused for efficiency reasons or for sadism. Additionally, when the cows arrive at the slaughterhouse, they often don’t want to leave the trucks out of fear, so they’re beaten and poked with electric prods.

Factory-farmed cows are bolt-gunned in the head. This is supposed to stun them, though, of course, often fails to do so. Then, they are hoisted by one leg (often breaking the leg) and beheaded by a machine. The following reports come from slaughterhouse workers

After they are unloaded, cows are forced through a chute and shot in the head with a captive-bolt gun meant to stun them. But because the lines move so quickly and many workers are poorly trained, the technique often fails to render the animals insensible to pain. Ramon Moreno, a longtime slaughterhouse worker, told The Washington Post that he frequently has to cut the legs off completely conscious cows. “They blink. They make noises,” he says. “The head moves, the eyes are wide and looking around. … They die piece by piece.”

Another worker, Martin Fuentes, told the Post that many animals are still alive and conscious for as long as seven minutes after their throats have been cut. “The line is never stopped simply because an animal is alive.” Because the industry makes more money the more animals it kills, workers who stop to alert officials to abuses at their slaughterhouse risk losing their jobs. The meat industry thrives on a workforce made up largely of impoverished and exploited workers, many of them immigrants who can never complain about poor working conditions or cruelty to animals for fear of being deported.

Cows live in filth. One report notes

Cattle feedlots are like pre-modern cities, Michael Pollan writes, “teeming and filthy and stinking, with open sewers, unpaved roads, and choking air rendered visible by dust.” Ellen Ruppel Shell likens the feedlot to “a filth-choked slum.” Feedlot cattle often stand ankle-deep in their own waste and are exposed to the extremes in weather without shade or shelter. One study found that cattle lacking shade were four times more aggressive toward other cows than cattle in shade. This is how feedlot cows live, 24/7.

Cows often face cramped conditions in transport, both to the farms and slaughterhouses. Rachels notes “Before dying, the cow’s ride to the slaughterhouse may be long, cramped, and stressful. There are, in practice, no legal limits on how long calves can be trucked without food, water or rest.” Cows face many day long journeys, exposed to the weather, in cramped conditions on trucks, with no food or water.

Summary: Beef cows spend their first year of life outside on a ranch, enduring harsh weather extremes. On the ranch, they’re painfully mutilated in lots of ways—they’re castrated, dehorned, and their ears are notched. Then they’re subject to a cramped transport that kills many of them, during which they’re not fed, before they arrive at the feedlot. At the feedlot, they’re fed an unhealthy grain diet, forced to live in feces and filth, and crammed in small spaces. Diseases spread rapidly. Finally, they’re shipped in trucks, leading to bones breaking and painful transport conditions. Once again, they’re not fed. At the slaughterhouses, they’re subject to physical abuse, before being bolt gunned in the head and sent down a chute to have their throats slit. Sometimes they’re fully conscious and bleed out for several minutes.

7 Dairy cows

“So people beat the living hell out of these little baby calves to get them to stand. And if they just won’t, they get frustrated, they’ve got a lot of work to do. Boom. They bolt them with a captive bolt gun real quick. And if they don’t do it right, that calf will slowly die with a wound in their brain that kills them.”

Norman the farmer

Cows only produce milk when they’re pregnant. Thus, they are artificially inseminated, meaning a human forces bull semen into them, often while they’re flailing and trying to get away. Generally when one forcefully impregnates another as they’re trying to get away, we call that rape, but, of course, when it’s done by the dairy industry, we don’t care much. The insemination process is like something out of a horror movie.

Banned in the Netherlands and Denmark, electroejaculation is the dairy industry’s go-to technique for sperm collection. Describing this procedure in even the simplest, pared-down terms cannot disguise its inherent abuse: A bull is selected based on the high milk production of his daughters, then tied and restrained while an electric probe is inserted in his anus. The electricity is then turned up until the cow ejaculates. The process is so painful, the bulls often pass out before ejaculating. They are only allowed to recover for 15 minutes before being forced to endure the process again. The alternative to electroejaculation is less painful for bulls, but since it involves inserting a sperm-collecting artificial vagina inside the female cow’s real vagina, this method shifts the torture from one animal to the other. Referred to as a “mount cow” during this process, the female is restrained until the bull ejaculates and the semen can be stolen from the artificial vagina. In some cases, the artificial vagina route gets even weirder. “Using the artificial vagina method, they use steers—castrated males—as what they call ‘teasers,’” Gillespie says. “They get the bull to mount the steers to get them aroused, and then they have them ejaculate into the sleeve they use to replicate a cow’s vagina.” At this point, the female cow has been removed from the process altogether. “And they have the farmer or the human worker in the middle of this process, in the middle of this weird encounter between the bull and the steer.”

