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Review: Factory Farming - A DW Documentary

WARNING: This documentary is NOT suitable for children

The documentary, Factory farming, Animal Welfare and the Future of Modern Agriculture by DW was released 13th February 2023. As the first part of an ongoing series on animal agriculture, the film gives an insight into how animal agriculture really works, how animals are treated and where meat really comes from.

chart of animals killed in 16 minutes
This chart shows the number of animals, in 1000's, killed during the first 16 minutes of the documentary

The documentary opens with an overview of the key points of the documentary series:

  • 9/10 Europeans eat meat

  • The solution to the problem of factory farming is also the solution to many other problems

  • More animals are killed each year than the number of humans that have ever lived

  • 73% of Germans and 82% of French people reject the current model of factory farming

  • Pigs spend their entire lives indoor until they are sent to the slaughterhouse

Part one of the documentary follows a pig farmer in Germany. He takes the camera crew into his farming sheds and shows how his pigs are kept and how they are looked after. The whole process is automated, the feed, waste removal, all of it. Even breeding is done by ordering sperm and eggs over the internet, using a star rating system to choose which pig you want to breed from.

"A fattening pig lives for around 180 days, but pigs in nature have a life expectancy of 15-16 years. So it is still a very early stage"

German pig farmer

The pigs are slaughtered young to maximise the amount of meat gained compared to the amount of food given to them to grow it. As the film goes on the pig farmer does agree that the lives of the pigs is not a happy one, he wishes that he could house the pigs in better conditions, but the need to produce more pigs, more meat, means that conditions will get worse, not better.

"By the time they are ready for slaughter, that's also such a horrible term, they are still baby animals"

Animal activist

Part two of the documentary accompanies animal rights activists as they infiltrate a turkey farm. They find evidence of violations of agriculture regulations and cases of practices that are not allowed under the animal welfare act. Using military equipment they record chickens being thrown into crates by their feet, lame cows having to drag themselves out of trucks and into the slaughterhouse. Male calves are shoved around, no care being taken for their welfare and, worth nothing, they are treated as an object to be processed. Pigs are trapped in crates and painfully gassed, those that are not stunned continue to try to free themselves.

Part three of the documentary visits a dairy farmer on a farm where there are 10,000 square meters of open ground per cow, compared to the usual 2.5 square meters on concrete in factory farming. On this organic farm the cows are kept in conditions that are as close to nature as possible. The cows are free to graze in open fields and keep their calves after birth. Only the milk that is left when the calves have been fed is taken to make cheese or to be sold as fresh milk. This is the complete opposite of what happens on factory dairy farms, where calves are taken from their mothers quickly after birth, leaving the cow to cry and grieve. The problem with this practice of farming is that it is not sustainable on a large scale. The land use would have to increase 400 times just to accommodate grazing, milk yield would decrease massively as calves take what they want before humans could take what milk remained. This would increase the price of dairy products to a level where few could afford them, the market for dairy would die off. On this farm the milk was sold for more than 4 times the price of a supermarket, workers were paid minimum wage and the owner of the farm made only 3 euros an hour because this method of farming is so expensive.

The documentary also shows the killing of one cow that was no longer producing enough milk. The cow was completely healthy and happy, grazing in the field. But, because her milk yield was too low she was shot. The farmer felt that this was good, that the cow got to die in a field that she loved, that her death was quick and painless. The killing was overseen by a vet, paperwork was completed and the man that carried out the shooting was paid, all of this is far more expensive than the cost per cow in a slaughterhouse. The farmer claimed that the experience was "spiritual".

This account of farming in Germany was an impressive expose for a mainstream broadcaster, such as DW. Few people know just how bad the truth of factory farming is, even this film only scratches the surface and only involves those that would open their doors. What goes on behind the doors that weren't opened is horrific. If people knew how bad it was would they still eat meat and other animal products? Would they still shop for leather shoes and suede coats? Maybe they they would pay more so that animals could live in better conditions.

I don't think that people would pay more. I don't think they'd give up meat either. I believe that if people were exposed to the truth they would close their eyes and put their fingers in their ears. If they knew what actually happens they'd have to take a good look at themselves and decide if they want to pay to be a part of it. No, it's easier to believe in "humane slaughter".

The film ends with a happy ending, the rescue of a duck, but this is a happy ending for only one animal after having suffered every day before that one. Not a happy ending for the millions of animals that remain in the system. It was extremely painful to watch the cow being shot; the cow was healthy, she did not want to die.


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