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Pig Farming

Worldwide, around 1.4 billion pigs are bred, raised and slaughtered every year, and the numbers are rising. Much of this phenomenal growth is in China, which rears around half of the world’s pigs. The other big players are the EU, North America, Vietnam and Brazil.

The vast majority of pigs are factory-farmed. All live truly miserable lives. If we did to our dogs what pig producers are legally allowed to do to pigs, we would be prosecuted for cruelty. We would receive hefty fines. We might go to prison.

A Change of Heart

Bob Comis had been raising animals for slaughter for 10 years but the process began to weigh on his conscience….

Despite knowing that his career and diet were socially acceptable, he felt pangs of intrinsic guilt. He wrote, “As a pig farmer, I live an unethical life shrouded in the justificatory trappings of social acceptance.” He went on to question, “How can you justify taking a life for gustatory pleasure?” This internal tension eventually led him to convert his pig farm into a vegetable farm and adopt a vegan lifestyle. His story is so compelling that a documentary titled “The Last Pig” was made about his experience. He has since continued speaking out for animal rights, including his article detailing the cruel reality of “humane slaughter.”

Read about other farmers who recognise farm animals as friends, not food.

Pigs are intelligent and naturally affectionate. Their physical resilience (like most animals) allow them to survive in the terrible conditions forced upon them in a typical factory farm, however emotionally they cope poorly. It is common to see sows behaving in a stereotypical manner, licking the bars of their iron stalls, moving their head from side to side for hours on end.

Pigs are sociable animals. They thrive in stable social groups which typically would consist of a few sows with their young. In natural conditions, they will range over hundreds of kilometres and spend much of their day foraging and rooting for food. They will make nests to sleep in and they will dig out wallows in the mud when they need to cool down. They will eat small animals if they can catch them, but mostly they will forage for leaves, grass, roots, fruits and flowers.

On a factory farm, the breeding sows are typically in solitary confinement in narrow crates (known as sow stalls). Essentially, they are metal cages. Sow stalls deprive pregnant sows of almost all their natural behaviours in that they cannot exercise, explore, forage or socialise. A factory-farmed sow will never see the light of day, apart from her last day, when she is transported to the slaughterhouse. Sow stalls are illegal in Sweden and in the UK and are being phased out in a number of countries, but there is a long way to go before we see the end of this cruel confinement.

On a factory farm, a heavily pregnant sow is moved to what is known as a farrowing crate (this is nothing more than a very small cage). Bars keep the sow out of the piglets’ lying area to prevent crushing. A sow in natural conditions will build a nest for her young, however this option is not available to her in a crate. Piglets are weaned and taken away from their mother when they are 3 to 4 weeks old.

There is no rest period for the over-worked sow on a factory farm. Within a couple of weeks of weaning, she is inseminated again, usually artificially, and she will begin a new pregnancy. She will typically give birth to 10 – 12 piglets approximately twice a year. She will be forced to breed in this intense, unnatural manner until she is about three years old, at which stage she will be ‘spent’ as a high-performance breeding sow and she will be sold for slaughter. Farrowing crates are illegal in Sweden, Norway and Switzerland. They are widely used everywhere else.


On a factory farm, the pigs to be fattened for slaughter are raised in large groups in overcrowded pens, on concrete floors without bedding. They are often mutilated, having their tails docked and their teeth clipped or crushed. The latter procedure is to prevent the piglets from damaging their mother’s teats, while the former procedure is to eliminate the biting of other pigs’ tails. Both procedures are painful and are usually carried out without the use of anaesthetic. Because pigs are mixed with unfamiliar pigs, there is much conflict and stress. Most male piglets in Europe (not in the UK or in Ireland) are castrated shortly after birth. The scrotum is cut with a scalpel and the testes are pulled out and cut off. This is often carried out without the use of an anaesthetic.


Pigs are notoriously bad travellers, and they are especially vulnerable in hot and humid conditions, as they do not have sweat glands.


No animal reacts well to the slaughterhouse and pigs are no exception. In fact, they possibly suffer more than other animals on account of their heightened sensitivity to the slaughterhouse environment. It is not uncommon for pigs to die before they get to slaughter as a result of stress and trauma.