Dairy cows are subject to most of the same things that beef cows are. They’re slaughtered in the same way that beef cows are, routinely abused, branded, dehorned, and castrated, all with no anesthetic.

Dairy cows are subject to lots of horrifying mistreatment. They’re constantly diseased as a result of their constantly milked udders becoming swollen and infected. Cows become exhausted from the constant abuse and forced birthing. Rolling Stone summarizes

You’re a typical milk cow in America, and this is your life. You are raised, like pigs, on a concrete slab in a stall barely bigger than your body. There, you never touch grass or see sun till the day you’re herded to slaughter. A cocktail of drugs, combined with breeding decisions, has grossly distended the size of your udder such that you’d trip over it if allowed to graze, which of course you’re not. Your hooves have rotted black from standing in your own shit, your teats are scarred, swollen and leaking pus – infected by mastitis – and you’re sick to the verge of total collapse from giving nearly 22,000 pounds of milk a year. (That’s more than double what your forebears produced just 40 years ago.) By the time they’ve used you up (typically at four years of age), your bones are so brittle that they often snap beneath you and leave you unable to get off the ground on your own power.

Brittle bones aren’t the only reason cows become nonambulatory. A “downer” cow is an animal unable to stand on its own due to injury or illness; downers are deemed unfit by the federal government for human consumption. They are three times likelier to harbor a potentially deadly strain of E. coli, and at higher risk of carrying salmonella bacteria and transmitting bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, as it’s quaintly known. But before you’re classified as a downer, Big Meat will use every trick up its wizard’s sleeve to keep you on your feet. Workers hit you in the eyes with a cattle prod, or in the groin, if you like that better; stick a fire hose down your throat to get you to stand, a ploy inspired by those who brought you Abu Ghraib; and, if all else fails, they hoist you with a forklift and load you onto a flatbed bound for slaughter.

After birth, cows are separated from their parents. This is a deeply distressing process that often results in both of them pining for the other for days. The dairy cow’s babies are sold for beef or veal.

Most dairy cows born spend their first few months living in a small crate or dome. “For luxuries like stretching, there’s an “exercise area,” which is not an exercise area at all but a caged, 4- to 8-foot area in front of the hutch that allows the calf to take a couple of steps and be fed by an employee as they go down the line, feeding hundreds of caged animals soy milk or milk replacer.” Despite cows being social animals who need playmates, they spend their first months in cruel solitude.

Dairy cows also spend some time early in life on ranches. Like in the beef industry, these are often crowded, leading to rapid spread of diseases. On top of this, extreme weather causes frequent deaths.

Because cows have been genetically engineered to maximize milk production, the rest of their functions deteriorate. This results in constant pain as well decreased fertility and reproduction rates.

Cows often become unable to move from the immense stress. When this happens to a cow, she is often killed on the farm.

Dairy cows endure cruel transport in what has been described as “the most stressful time in a cow’s life.” Cows are “Packed into a tractor-trailer so tightly they can’t lie down to rest, cows in every condition—sick, pregnant, lame, newborn—can go the entire journey without fresh water.” A farmer named Norman describes the cows just being thrown onto the truck, because it’s quicker that way.

Summary: Dairy cows repeatedly have bull semen injected into them, which is cruelly extracted from bulls via a strange electric shock procedure. They spend the beginning of their lives alone in small crates or domes, separated from their parents, causing immense distress, before being sent to be repeatedly artificially inseminated and milked, leading to rapid spread of diseases. In transport, they’re starved, left thirsty, and subject to weather extremes, all the while in extremely cramped conditions. Then, they’re cruelly slaughtered.

8 Conclusion

Factory farming is literally torture. This is not hyperbolic—if a person treated humans this way, we would not hesitate to call it torture. If an individual treated their dog that way, we’d call it torture.

This should affect people’s behavior. I’ve argued elsewhere that if factory farms are torture, then factory farming is by far the worst thing ever. Even ignoring the horrors of slaughter entirely, this chart shows about how many hours of torture are caused by the consumption of a kg of various animal products.

