The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch, (202) 683-4905,

Factory Farms Continue to Dominate U.S. Livestock Industry

Online Map Documents Growing Trend of Concentrated Animal Production


The size of factory farms in the United States continued a two-decade trend and grew significantly larger from 1997 to 2012, reveals updated data released today by the national advocacy group Food & Water Watch. Using U.S. Department of Agriculture census data from 1997, 2002, 2007 and 2012 Food & Water Watch found that factory farms continued to grow in size and number over the past fifteen years. This growth in factory farmed livestock harms small- and medium-sized farmers, the environment and public health. These trends and more are highlighted in the updated version of the pioneering website, and its companion report, Factory Farm Nation: 2015 Edition. The release coincides with an advocacy ad Food & Water Watch is running in Times Square through July, which highlights that factory farms release enough waste to fill the Empire State Building every day.

"Don't be fooled: Hormel's recent acquisition of Applegate Farms is not good for consumers," said Food & Water Watch executive director, Wenonah Hauter. "As I documented in my book Foodopoly, corporate monopolies continue to run our food system, exercising unchecked power over the food that Americans feed their families. As factory farms grow in size and number, so too do the problems they create, such as increased water and air pollution; fewer markets for independent, pasture-based farmers; public health burdens like antibiotic-resistant bacteria; and large scale food safety risks for consumers."

Food & Water Watch categorized factory farms as the largest class of livestock operations USDA recognizes in its five-year Census of Agriculture data. Factory Farm Nation: 2015 Edition provides extensive analysis of the states and counties with the largest numbers of beef cattle, dairy cows, hogs, egg-laying hens and broiler chickens on factory farms as well as the largest sized factory farms for each type of livestock. The website provides interactive, fifteen-year, county-level geographical and graphical examination of these trends.

Key national findings from Food & Water Watch's analysis include:

  • The total number of livestock on the largest factory farms rose by 20 percent between 2002 and 2012. The total number of livestock units on factory farms increased from 23.7 million in 2002 to 28.5 million in 2012. "Livestock units" is a way to measure different kinds of animals on the same scale based on their weight -- one beef cattle is the equivalent of approximately two-thirds of a dairy cow, eight hogs or four hundred chickens.
  • These factory-farmed livestock produced 369 million tons of manure in 2012, about 13 times as much as the sewage produced by the entire U.S. population. This 13.8 billion cubic feet of manure is enough to fill the Dallas Cowboys stadium 133 times. Unlike sewage produced in cities, the manure on factory farms does not undergo any treatment.
  • The number of dairy cows on factory farms doubled, and the average-sized dairy factory farm increased by half, between 1997 and 2012. The number of dairy cows on factory farms with more than 500-head rose 120.9 percent from 2.5 million cows in 1997 to 5.6 million in 2012. The average size of dairy factory farms grew by half (49.1 percent), from 1,114 cows in 1997 to 1,661 in 2012. In nine states -- Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Idaho, Texas, Indiana, Missouri and Nevada -- the average size was more than 2,000 cows in 2012.
  • The number of hogs on factory farms increased by more than one-third, and the average farm size swelled nearly 70 percent from 1997 to 2012. The number of hogs on factory farms with more than 1,000-head grew by 37.1 percent -- from 46.1 million in 1997 to 63.2 million in 2012. The average size of a hog factory farm increased 68.4 percent, from 3,600 hogs in 1997 to nearly 6,100 in 2012.
  • The number of broiler chickens on factory farms rose nearly 80 percent from 1997 to 2012, to more than 1 billion. The number of broiler chickens raised on factory farms that marketed more than 500,000 chickens annually rose 79.9 percent from 583.3 million in 1997 to 1.05 billion in 2012 -- about three birds for every person in the United States. The average size of U.S. broiler chicken operations rose by 5.9 percent, from 157,000 in 1997 to 166,000 birds in 2012. The average size in California and Nebraska exceeded 500,000 birds in 2012.
  • The number of egg-laying hens on factory farms increased by nearly one quarter from 1997 to 2012, to 269 million. The number of egg-producing layer hens on factory farms with more than 100,000 hens increased 24.8 percent, from 215.7 million in 1997 to 269.3 million in 2012. Nearly half (49.3 percent) of the egg-laying hens in 2012 were in the top-five egg-producing states: Iowa, Ohio, Indiana, California and Texas. The average size of egg operations has grown by 74.2 percent over 15 years, rising from 399,000 in 1997 to more than 695,000 in 2012.
  • The number of beef cattle on feedlots rose 5 percent from 2002 to 2012. Feedlot size grew even as the 2012 drought reduced total cattle numbers. The number of beef cattle on operations with at least 500 head grew from 11.6 million in 2002 to 12.1 million in 2012. Texas, Nebraska and Kansas all had more than 2 million beef cattle on feedlots in 2012. The 2012 drought reduced the total number of beef cattle on feedlots nationwide, but the average feedlot size increased by 13.7 percent over five years, from 3,800 in 2007 to more than 4,300 in 2012.

According to Food & Water Watch, the growth of factory farms can be attributed to several factors. Unchecked food company mergers and corporate acquisitions have contributed to increased consolidation that allows giant agribusinesses to exert influence over livestock markets and production. Lax environmental rules and enforcement have allowed factory farms to balloon in size without being held accountable for the tremendous amounts of waste they create.

"Waste from factory farms is an enormous problem, one that we cannot begin to curb through market-based approaches such as pollution trading, which will not actually stop factory farms from polluting our nation's water ways," added Hauter. "In reality, pollution trading simply moves the problem around, shifting waste to other watersheds, rather than tackling the issue that factory farms concentrate too many animals - and too much waste - in one place."

To address the environmental, economic and public health problems created by factory farms, Food & Water Watch recommends:

  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and states should establish a moratorium on the construction of new factory farms and on the expansion of existing facilities as well as implement and enforce appropriate environmental rules to prevent factory farm pollution.
  • The Department of Justice must prevent the continued consolidation of the meatpacking and poultry, egg and dairy processing industries and revisit the mergers that it has already approved to ensure that farmers get fair prices for their livestock.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must prohibit non-therapeutic use of antibiotics and other livestock treatments that facilitate factory farming at the expense of public health.
  • The USDA must enforce and strengthen livestock marketing and contract regulations to allow independent livestock producers access to fair markets.

State environmental authorities must step up their permitting and enforcement of water and air pollution regulations on factory farms.

To learn more about factory farms, visit

To read the companion report, visit:

Food & Water Watch mobilizes regular people to build political power to move bold and uncompromised solutions to the most pressing food, water, and climate problems of our time. We work to protect people's health, communities, and democracy from the growing destructive power of the most powerful economic interests.

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