The total number of pigs in Ireland in June 2019 was estimated at 1,616,000 with 1,472,700 non-breeding pigs and 143,300 breeding pigs. The estimates are based on returns from the June 2019 Pig Survey which collects data on pig numbers held by specialised producers. Specialised pig farms, totalling 289, were included in the survey for June 2019, accounting for 88% of the estimated total pig population.
[CSO statistical release, 10 September 2019]

Over 99% of Ireland’s pigs are bred and reared in indoor, non-straw bedded, slatted or solid floor systems, often in units of over 1,000 pigs, with over 40% of the pig population living in units of over 10,000 animals.

According to the latest pig survey completed by the Department of Agriculture, 45% of total pig production in Ireland is accounted for by just 47 farms. The Landrace and the Large White are the dominant breed of pig in commercial production in Ireland.

Approximately 500,000 pigs are exported live every year from the Republic. The vast majority of these go to Northern Ireland for slaughter. Female pigs are exported live to Spain and to Italy for use as breeding sows.


There are alternatives to the intensive system of pig farming.

  • There is the higher welfare indoor system, where pigs are raised on solid floors with straw and other bedding material. The best of these systems allow for some degree of foraging and some degree of comfort.
  • There is the outdoor system, where there are no sow stalls or farrowing crates, where sows sleep in straw-filled huts, have access to an outdoor environment, and can act out natural behaviours such as nest building, rooting, wallowing and foraging. In most of these systems, the piglets are weaned and brought indoors to be raised indoors.
  • An extension of this system is where the piglets are born outside and spend half their lives (approximately three months) outside.
  • Finally, there’s the free-range system, where sows and their young live out their entire lives outdoors. The piglets typically spend up to eight weeks with their mother in these free-range and organic systems.

Swine flu occurs in people that are in contact with infected pigs. Symptoms are similar to that of regular human influenza and can include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite, coughing, runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.

In 2009, the H1N1 swine flu pandemic killed an estimated 151,700 to 575,400 people globally. African Swine Flu (ASF) is harmless to humans but in pigs and wild boar, the fatality rate is almost 100%.

Scientists have likened pigs to ‘mixing vessels’ for generating pandemic influenza viruses because they host both mammalian and avian flu viruses. When different strains of a virus occupy the same animal, they can swap genes to create new strains with the potential to infect new hosts. Research led by Honglei Sun at China Agricultural University (CAU) in Beijing has identified such a strain in pigs that has already begun to infect humans. Called G4, it incorporates genes from three distinct influenza strains:

  • a strain similar to viruses present in European and Asian birds
  • a North American strain that has genes from avian, human, and pig influenza viruses
  • the H1N1 strain that researchers first detected in the United States and that caused the 2009 swine flu pandemic

In the UK, the average sow produces 25.8 pigs a year. In the US that number rises to 26.4. But in Denmark, the world’s laboratory for industrial pig farming, the average sow produces 33.3 piglets – and some farmers manage to push that figure even higher. Some believe that one day they could reach the magic number of 50. These high performing sows do not last long. After delivering just three to four litters they are sent off in large numbers to the abattoir. Danish pig farmers discard some 500,000 sows every year, close to 50% of the population.


The number of pigs slaughtered worldwide in 2018 was


That’s 406,710 every day;
16,946 every hour;
282 every minute;
4.7 every second.

In the time it takes most people to say one billion, four-hundred-and-eighty-four million, four-hundred-and-ninety-two thousand, eight-hundred-and-forty-three, between 20 and 25 pigs will have been killed. It’s a chilling thought.

  • New rules, announced in July 2020, give German pig producers eight years to remove insemination stalls and fifteen years to replace farrowing crates.
  • Outbreaks of African swine fever (ASF) are surging in China following flooding in southern parts of the country. Farmers typically bury infected pigs, and the rains may have spread the disease via groundwater. 200 million or more pigs are thought to have been culled, slaughtered early or lost to the disease in China. [GUARDIAN MONTHLY FARM UPDATE, 14 Jul 2020]
  • Multi-level pig production facilities are becoming popular in China and may become the norm in other countries.
  • Chinese researchers have discovered a new type of swine flu that can infect humans and has the potential to cause a future pandemic, according to a study published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The disease, which researchers called the G4 virus, is genetically descended from the H1N1 swine flu that caused a pandemic in 2009. G4 now shows ‘all the essential hallmarks of a candidate pandemic virus,’ said the study.

