In an increasingly urban society, our contact with animals, especially farm animals, is limited. While man and animal depend on each other, our modern culture separates people from animals more and more. As a result, our understanding of the needs and roles of domesticated animals becomes weaker, and in some cases, distorted.
Many of today's consumers don't know how modern farmers produce meat, milk, and eggs. The image of the family farm with its red barn, a few chickens in the yard, some pigs in the mud, and cows in the field isn't accurate anymore. Today, U.S. animal agriculture is a dynamic, specialized endeavor - the envy of the rest of the world. Modern American agriculture allows 2% of the people to feed 100% of the population. Well cared for, healthy livestock and poultry is the key to this efficiency, resulting in the highest quality and most affordable food in the history of the world.
Modern farm animal production is no accident. Improved animal housing, handling practices, and healthy, nutritious feeds are the result of billions of dollars of private and government research into how to raise healthy animals. As American animal agriculture grows and changes, two truths remain constant: Farmers' and ranchers' concern for their animals' welfare, and their dedication to providing the highest quality, safest food in the world.
Some of the commonly heard myths about modern animal agriculture are listed below. Then general facts on how and why farmers and ranchers really operate follow. (Adapted from Animal Ag Alliance.)
MYTH Most farm animals are raised on 'factory farms,' confined in 'crowded, unventilated cages
FACT Animals are kept in barns to protect the health and welfare of the animal. Housing
protects animals from predators, disease and bad weather or extreme climates.
Housing also makes breeding and birth less stressful on the animals, protects young
animals and makes it easier for farmers to care for both healthy and sick animals. Modern
housing is well-ventilated, warm, well-lit, clean and scientifically-designed to meet the
animal's specific needs. Housing is designed to allow the farmer to provide the best care
possible for the animals he/she cares for.
Yes, just as in any industry, there are bad actors in agriculture. We as an association do
not condone the mistreatment of animals in any way. We work with producers to ensure
housing facilities are current with Pennsylvania's standards and do in fact provide the best
care for the animals.
MYTH Farm animals on 'factory farms' are prone to disease, forcing farmers to routinely use
antibiotics, hormones and drugs to keep them alive, thus jeopardizing animal and
FACT Animal scientists, veterinarians and on-farm experience show animals kept in housing
are generally healthier because they are protected. Farm animals do sometimes get sick.
To prevent illness and to ensure that an animal remains healthy all of its life, farmers will
take preventative measures, like using animal health products. These products are
generally included in scientifically formulated feed that matches the animal's needs. Animal
health products include animal drugs and vaccines, in addtion to vitamins, minerals and
other nutrients the animal needs in its diet. All animal health products are approved and
regulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA).
MYTH By eating less meat, Americans would improve the environment and free land and
resources for the production of food crops rather than animal products, which could be
used to feed the hungry overseas.
FACT Americans need both animals and plants to manage the nation's natural resources and
feed its people. For example, about half the land area of the U.S. cannot be used for
growing crops - it can only be used for grazing animals. That land would be of no use as a
food resource if it were not for grazing livestock like cattle, goats and sheep. The U.S. has
more than enough cropland to grow both feed grains and food crops.
MYTH Farming in the U.S. is controlled by large corporations, which care about profits and not about
FACT There are 2.1 million farms in the U.S. (63,000 in Pennsylvania alone!), according to a
May 2006 report on the structure and finances of U.S. farms. Exactly the same
number was counted by the 1997 Census of Agriculture. The 2006 report found that the vast
majority of America's farms (98%) are family farms.