Mega Factory Farms Are Taking Over America

Mega Factory Farms Are Taking Over America

  • Heather Decker

When many of us picture farming, we imagine idyllic green pastures. Sadly, the 2022 Census of Agriculture reveals just how far that image is from reality. Our inefficient, polluting, exploitative food system is consolidating into “mega factory farms” so rapidly that it’s becoming harder and harder for small-scale farmers to keep up. 

For the first time in census history, America exceeded 10 billion land animals raised for food. This number is hard to comprehend, but to put it into perspective, 10 billion seconds is just under 317 years. But while the number of animals continues to rise, the amount of farmland is shrinking. Over the past 70 years, total farmland has decreased by nearly a quarter. 

“The factory farmification of the American food system dates back about a century and accelerated post-World War II. But today’s factory farms have taken on an even more extreme dimension. Forty years ago, a facility raising 100,000 chickens per year would have passed for a large factory farm; now more than three-quarters of chickens live on massive complexes that sell more than 500,000 animals annually. These mega factory farms, as some observers have called them, look more like chicken megalopolises. The same pattern holds for other animals raised for food, like cows and pigs.”

—Marina Bolotnikova and Kenny Torrella for Vox

A cornish cross chicken, dubbed "broiler bird" by the meat industry, looks toward the camera with an open mouth in apparent distress. Mega factory farms would see 500,000 birds just like this one every year.
Mega factory farms raise more than 500,000 birds per year.


A staggering 90% of the land animals we raise for food are chickens. We raise so many that they are now the most populous bird species on Earth. About 9.2 billion are slaughtered each year in the United States. Chickens are the only farmed land animal we count in billions. “The numbers of other farmed animals are also massive, but next to meat chickens, they look like a rounding error,” write Bolotnikova and Torrella. 

Nearly 7.2 billion of these chickens come from “mega factory farms,” or farms that raise more than 500,000 chickens per year. Most of the rest still come from factory farms, just ones with smaller capacity. 


The shift has been more dramatic for pigs. The 2022 census report shows that more than 90% of pigs were raised in mega factory farms, those raising more than 5,000 pigs a year. In Iowa, the top pork-producing state, the number of pig farms has decreased 85% since 1987, while the number of pigs raised for food has increased 83%. The report indicates that the “get big or get out” trend has hit the Hawkeye State hard. 

Tanner Faaborg transitioned his family's operations from a pig factory farm to growing specialty mushrooms.
Tanner Faaborg, Transfarmation farmer

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Iowa has one of the highest cancer rates in the country, and we have constantly contaminated wells,” Transfarmation farmer Tanner Faaborg told the Guardian.

Faaborg grew up in rural Iowa, on a farm that was also home to two pig barns with 1,100 pigs a piece. His family raised pigs for 30 years before they transitioned their farm with the help of Transfarmation. Research shows that living near industrial pig farms can shorten life spans due to air and water pollution. 

But the health hazards associated with factory farms are just one issue in our industrialized food system. The entire supply chain is riddled with problems, from inequity and exploitation to environmental destruction. And despite a growing number of concerned citizens fighting back against consolidation and corporate control of our food system, the 2022 census is a stark reminder of what we’re up against. 

The good news?

A growing majority of people from all walks of life recognize that factory farms are a problem. In a 2019 poll, eight out of 10 people surveyed were concerned about related air and water pollution, worker safety, and health problems. 

The state of farming in America is so bad that farmers are finding unlikely allies in a common fight against consolidation—allies like Mercy For Animals and other animal advocacy groups. “What we find is that the more that you talk to a farmer about why they want to exit [factory farming] and what they dislike about the system, we agree on 90% of things,” Tyler Whitley, director of The Transfarmation Project®, told the Guardian

The animal protection movement has a unique opportunity and responsibility to join forces with allies who oppose factory farming. We must collaborate with unlikely allies, such as exploited contract farmers and slaughterhouse workers, so they are part of the solution.

That’s why The Transfarmation Project works directly with farmers and other allies to build collective power sufficient to realize a just and sustainable food system.