KANSAS CITY (Reuters Life!) - U.S. factory farms are getting even bigger, concentrating more animals into fewer production operations in a system that can be harmful to animals, the environment and human health, a new study says.
The report issued on Tuesday by Food & Water Watch -- an analysis of Department of Agriculture data for beef and dairy cattle, hogs, broiler meat chickens and egg-laying operations -- found the total number of livestock on the largest factory farms rose by 5 million, or more than 20 percent, between 2002 and 2007.
Food & Water Watch said the intensive animal operations are associated with several environmental and public health problems, including exposure to foodborne bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella, increased antibiotic use associated with concentration operations, and the millions of gallons of manure generated in small areas by the confinement operations.
The report found the average size of factory farms increased by 9 percent in five years, cramming more animals into each operation.
"It has gotten very clustered," said Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food and Water Watch. "This is not what most consumers think about. This is not something you learn at the grocery store."
The number of dairy cows and broiler chickens nearly doubled during the same time, making them the fastest-growing population of factory-farmed animals.
The number of animals on these large farming operations came despite the fact the number of livestock farms across the country has decreased, according to Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit food and environmental public policy group.
The report looked only at very large farming operations -- for example hog farms that had 1,000 or more animals, and poultry farms that handled 500,000 chickens a year or more.
According to the report, the number of cows on factory dairy farms nearly doubled from 2.5 million in 1997 to 4.9 million in 2007. Beef cattle on industrial feedlots rose 17 percent from 2002 to 2007, adding about 1,100 beef cattle to feedlots every day for five years.
Nationally, about 5,000 hogs were added to factory farms every day for the past decade, and the growth of industrial broiler chicken production amounted to 5,800 chickens every hour over the past decade, according to the report.
Food & Water Watch said its analysis shows small- and medium-sized dairy, cattle and hog farms are disappearing in favor of massive production facilities.
Reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by Jerry Norton