"Many fish-lovers would be horrified to learn that huge quantities of fish and shrimp are now being grown in giant nets, cages, and ponds where antibiotics, hormones and pesticides mingle with disease and waste. These industrialized aquaculture facilities are rapidly replacing natural methods of fishing that have been used to catch fresh, wild seafood for millennia." ~Food and Water Watch
Fish farming is the main form of aquaculture involving raising fish commercially in tanks or enclosures for food. Aquaculture is currently the world's fastest growing food production sector, growing at nearly 10% a year, which is 3 times faster than land-based animal agriculture, with upwards of 50% of all seafood consumed worldwide being farmed.
When farmed properly, fish farming can help relieve pressure off wild fisheries and provide income to coastal communities, however, as production rises, so does aquaculture's impacts on the environment and wild marine species. One of the greatest concerns to marine scientists and advocates of the ocean is the enormous waste involved in using wild fish to feed farmed fish.
It can take more than 5 pounds of fish from the ocean to produce just 1 pound of farmed salmon or sea bass you see sitting in your grocery store seafood section. The methods used on most fish farms are not sustainable and put enormous pressure on the surrounding environment and wildlife.
The largest growth area for fish farming is species like salmon, shrimp and cod, which are fed fishmeal and fish oil from wild-caught small fish, which means we must continue taking vast amounts of wild small fry from the sea that repopulating wild stocks with farmed fish will never be possible.
According to WWF, "The amount of feed needed for farmed fish and shrimp is staggering. For example: up to 22kg of wild-caught fish is needed to produce just 1kg of farmed tuna, 4kg of wild-caught fish is needed to produce 1kg of farmed salmon, up to 2kg of wild-caught fish is needed to produce 1kg of farmed marine shrimp.
This means that the aquaculture industry is using a large proportion of the fish caught in the world’s oceans each year." Taking up to five times as much wild fish to feed farmed fish is depriving whales, dolphins, birds and other fish of a key part of their diet and has devastating effects on coastal communities by depriving them of a much needed food source, which is especially true in developing countries, where the fish are farmed mainly for export.
A single fish farm with 200,000 fish can produce as much daily sewage as a city of 65,000 people, all in one location. Learn more.
Conditions in fish farms are so horrid that as many as 40% of farmed fish die before they are sent for slaughter.
In the wild, salmon get their characteristic hue from the creatures they eat. Even as eggs, salmon are a shade of pink or orangish red. The unique color reflects this carnivore’s diet of shrimp and krill. Each species of salmon eats a different proportion of these carotenoid-rich crustaceans, which influences how pink or red they become. For example, sockeye and coho salmon tend to be the deepest in color, while pink salmon is, well, pinker.
"Throughout this report and a scientific study conducted simultaneously (Cashion et al., 2017), BLOOM and coauthors show that reduction fisheries are the result of the massive over exploitation of traditional fish stocks, and that they are now contributing to the sequential depletion of the very first links of the food chain, despite their crucial importance for marine ecosystems."
That sounds pretty bad, but just how bad are fish farm fisheries for fish meal? This bad: they break UN rules:
"Our study shows that fishmeal is mainly used by unsustainable aquaculture schemes that produce carnivorous fish (salmon, sea bream, etc.) but also to feed species such as pigs, poultry or mink that do not naturally eat fish and for which marine proteins are thus completely superfluous. The entire reduction fisheries cycle, from the initial targeting of edible fish to the final use of fishmeal in aquaculture, pig and poultry farming, is contrary to the ‘Code of conduct for responsible fisheries’ of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), which clearly states that fisheries must directly contribute to food security and that the reduction of small pelagics into fishmeal and fish oil should be limited to non-edible species (such as boarfish)."