Laying Hens

Chickens are highly social birds. They live together in a flock and within a distinct hierarchy, commonly referred to as a pecking order.

In the wild, chickens will spend much of their time scratching the ground in their search for insects and seeds. When a cockerel finds food, he often calls the rest of the flock to come and eat. He does this by clucking in a high pitch and picking up and dropping the food. Mother hens also exhibit this behaviour in summoning their chicks.

A Change of Heart

Caged Hen Experiences Freedom For The First Time..
After years in a tiny battery cage, this rescued hen can finally start living!

Wild chickens cover a lot of ground during the day. To avoid potential predators, they use trees and vegetation to maintain a low-visibility profile as they go about their daily business.

The wild ancestor of today’s chicken, the red junglefowl, produces around a dozen eggs each year. Through decades of selective breeding, laying hens have been bred to produce around 300 eggs a year. Such intense egg production causes calcium deficiency and can result in high levels of osteoporosis (brittle bones) and fractures.

The vast majority of the 50 billion chickens reared each year for their eggs and for their flesh never see the light of day. Their lives could not be further removed from that of their wild cousins.

The common system used in the egg production industry is the barren battery cage (banned throughout the EU in 2012). The birds are kept in small, wire cages, up to nine in a cage, the cages running along beside each other for the length of a 100 or 200-metre shed, and stacked on top of each other in a system which is designed to cram as many birds as possible into a rectangular space.

These barren battery cages afford each bird the equivalent of an A4 page to stand on. The hens cannot open their wings. Their beaks are cauterised to prevent self-harm and mutilation of other birds, with whom they are continuously fighting, due to the intensely stressful environment. They defecate through the sloping wire mesh floors and their feet become deformed as a result of standing on such an uncomfortable and unnatural surface for their entire lives. Most sheds contain tens of thousands of hens, and the largest sheds can ‘accommodate’ more than a hundred thousand birds. The buildings are artificially lit and ventilated. Caged hens do not leave their cages until they are taken to slaughter.

The current EU system, the so-called ‘Enriched Cage’, is only marginally larger than the old system. The enriched cages do allow hens to express more of their natural behaviours, such as perching, dustbathing, and nesting. The nest – if you can call it a nest – consists of a plastic sheet hanging from the top of the cage, which creates a more secluded area for egg laying.

In Enriched Cages, the hens still have their beaks cauterised. The perches are very low (just a few inches from the floor of the cage) so hens cannot fly up to a high perch to be safe from feather pecking. The system of sorting out the male from the female chicks at birth continues, and the males are still killed in massive numbers, either by crushing, by gassing, or by suffocation. The adult hens are still subjected to constant, controlled light to encourage greater egg production. They are still unceremoniously slaughtered at the end of their laying cycle, their reward for a lifetime of producing eggs.

Enriched Cages are not a solution. The solution is to ban cages, full stop. Luxembourg has banned the use of enriched cages for laying hens, and Austria and Germany are phasing them out.

Almost all hens, regardless of whether they are housed in the barren battery cage or the enriched cage, will continue to suffer from severe mineral and calcium depletion and many will either die from exhaustion in their cages or will suffer from broken bones as their brittle bodies are stuffed into crates to be transported to the slaughterhouse.

Inspection is problematic when there are several tiers of crowded cages. Consequently, injured birds housed in large sheds can often die unnoticed.

A survey by the European Food Safety Authority concluded that eggs produced in cages are more likely to be contaminated with Salmonella than those produced in cage-free systems.


Free-range systems are the most popular of the non-cage alternatives. Hens are housed in barns or aviaries and they have constant daytime access to an outside range with vegetation. In barn systems, hens are kept in sheds using the floor space only, but those with several levels of platforms or perches are called aviaries.

In Europe, the maximum stocking density is 9 hens per square metre. This allows the hens much greater freedom of movement than is possible in cage systems. They can stretch, flap their wings and fly. They can also perform other natural behaviours such as pecking, scratching and laying their eggs in a nest.

