photo_camera Jo-Anne McArthur / Animal Equality
Young broiler birds in an industrial barn

99% of US farmed animals live on factory farms, study shows

Sentience Institute Press Release

April 11, 2019

According to a new analysis conducted by the nonprofit think tank Sentience Institute (SI), around 99% of US farmed animals live on factory farms.

“Most people are woefully wrong about where their meat comes from. 75% of US adults believe they usually buy humane products, yet only 1% of food animals live on non-factory farms,” said Executive Director Kelly Anthis in reference to a 2017 poll conducted by SI in collaboration with Ipsos Group.

The new analysis uses data from the 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture, which was released on April 11, 2019. The most recent previous data available was for 2012, which showed around 98.66% of US farmed animals lived on factory farms compared to the current figure of 98.74%. The analysis uses EPA regulations for what constitutes a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) in combination with the USDA data on how many animals live on farms of various sizes. A global analysis conducted by SI suggests over 90% of farmed animals worldwide live on factory farms.

“Despite public outrage at the animal welfare and environmental consequences of factory farming, it is still the predominant system of animal agriculture. The public has been able to push the industry to make some changes in the right direction, for instance by starting to move egg-laying hens out of cages, but we have unfortunately seen little change in the percentage of animals living in factory farms in recent years. Between the suffering of these animals and the devastating impacts of animal farming on our climate and on the sustainability of food system, this is a moral catastrophe that we can't afford to neglect any longer,” said Anthis.

“Around 95% of farmed animals globally are chickens and fish, and they generally endure the most intensive farming methods.”

“When consumers think about factory farming, they appear to take psychological refuge in the idea of ‘happy meat.’ Consumers feel uncomfortable about eating factory farmed animals, so their minds justify animal product consumption by incorrectly assuming that what they eat was produced ethically. This illusion reduces the cognitive dissonance that results from caring about animals while eating them. The animal food industry has capitalized on this effect with a strategy known as humanewashing, which uses misleading advertising such as images of animals who look much happier, healthier, and freer than in reality. Fortunately, there is rapid growth in the plant-based foods sector as well as a nascent industry of so-called ‘clean meat,’ real meat made from animal cells without animal slaughter, which could mean an end to factory farming within my lifetime.”

SI’s Research Director Jacy Reese is the author of a new book
The End of Animal Farming, which argues that humanity will fully transition to an animal-free food system by 2100.

About Sentience Institute

Sentience Institute is a new nonprofit think tank dedicated to the expansion of humanity’s moral circle. We are founded on the principle of effective altruism, meaning we strive to help others as much as possible using the best evidence available. Because the scope of this mission is so large, we’re initially focused on finding effective strategies to help farmed animals.

For more information, please see the published analysis or contact Kelly Anthis at

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