The investigation kicks off in Norway, where they have a look at the chemicals that are used in fish farms today. A respected Norwegian environmental activist by the name of Kurt Oddekalv believes that the farming of salmon is “a disaster both for the environment and for human health.” Among the Norwegian fjords that contain salmon farms, there is said to be a layer of waste about 15 meters high, consisting of bacteria, drugs, and pesticides. The seafloor is apparently destroyed, and due to the sea farms being situated in open water, there is no way to contain the pollution as a result of these farms. Upwards of 2 million salmon can be held in a crowded space, with the crowded conditions leading to disease that spreads rapidly through stressed salmon. Oddekalv reports that sea lice, as well as Infectious Salmon Anemia Virus has spread across Norway, while consumers are not informed of the fish pandemics, and continue to purchase diseased fish.
Salmon can be very crowded in fish farms.
Farmed salmon are fish stocks kept in netted pens. The farmers control breeding, feed them, and provide medicine if needed. Sometimes, the pens are very crowded and the salmon cannot swim very far.
Overfishing of the world’s fish stocks has led to an increase in fish farming. Fish farming also keeps the price of fish lower.
Wild salmon live and breed in their native bodies of water. Humans have no control over their breeding, feeding, or health. Wild salmon swim long distances with no restriction.
Environmental and chemical contaminants affect wild salmon as well as farmed salmon. Read More...
Penaeid shrimp aquaculture is an important industry in the Americas, and the industry is based almost entirely on the culture of the Pacific White Shrimp, Litopenaeus vannamei. Western Hemisphere shrimp farmers in 14 countries in 2004 produced more than 200,000 metric tons of shrimp, generated more than $2 billion in revenue, and employed more than 500,000 people. Disease has had a major impact on shrimp aquaculture in the Americas since it became a significant commercial entity in the 1970s. Diseases due to viruses, rickettsial-like bacteria, true bacteria, protozoa, and fungi have emerged as major diseases of farmed shrimp in the region. Many of the bacterial, fungal and protozoan caused diseases are managed using improved culture practices, routine sanitation, and the use of chemotherapeutics. However, the virus diseases have been far more problematic to manage and they have been responsible for the most costly epizootics
photo: Farm Sanctuary
If you’ve ever wondered what a factory farm chicken’s life looks like, it’s brutal. These animals aren’t treated as sentient beings, but as a means to an end. They’re born, raised, and killed for the sole purpose of serving human beings’ diets.
Chickens lay eggs for the purposes of giving birth to healthy chicks. When we steal eggs from chickens, we deny them the opportunity to naturally propagate their species. Worse, we hasten the breeding of chickens for human consumption, consuming resources like grain in staggering quantities.
Chickens are social creatures. If you watch them in the wild or on non-killing farms, you’ll notice that they roam and roost together. These natural tendencies toward camaraderie are essential for their survival as well as their emotional health. When they flock together, they stand a better chance of protecting themselves from predators.
Chickens can also develop positive relationships with human beings. Backyard coops allow chickens to roam free, enjoy the sunlight, get adequate food, and relate to one another naturally.
This isn’t the case on poultry farms. Chickens are not given the chance to form family units because eggs are stripped from hens the moment they’re dropped. This perversion of nature leaves hens distraught and confused, which can cause severe health problems.
All animals have instinctive behaviors that serve very specific purposes. Many birds, including chickens, give themselves dust baths. They move around in dry dirt, dust, or sand to remove contaminants, such as parasites, from their feathers and skin.
Dust baths are also a chicken’s natural way of marking their territory. They leave pheromones behind to tell other chickens where they’ve been.
Poultry farming doesn’t allow chickens to engage in dust baths. They’re unable to clean themselves, which means that they can suffer infections of the skin and feathers as well as immeasurable frustration.
Poultry farming operations typically house chickens in huge barns or warehouses with no access to sunlight. Sun is essential for helping chickens regulate their body temperature, produce vitamin D, and get fresh air.
Imagine living your entire life in a basement. The air is close, the darkness pervasive. You have no way out and no control over your environment.
That’s the precise fate poultry farming inflicts on chickens.
All animals need fresh air to thrive. Indoor air, whether in a home or barn, is not nearly as healthy. As much as we talk about pollution, even the standard human home sometimes contains more pollutants than the air outdoors.
This is worsened in factory farming operations because of the extreme volume of feces and urine that accumulates.
