What is the factory farming system?
It is the feeding environment to pursue maximized production of meat and eggs and while minimizing costs by raising animal stock intensively in narrow spaces.
Chickens are typically damaged from such a factory farming system. According to the article, “A reasonable standard of breeding livestock per unit area of a stock farm” of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the minimum breeding area per chicken is regulated at 0.05 square meters(25×20㎝). This area is smaller than that of a sheet of A4 paper (0.06㎡).
There is one scene in the movie “Okja” in which pigs are raised and slaughtered cruelly. Unfortunately, this scene is a very common sight in Korea too. Most factory farm stockbreeders raise animals in a narrow cage and even cut off their horns and tails. Animals are living from day to day in this way, and there has been almost no change in this way of breeding animals for a long time. To find fundamental solutions, The Argus looked into the problems with and reasons for the contemporary factory farming system.
Problems of the factory farming system
The tragedy of animals
Animals are in a tragic situation because they are forced to live in a small cage, making it extremely hard for them to move. In this situation, they easily get stressed out, which makes them become more vulnerable to outside stimulus. By extension, the animals are more likely to get infectious diseases.
In 2017, OECD reported that “Rapid and intensive stockbreeding did some important work in the recurrence of highly pathogenic livestock disease.” Consequently, many antibiotics can be administered to animals, but it cannot completely prevent a viral infection. In reality, when avian flu, one of viruses that break out among wild birds or poultry like chickens and ducks, occurred, it spread rapidly among chickens. Coping with such a fast-spreading disease is very difficult because birds can be infected through excrement as well as from direct contact. As well, chickens have low resistance to viruses, so they can have difficulties in breathing and therefore die.
Besides, a battery cage leaves chickens in pain. 95 percent of poultry farms in Korea use this cage type, whose shape is batteries - stacked to accommodate a bunch of hens. Chickens cannot do anything there other than eating feed and producing eggs. In this way, the factory farming system has irreparably damaged many animals.
Humans’ health being threatened
The factory farming system negatively influences humans as well as animals. The “Pesticide Egg Incident,” that swiped the whole country in 2017, happened due to eggs contaminated from the toxic pesticides. Wild chickens generally remove pests adhered to their bodies by scrubbing their bodies in the soil or scattering sand with their feet. However, they cannot do those actions because of the cramped space of these types of farms. Eventually, the stock keeper cannot help but to kill pests by spraying pesticide. For these reasons, eggs were impregnated with pesticides, and those contaminated eggs were sold in the market for an unspecified amount of time. People were appalled by the fact that they might have consumed those eggs.
In other cases, cattle often eat meat and bone meal provided from farmers. This feed exposed them to an environment that made them susceptible to illness. This disease is called Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), and it was transferred to humans who had eaten sick cattle. It is called by its variant, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. In 2014 National Geographic released a report titled “4th Death from Mad Cow Disease Confirmed in the United States,” which covers a person who died by a rare and fatal brain disorder assumed to be caught by eating beef infected with BSE in the U.S. This shows that humans are also being threatened in terms of health and safety due to factory farming system.
Raising too much livestock additionally results in environmental pollution. Most of all, problems occurred by livestock excretions are very serious. These excretions contain a lot of nitrogen and phosphorus, so they could be used as manure in the past.
Though, the amount of excretions these days is too much to have it utilized as manure, so it is now impossible to use it this way. In addition, piled excretions give off a bad smell, and the spilling of such waste can contaminate both the soil and water.
A real case example of such contamination occurred in Hongseong, South Chungcheong Province. In 2015, the scale of rearing pigs in South Chungcheong Province occupied 21.1 percent, the highest amount in the country. In Hongseong, the scale occupied 24 percent, nearly twice that of Dangjin, another city in South Chungcheong Province (12.4 percent). This figure implies that Hongseong has the nation’s largest hog farms and is the area where animals are raised densely. As the livestock industry has developed, damage to the environment, such as stench from the wastewater of stockbreeding, has worsened.
Additionally, if nitrogen contained in the livestock’s excreta is carried to the sea, a “Dead Zone” is made. A Dead Zone is an oxygen-depleted area, so creatures cannot live there. Greenpeace indicated the number of Dead Zones around the world has increased by 75 percent since 1992. These examples show how serious environmental pollution has become due to unchecked and untreated livestock excretions.
Numerous livestock farms that only seek to maximize profits
Livestock farms have only pursued immediate gains and increased the number of animals incessantly. According to the Korean Statistical Information Service, the number of pig farms in 2000 decreased by 109,587 as compared to 1990. On the other hand, the number of pigs increased by 3,686,361. What is worse is that the number of pig farms in 2017 diminished by 19,435 as compared with 2000, but the number of pigs grew by 2,299,434. These numbers show the number of pigs has increased substantially although the number of pig farms has declined. Furthermore, it signifies that pig farms’ owners tried to make profits by ruthlessly maximizing pig production and minimizing costs.
Accordingly, livestock breeders only focus on developing animals’ bodies by administering antibiotics and hormone injection to animals. As such, livestock farms’ behaviors are a major cause of suffering for these animals’ lives.