Each time one gets a gallon of milk from the store, that requires about 5.5 hours of torture. If one buys a chicken, even if it’s only 2.5 kgs, conservatively, that’s about 55 days of torture. And this is almost certainly a considerable underestimate. Thus, as a point of elementary morality, we shouldn’t eat meat. We shouldn’t force animals to endure weeks of torture for mild pleasures. We should stop being complicit in the worst crime in human history, one that causes orders of magnitude more suffering than all wars, genocide, diseases, prejudices, and famines.

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If ever I need to make the case that animals do suffer on farms (at least some of the time), then I could see this being a useful reference resource.

If your aim is to provide a persuasive resource to people who are not currently vegan, you may find it more effective if your posts don't lead with language like:

Anyone who is not a moral imbecile recognizes that it’s wrong to contribute to [factory farming]

As someone who agrees that factory farming could well be one of the greatest moral atrocities of all time, thank you for putting this list together.

Thanks for the comment.  What I said was "Anyone who is not a moral imbecile recognizes that it’s wrong to contribute to senseless cruelty for the sake of comparatively minor benefits."  The point is that it's obvious that one shouldn't cause lots of torture for the sake of minor benefits.  If, as I claim, that is what happens when one eats meat, then this is a good case against eating meat. 

I think it's worth increasing the degree to which you put your prospective reader in mind when writing essays like this. As they say, "you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar". I think more could have been done to avoid alienating readers who otherwise would have been inclined to listen to you.

Of course, I understand (and 100% agree!) with the way you feel about this moral issue. To you, factory farming is obviously morally wrong. But front and center in your mind could be that most people, and even some EAs/rationalists, have just never thought about meat consumption this way.

You're in 650 BCE trying to convince Spartans to not kill babies, 1850 trying to convince American Southerners to not own slaves, and 2023 trying to get people to care about AI x-risk. What's a better approach: Wrecking them with facts + logic, or gently guiding them to consider a perspective they haven't before?

Thank you for taking the time to write this and for clearly caring deeply about animal suffering. Two notes:

  1. The species focused on do not reflect the most farmed globally. I see that aquatic animals and insects are not included in this write-up. Ducks are also excluded though many times more ducks than cows are farmed and slaughtered each year. It might be worth acknowledging this toward the top.
  2. The focus is very much on physical suffering and its presumed mental effects are implied, but I don't see true acknowledgment of explicitly psychological/mental/emotional anguish, such as from the nearly-universal experience of watching friends and family die horrible deaths.

Thanks for the reply!  I was focusing on the most common animals that Americans eat, though I should perhaps have noted that.  I disagree that the focus was very much on physical suffering--I talk about sleep deprivation and the sadness of being separated from parents, to give a few examples. 

I might be taking it too literally, but given these points, it could be worth renaming this post from a "comprehensive fact sheet of almost all the ways animals are mistreated in factory farms" (I wish such a list could fit in a few thousand words...) to something like a "fact sheet of some of the most salient causes of suffering on factory farms." Then again, I realize that's a worse title and has way less rhetorical power... maybe you could come up with something more creative than me!

Thanks for writing this.

Great content as always, Matthew!

The degree of cognitive dissonance most people hold in their opinions on animal cruelty is astounding. As you wrote regarding a related issue:

When confronted with the overwhelming moral case against [factory farming], most people’s brains start to malfunction. They start to make terrible arguments that they’d never make in any other context.

When people torture animals as children and go on to become serial killers, in hindsight, we consider that animal torture to have been indicative of their future horrific behavior. We similarly exhibit disgust towards people who engage in bestiality. We share gifs of cute animals on social media and feel-good stories of couples adopting dogs who would otherwise have been euthanized.

Meanwhile, by ordering a single chicken sandwich at a restaurant, we're subjecting an animal to torture much worse than bestiality, or the machinations of would-be serial killers.

As you've asserted, the answer to whether or not it's ethical to eat factory farmed meat is overdetermined. Any sufficiently rational person who accepts that extreme suffering for trivial benefits is wrong should realize that supporting factory farming is wrong. Apart from appeals to wild animal effects, I think any justification of eating factory farmed meat is either sociopathy or motivated reasoning produced by profound cognitive dissonance.

It's unfortunate that few of even the most conscientious people have the willpower to not torture thousands of sentient beings over their lifetime for the sake of trivial pleasures.

Meta note: Why is this post a "Question" post?

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