Organic systems also provide free-range access. Organic farms certified by the Soil Association, must provide additional space; each hen has a minimum of 10 square metres of outside space, and do not allow beak trimming. EU organic regulations limit stocking density inside the shed to 6 birds per square metre.


Free Range usually means that the birds have access to the outdoors. If it’s a small operation, that’s probably fine, however if it’s a bigger, commercial operation, the access may be very limited, and the quality of the outdoor environment can be completely inadequate.


Currently, there are approximately 3 million laying hens in Ireland, and about 1.9 million of these (54%) are caged. Under current EU legislation, all shell eggs must be labelled to show where the hens have been kept (in barns, cages, free range or organic farms). Egg producers and retailers are required to label their egg packaging which is displayed on the inside of all egg cartons. How a hen has lived and laid her eggs must be stamped. The number 3 is for caged hens, 2 is for barn-raised, 1 is for free range, and 0 is for organic.

The Irish government’s current animal welfare strategy states that all farmed animals should have a good quality of life and a life worth living. Clearly, housing hens in cages makes a mockery of this strategy.


The number of chickens worldwide has more than doubled since 1990. An estimated 50 billion chickens are slaughtered for food every year – a figure that excludes male chicks and unproductive hens killed in egg production.


That’s 136,986,300 every day;
5,707,760 every hour;
95,130 every minute;
1,585 every second.

In the time it takes most people to say ‘fifty billion sentient chickens’, between 3,000 and 4,000 chickens will have been killed. This is industrial-scale killing and is, frankly, a mind-blowing statistic. Every single one of these 50 billion birds is an individual animal, with its own unique DNA, its own unique personality.


The End the Cage Age initiative is the single biggest and most collaborative animal welfare campaign to be launched in this generation. Over 140 animal welfare organisations across Europe are participating.

Dairy Cows

Many people don’t associate dairy cows with factory farming because, unlike pigs and chickens, who are nearly all bred and raised indoors, dairy cows, depending on what country we are talking about, live at least part of their lives outdoors. The trend, however, is towards 100% indoor dairy farming, and towards ever larger units. This is known in the trade as ‘zero-grazing’. It is likely that the image of the dairy cow grazing in the meadow will ultimately disappear from the landscape, in the same way that we rarely see pigs or chickens outdoors nowadays.

A Change of Heart

Michelle worked as a dairy farmer in Israel for 15 years. Her decision to quit this cruel industry was largely influenced by her experience as a mother. In the dairy industry, calves are routinely stripped away from their mothers so that farmers can sell the milk that was intended for them. For Michelle, this process of separating mother and child became too much to bear. She eventually went vegan and her hope is that others will learn about the cruelty of dairy farming and do the same.

Read about farmers who recognise farm animals as friends, not food.

Many Irish dairy cows live at least part of their lives outdoors, however the future for the dairy cow globally is the indoor system, similar to that seen on this footage.

Globally, there are approximately 280 million cows producing milk. The EU is the largest milk producer with about 23 million dairy cows. Milk production is on the increase in South-East Asia. In China, there has been a rapid rise in milk production with an estimated 12 million cows currently in the system. This number is rising fast, despite the fact that, until recently, milk did not feature much in the Chinese diet.

The Holstein-Friesian is the most common type of dairy cow in the UK, Europe and the USA. She has been bred to produce very high yields of milk and the evidence bears this out: milk production per cow has doubled in the past forty years. An average of 22 litres per day is typical in the UK, with some cows producing up to 60 litres in a day during peak lactation.

Traditionally, a cow should live for about twenty years, however in the intensive system that is the modern dairy, the physical toll of continuous milk production wears the animal out with alarming rapidity. Sometimes the cow is despatched to the slaughterhouse on account of chronic lameness, and in any case most dairy cows will end up in the slaughterhouse after three or four years when the quality of milk produced deteriorates. The slaughterhouse is the thanks she gets for her hard labour.

Dairy cows are bred for high milk production. Their flesh has much less value than that of the cow raised exclusively for meat. They are artificially inseminated within three months of giving birth, after which they produce milk for ten months.