Government that does not strive for animal welfare
Laws related to animal welfare in Korea are rather weak unlike in Europe, where a powerful and detailed standard for solving the problems of factory farming system are presented. According to animal welfare’s major standard of the European Union, using impassable individual facilities is forbidden for calves older than 8-weeks. Above this, it prohibits transporting newborn animals and females that are less than one-week post-partum.
However, animal welfare’s stockbreeding standards in Korea are only filled with basic contents. Article 3, “Basic Principles for Protection of Animalism,” in the Animal Protection Law includes that “Animals shall freely express normal behavior without experiencing discomfort” and “Animals shall be free from fear and distress.” It is abstract in that standards are provided very broadly, so it is difficult to regulate clearly and solve problems with these guidelines.
People indifferent to fixing the factory farming system
Many people are indifferent to the problems of the factory farming system. For that reason, there are not many people who make efforts for resolving such matters. Most do not take initiative besides people who assert animal rights such as animal protection groups.
Jang Seon-a, 23-year-old college student, said that “I knew chickens lay eggs compulsorily in the narrow space, but I was not well-aware that crueler things are happening like the cutting of beaks and tails. I am very shocked.” Like this, many people do not know about the problems of the factory farming system in detail. In the end, they only think about their meal and focus on prices when consuming meat and eggs.
Meanwhile, in the national petition section of the Blue House website, a passage “Please improve the factory farm environment” was posted in October. However, the number of people who participated in the petition did not exceed 30 after a month. This is a clear example showing that people do not take much interest in animal welfare issues.
Enforcing a phased rating system
A phased rating system of animal welfare certification can be a method for providing more animal welfare products to consumers.
The Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency (APQA) has managed the mark of animal welfare since 2012. APQA only puts the mark on products made in farms, transportation vehicles and slaughterhouses which passed authorized judgement. However, it is difficult for all farms to progress animal welfare at the highest level as most of farms still implement the factory farming system.
Actually, only 1 percent of layer chicken and 0.3 percent of pigs are raised in such welfare farms. This figure is very low as compared to England in which 53 percent of layer chicken and 31 percent of pigs are bred in welfare farms. Eventually, there are not many certified products in the market. This results in the authorized products being priced high, so consumers do not buy them well.
As a solution to this problem, in the cases of Netherlands and Germany, they are selling diverse products marked with a certification of animal welfare by grading in accordance with subdivided levels of animal welfare.
Following this precedent, if Korea offers various products graded according to varied levels of animal welfare rather than applying a uniform standard, consumers will be able to purchase various animal welfare products at reasonable prices.
Making more powerful laws for animal welfare
Through a more powerful legal system, the livestock operating environment should be enhanced. In July, the government strengthened the rearing density standard of layer chicken.
The government increased the minimum rearing density standard from 0.05㎡ to 0.75㎡ and let existing farms change it by 2025, by granting a seven-year grace period to them. However, this amendment is far from enough to improve animals’ lives.
Therefore, stronger laws need to be enacted. Abolishing the battery cage can be a good solution. Since 2012, countries in the EU have not been able to legally use battery cages. If they violate it, they cannot sell eggs. In addition, they are enforcing a system under which farms have to write the breeding mode and producing area on the eggshell. Thanks to this, consumers can buy eggs after seeing how chickens were bred. If these regulations become a legal obligation in Korea too, it will be helpful to encourage livestock breeders to enhance feeding environments.
Like this, to improve animals’ welfare, the government should make powerful and diverse laws in addition to expanding breeding areas.
Active publicity activities of civil groups
For raising citizens’ awareness, opportunities that illuminate problems of the factory farming system should be provided more so to them. For example, animal protection groups make efforts to inform about problems by activating “Anti-factory farm campaigns.”
Recently, a “One million people signature campaign” for removing battery cages and stalls is being conducted by the website “Stop Factory Farming” managed by animal protection groups, Green Party Korea, and lawyers who support animals’ rights. They publicized the seriousness of factory farming and urged people to participate in the campaign.
Furthermore, the Korean Animal Welfare Association (KAWA) made an agreement with Pulmuone Foods about replacing all eggs with eggs made in animal welfare farms. KAWA is aimed at changing production environment of eggs through “CageFree” Campaign with enterprises.
Meanwhile, Korea Animal Rights Advocates (KARA) hosted the first “Kara Animal Film Festival” in October. With the slogan “All living things, be happy,” they showed animals’ realities plainly through film. This festival conveyed the message that everyone should endeavor to make the world where all living organisms can coexist in balance and harmony.
Like the examples above, organizations should be very active as an informant for enabling citizens to know about these types of problems.
There are a lot of processes to be completed before meat and eggs are served at the table. We cannot watch the processes one by one, but we need to think about how animals are living. In addition, even if the factory farming system brings many profits at the moment, the damage is actually bigger than the profits from a long-term point of view. Thus, livestock farm owners need to be aware of this. The reporter hopes the day comes that animals can live freely in the wide open.
By Jang Yu-jin
Staff Reporter of National Section