Chickens naturally nest so they can keep their eggs warm until their chicks are ready to hatch. Not only do chickens on poultry farms lack the room to nest, but they don’t have access to the materials with which to build a nest, such as hay.
In some ways, the living standards of layer hens differ from those of broiler chickens. Let’s take a more in-depth look at how these different types of chickens are forced to live out their lives — as short as they may be.
Layer hens, as mentioned above, serve one purpose: Laying eggs. Poultry farmers don’t care about much other than increasing production and making sure they can meet the quotas necessary to serve their customers.
Most layer hens live their lives in wire battery cages. These cages give the animals very little room and force them to reside next to and even on top of one another. They can’t clean themselves or turn around comfortably.
Just like every other animal, chickens need exercise. Poultry farming denies them this basic animal right. They don’t get to stretch their legs, peck the ground, or participate in any other behaviors to which chickens instinctively gravitate.
To cram more chickens into small spaces, poultry farms use vertical battery cages. The wire bottoms don’t give layer hens a comfortable place to roost or stand. Furthermore, there’s no way for the animals to escape in the event of a fire or other disaster.
Since battery cages have wire bottoms, feces fall from the top cages into the bottom cages. This is particularly harmful to the layer hens on the bottom of the stack, but feces and urine can also get caught in the feathers of the chickens directly below. Bacteria grows and causes disease.
There’s no reason for poultry farming operations to keep male chicks in a layer hen operation. Since males can’t lay eggs, they’re slaughtered immediately after birth. They aren’t suitable as broiler hens because they haven’t been genetically selected for meat harvesting.
The wholesale destruction of millions of male chicks often involves gassing, boiling, or even grinding. These animals aren’t granted a humane death, and their birth becomes entirely useless.
Many poultry farming operations use lighting manipulation to encourage laying hens to produce more eggs even when they would naturally not do so. By manipulating light in the battery cages, the chickens are “tricked” into thinking that it’s laying season even when it’s not. Instead of just laying eggs in spring and summer, these chickens will continue to lay in autumn and winter, as well, which stresses their bodies.
In a practice known as forced molting, laying hens must survive on a starvation diet. The goal is to force all hens in a poultry farming operation to molt at the same time so they can return their energies to laying eggs.
Chickens usually reserve winter for molting. They divert the energies they would use for laying eggs toward growing fresh plumage and staying warm. The agricultural industry manipulates this natural process for monetary gain. Many animals in the United States undergo forced molting up to four times in their lifespan.
Chickens aren’t designed to lay egg after egg. They have a natural cycle, just like every other creature on the planet, but poultry farmers manipulate it to suit their needs — and more specifically, their pocketbooks.
They’re forced to lay far more eggs than they would naturally through selective breeding, hormone injections, and other means. They develop severe diseases of the reproductive system as a result, most of which go untreated.
As any human woman knows, the process of gestating and birthing a baby is extremely hard on the body. The same is true of other animals, including chickens. These laying hens often die in just a few years due to sheer exhaustion because their bodies can’t keep up with the demands placed on them.
Broiler hens undergo similar living standards to laying hens in a poultry farming operation. However, there are a few specific differences.
Broiler hens don’t live long because a long lifespan impacts poultry farmers’ profits. They’re bred to reach maturity in a matter of days rather than months, so they’re often slaughtered before they reach two months of age.
When poultry farming operations can birth and slaughter animals in such tight cycles, they make more money. Unfortunately, this means that the animals grow too quickly for their bodies to handle, resulting in numerous health problems even in their short lifespans.
Broiler hens are housed in overcrowded sheds with little or no concern for their physical well-being. They’re crammed in with their brethren, sometimes living on top of one another in pens littered with feces.
There’s no way to advance the aging process in chickens without manipulating their natural growth cycles. Through genetic mutations, hormone injections, and other “therapies,” these animals reach puberty far earlier than nature intended. However, their bodies aren’t designed to support their advanced weight.