The vast majority of calves born in the dairy system are taken away from their mother within hours of birth. This causes obvious distress to the cow and the calf, and has long-term effects on the calf’s physical and social development. Most female calves are reared to join the milking herd. Male calves (approximately 50% of calves born will be male) have no use in the modern dairy. Typically, they are killed shortly after birth, or they are exported for the meat industry. These journeys can last for eight or nine days in the case of countries in the Far East or in North Africa. Often only a week old, the calves are frightened, hungry and exhausted. In the worst, and common scenario, the calves are exported to countries that specialise in the raising of young calves for veal, where in veal units, they will live a short and miserable life in close confinement in windowless sheds.

On large dairy farms, cows are typically kept in a holding facility where they are fed and watered. In some systems, they have their waste removed mechanically, before being led into the milking area. Milking is almost always carried out mechanically.

Cows can go lame for a number of reasons – bacterial infection, such as hoof lesions, sole ulcers, laminitis and digital dermatitis. These are usually caused by the cows standing for very long periods on concrete floors, or by ineffective foot trimming, or by inadequate nutrition, and often by a combination of all of these. Mastitis (inflammation of the udder) is very common and is caused by bacterial infection prevalent among dairy cows. The udder becomes infected, usually as a result of contaminated milking equipment or bedding. Cows that are housed for long periods of time are more likely to develop mastitis than those out in the open.

Cow infertility is a major productivity problem for farmers with high-yielding dairy cows. It can be caused by nutritional deficiencies, by general poor health, by stress, by a combination of all the above.

In some systems, cows are kept in tie-stalls, where the cow is tethered by either a chain, stanchion (metal bars) or by a rope tied around the neck, for up to 24 hours a day, throughout her life. Tie-stalls prevent the cows from exercising, from socialising with other cows, from turning around, from scratching themselves.

Cattle are ruminants. They graze on grasses and other vegetation. They require a lot of fibre in their diet. Dairy cows that produce high yields of milk are fed concentrates and less forage. This leads to a build-up of acids in the rumen (part of the stomach) which can cause acidosis. Cows with acidosis often have diarrhoea and can develop laminitis (damage to the feet that causes lameness).


There are currently about 18,000 dairy farmers in Ireland, producing 8 billion litres of milk from 1.5 million cows. Cork is by far the largest producing county, with 380,000 cows. Tipperary comes next with 174,000, followed by Limerick with 119,000 and Kerry with 105,000. Ireland’s dairy industry operated for decades within a milk quota system imposed by the EU. This quota system was abolished in 2015 and since then, there has been an exponential increase both in the number of dairy cows and in the volume of milk produced.


Broiler Chicken

Fifty years ago, the average chicken raised for meat was slaughtered at approximately 82 days; the average slaughter age for fully grown chickens today is 40 days.

Over 70% of the 50 billion chickens raised for meat globally are raised in intensive industrial farming systems. This includes the majority of chickens in the UK, Europe, the US and China, as well as rapidly increasing numbers in developing countries.

A Change of Heart

Mike Weaver was in the broiler chicken industry for nearly two decades before deciding to switch to hemp farming. His decision was guided by Transformation, an initiative at Mercy For Animals to help farmers transition from live-stock to plant-based products…

In addition to saving animals, Weaver’s story exemplifies how small farmers are often exploited by larger corporations. According to Weaver, in the 18 years, he’d been a farmer, he’d never received a raise. Meanwhile, Pilgrim’s Pride, the poultry company he worked for, paid their stockholders $1.2 billion in dividends. Weaver wants to change the trajectory of rural farming. With his new hemp business, he believes he can use about half the amount of water, employ 5x the amount of people, and make much more money than he ever did with Pilgrim’s Pride. Weaver’s story shows how switching to plant-based farming is beneficial not only to animals and the environment but to the farmers themselves!

Read about farmers who recognise farm animals as friends, not food.

The modern, factory farmed chicken is selectively bred and genetically modified to produce bigger thighs and breasts. They are raised in enormous, windowless sheds. The birds become so heavy near killing time that their underdeveloped, brittle bones are unable to support their weight, making it difficult for them to stand.

A fully-grown chicken in a typical shed, or unit, will share each square metre of floor space with eighteen other birds. This translates to each individual chicken having the equivalent floor space of less than an A4 sheet of paper.

Broiler sheds are sterile places, with automatically-controlled lighting replacing natural light. The litter on the floor cannot be cleaned out until the chickens have been removed from the shed for slaughter. The droppings create an atmosphere dense with ammonia. This can damage the eyes of the birds, the respiratory systems, and can also cause painful hock burns on their legs, chests and feet.

The temperature can rise significantly in summer. If the ventilation system fails – which it can – thousands of birds can die of heat stress. The chickens spend much of their time lying down because their legs are not strong enough to support their heavy body weights. Many of them suffer from painful leg disorders. The unnaturally rapid growth puts a strain on their hearts and lungs. Although they are very young birds, they suffer from extreme fatigue. As the birds get older, they spend less time performing natural behaviours such as walking, pecking, scratching the litter and perching, and more time sitting and eating.

Birds with mobility problems are less able to compete for food and water and are likely to suffer injury, malnutrition and dehydration. Lame birds spend between 80% and 90% of their time lying down and can go without water for days. Broiler chickens frequently suffer from heart failure.

After about 40 days, chickens have reached the ‘target’ weight for slaughter. Catchers walk through the sheds at night grabbing birds, usually by one leg, and carrying them, in bunches of four or five, to where they cram them into crates which are then stacked onto a truck. Catchers are under pressure from their employers to get as many birds as possible caught and crated in as short a time as possible. Many of the birds already have fractures and dislocations and this process adds significantly to their pain. In some production facilities, the chickens are picked up using a catching machine. A catching machine can pick up around nine thousand chickens per hour

Once on the truck, the chickens, who have spent their entire lives in dimly-lit sheds, are exposed to completely new stress triggers: traffic noise, high temperatures, low temperatures, the movement of the truck etc. Some will die during transportation due to rough handling or due to heat stroke if the truck ventilation is poor and the temperatures outside are high. Other causes of death include heart failure, trauma and blood loss due to haemorrhaging into dislocated hip joints, itself a result of the rough catching process.

When the trucks arrive at the slaughterhouse, chickens are pulled from the crates and shackled upside down by their feet into metal stirrups on an overhead conveyor. The conveyor carries them into the killing room where their heads pass through an electrified water bath. This is how they are stunned. As they pass along further, an automatic knife cuts their throat. The next step in this journey is the scalding tank, which loosens their feathers before plucking. That’s the theory; the reality can be much different. Some birds lift their heads and miss the electrified water bath and are therefore fully conscious when they reach the automatic knife. Some birds avoid the knife and are lowered into the 50-degree scalding tank while still alive.

Free-range chickens have access to fresh air and green spaces. Some of these spaces may contain tree and shrub cover. Each EU chicken must have one square metre of outdoor space, and have access for at least half of their life to an outdoor range. They can practice some natural behaviours (pecking, scratching, foraging, exercise outdoors). Because they grow slower and can exercise, free-range chickens do not suffer as much from brittle bone syndrome, and they are generally healthier animals. The birds grow more slowly than intensively reared chickens, and they live a little longer, usually up to about 8 weeks.

In commercial organic systems, chickens have outdoor access, and a space allowance outside of up to 4 square metres. Organic chickens grow at half the rate of chickens on intensive farms and they usually live for about 12 weeks.

Free Range usually means that the birds have access to the outdoors. If it’s a small operation, that’s probably fine, however if it’s a bigger, commercial operation, the access may be very limited, and the quality of the outdoor environment can be completely inadequate.

Although poultry were reared throughout ancient history by the Romans, Egyptians and Chinese, there was no poultry industry to speak of until after the First World War. Right up to the 1950’s, chicken was seen as a delicacy for special occasions such as Christmas or Easter. Poultry meat back then was from dual-purpose birds that produced both eggs and meat.

In the 1950s, a purpose-grown meat bird was introduced from the USA. These birds were called ‘broilers’; they produced young, tender meat which cooked much more quickly than its predecessor. They grew to table weight quickly and were not used in egg production. Around the same time de-rationing of poultry feed allowed flock sizes to increase. Electrification also allowed greater numbers of birds to be cared for in a controlled environment. In the 1950s, British people ate less than 1 kilo in a whole year. That has risen to an average of 25kg in a year. No comparable statistics exist for Ireland but common sense would suggest the figures are similar.