The extra weight that broiler hens put on at a very young age stresses their bones and joints. Many go lame before they’re slaughtered, and some develop deformities of the legs. They end their short lives in extreme pain with no veterinary care because, again, their only purpose is to provide meat.
Bones and joints aren’t the only body systems to suffer from premature weight gain. The extra pressure put on these chickens’ hearts often results in death before they’re even slaughtered. The heart simply can’t keep up with the need to supply blood to the excess muscle and fat.
Other organs, such as the lungs and pituitary systems, suffer as well. Animals aren’t meant to grow at an accelerated weight, but poultry farming operations don’t care if they’re raising diseased chickens.
The tremendous stress placed on broiler hens is unconscionable, especially when viewed through the lens of millions of animals. They’re constantly denied sunlight, fresh air, proper socialization, and access to good nutrition.
In stressful situations, animals become irritable. Survival instincts kick in, and they’re liable to fight one another in an effort to preserve resources like space and food. Chicken fights in poultry farming operations are extremely common, resulting in severe injuries to all the animals involved.
In an effort to curb chicken fighting, poultry farms often debeak these animals. In other words, they cut off their beaks, disfiguring them and denying them the means with which to protect themselves. Chickens that have been debeaked can’t eat properly, which leads to digestive issues.
Feces aren’t often cleaned from the sheds and pens in a poultry farming operation, which means that these chickens live in their own filth. The bacteria that grows from feces infects the chickens and results in diseased meat.
The chickens must also secrete urine in their pens, which is left to stagnate instead of cleaned up. The ammonia from urine can cause burned eyes, ears, and nasal passages as well as throat discomfort.
Salmonella is one of the most dangerous bacteriums as is spread through feces. Human beings contract it from infected food and water sources, including broiler chickens. When chickens contract salmonella prior to being slaughtered, the disease can get passed to the human consumer. Symptoms of salmonella poisoning include digestive discomfort, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever.
Broiler chickens go from the farm to the slaughterhouse in packed trucks with little ventilation. They’re often shuttled from the truck in vacuum tubes that terrify and often injure the animals.
Once they reach the slaughterhouse, they face one of several inhumane deaths. Instead of giving these animals a quiet, peaceful passing, they’re slaughtered in the most efficient, cost-effective way possible. In other words, they’re treated as commodities rather than living, breathing creatures.
In many slaughterhouses, the chickens are shackled by the legs and suspended by a bar or grate. This allows them to have their throats cut more efficiently and to speed up the bloodletting process.
Some slaughterhouses use electrified water to kill broiler chickens. The animals are immersed in this water until they die, then de-feathered and otherwise processed for meat.
Perhaps the most “humane” death for chickens is the throat cutting. It’s faster than some of the other methods, but it’s also painful. Additionally, there’s typically no effort given to ensuring each cut is mortal. Some chickens survive throat cutting, however, briefly, which prolongs their suffering.
The chickens who survive throat cutting are scalded to death in boiling water. When they get poured into these scalding baths, the animals whose skin turns pink were alive when they went in because they had a physical reaction to the water.
The boiling water loosens the chickens’ feathers so they can be plucked bare in a matter of seconds. This, again, is a cost-cutting methodology that benefits the poultry farming industry but not the animals.
If you’re horrified by the idea of poultry farming, you’re not alone. The suffering these animals endure is enough to turn anyone’s stomach, but there are ways to fight against it.
Vegetarians have their hearts in the right place, but consuming animal by-products like eggs also contributes to animal suffering. As described above, laying hens in poultry farming operations aren’t treated with any more kindness or dignity than broiler hens.
Vegans don’t consume or use animal products of any kind. If you become vegan, you send a message with your dollars and your values that you won’t support poultry farming in any way.
The money you don’t spend on animal products could be used to help fight chicken abuse. Animal rights activists are tirelessly fighting to end animal abuse of all kinds, including the abuses that take place on poultry farms. Donating your money and/or time can make a huge difference in furtherance of these causes.
You can also get actively involved in fighting animal abuse. Start or join an organization that investigates poultry farms, exposes the industry for what it is, and lobbies for stronger laws against animal abuse.