Currently, about 350 poultry farms produce 78 million broiler chickens in a single year. The cost of feed for chickens is comparatively high in Ireland. This means that cheap, imported chicken is very common. Many of the fast food outlets serve imported chicken meat.
An estimated

50 billion

chickens are slaughtered for food every year – a figure that excludes male chicks and unproductive hens killed in egg production.

That’s 136,986,300 every day;
5,707,760 every hour;
95,130 every minute;
1,585 every second.

In the time it takes most people to say ‘fifty billion sentient chickens’, between 3,000 and 4,000 chickens will have been killed. This is industrial-scale killing and is, frankly, a mind-blowing statistic. Every single one of these 50 billion birds is an individual animal, with its own unique DNA, its own unique personality.


Farmed Fish

Fish are sentient animals. They are capable of feeling pain, and they experience a range of emotions. Scientific evidence has revealed that fish are far more intelligent than people assume. They have long-term memories, complex social structures, problem solving abilities, and some have been seen using tools. Most fish have highly developed senses with excellent taste, smell and colour vision.

A Change of Heart

Read about farmers who recognise farm animals as friends, not food.

A growing number of scientists believe that stocks of all species of sea fish will have collapsed by 2050, largely due to over-fishing. Meanwhile, aquaculture continues to grow, with between 50-160 billion farmed fish being slaughtered for food each year (in 1970, around 5 per cent of the fish we ate came from farms). Roughly 50% of the fish humans consume today has been farmed.

Proponents of the industry would have us believe that fish farming is part of the solution to the collapse of sea stocks. Not so. Many of the species farmed are carnivorous and are fed largely on wild-caught fish. Over 450 billion fish are caught each year to produce fish oil and fishmeal, which is fed to farmed fish. It takes about two and a half tonnes of wild-caught fish, such as anchovies, to produce one tonne of farmed salmon. Due to the small size of anchovies, this can mean that 500 individuals must be caught and killed for fish oil, just to produce one salmon.

Commercial fish farming typically involves huge cages located about 30 feet under water. The fish spend their entire lives in this stressful and over-crowded environment. They are highly susceptible to disease and suffer acute stress, aggression, and physical injuries such as fin damage.

Overcrowding can also lead to poor water quality, so the fish have less oxygen to breathe.

Rearing fish in cages prevents their natural swimming behaviour. Fish such as salmon would naturally swim great distances at sea. Instead, the fish swim in circles around the cage, rubbing against the mesh and each other.

On a salmon farm, salmon as big as three-quarters of a metre long can be given the equivalent of as little as a bathtub of water each.

The containers are not escape-proof. During their lifetime, the cages usually allow some fish escapes into the open sea, resulting in the spread of disease into the native population.

Disease and infection are commonplace on fish farms. Widespread use of antibiotics is how the industry keeps disease and infection at ‘an acceptable level’. Long term effects can be the development of super strains of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.

Where there are fish farms there is water pollution. The water flowing out of an aquaculture facility carries large volumes of nutrients, particulates, bacteria, as well as other diseased organisms and polluting chemicals.

Anti-fouling agents are used on most fish farms to keep the cages or containers clean. These anti-fouling agents can be highly toxic.

It is common practice on fish farms to starve the fish for several days before slaughter in order to empty the gut. This is stressful enough for the fish, yet there have been cases where fish have been known to be starved for two weeks or more.

Generally, fish are slaughtered by means of electrical stunning or a strike to the head. Other methods cause greater suffering, such as leaving the fish to suffocate in air or on ice, gassing with carbon dioxide or cutting the gills without stunning.


Up to

3 trillion

fish (farmed and wild-caught) are killed each year for food.

That’s 8,219,178,082 every day;
342,465,753 every hour;
5,707,762 every minute;
95,129 every second.

In the time it takes you to say ‘fish are sentient, too’, about 200,000 fish will have been killed. This puts all the killings of all the other animals combined in the shade. Every single one of these 3 trillion fish is an individual animal, with its own unique DNA, its own unique personality, its own ability to experience pain and stress.


Other Animals

Foie Gras

Foie gras is a French term meaning ‘fatty liver’. It is produced by force-feeding birds (geese and ducks) excessive amounts of high-protein food, usually corn…

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Farmed Fur

On fur farms, animals spend their entire lives in small, wire cages which are so small the animals can only take a few steps in any direction. Many go insane and behave…

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