top of page

Factory Farms: The True Impact 

The term intensive animal agriculture refers to a method of large-scale farming where significant numbers of animals are kept and raised in confined living conditions. Instead of grazing in pastures or fields, concentrated feed is brought to the animals, who are largely confined indoors - to the extent that many never see daylight their whole lives. The purpose of these factory farms is to maximise production and profits by processing as many animals as possible using as few resources as possible.


Below, we’ll discuss the impact that research tells us these intensive facilities are having on people, communities, and the environment (both locally and globally).

The Environmental Impact

Factory farms pose so many different threats to the environment that we simply don’t have the space to discuss them all here. So, we’re going to focus on three of the key problems: land use, greenhouse gas emissions, and water pollution.

Land Use

In factory farms, food is brought to the animals rather than them grazing on pastures. So, the land used for the actual farms themselves is only one factor when considering their land use, as they also require a lot of land to farm the vast quantity of crops required to produce the animal feed.


40% of arable land in the UK is used to grow crops to feed animals. Feeding animals that in turn will be used to feed humans places a significant burden on food systems and the environment; animal products require huge feed inputs to produce proportionately small protein outputs. In short, using all this land to produce animal feed is not an efficient or environmentally sustainable way to feed people.


If land used to grow animal feed was instead dedicated to growing crops to feed humans, 70% more calories for human consumption could be produced - creating enough food to feed up to 4 billion more people.


The United Nations has stated that preserving biodiversity is “our strongest natural defence against climate change”, and the extensive amounts of land required to support intensive agriculture is one of the key drivers of biodiversity loss. In short, we need to stop allowing factory farms to be built in order to halt the potentially irreversible damage being done to global biodiversity.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The animal agriculture sector is a major contributor to the total GHG emissions of the UK. The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) states that agriculture accounts for 10% of the UK’s GHG emissions, with 85% of these emissions made up from animal agriculture. But, these statistics don’t include the GHG impact of imported animal feed and, given that approximately half of UK animal feed is imported, the GHG impact of animal agriculture is significantly higher than the above statistic.


Although carbon dioxide is the most ‘high profile’ of these emissions, it’s not the only one with potentially catastrophic consequences. Animal agriculture is also one of the biggest human driven producers of nitrous oxide and methane. To avoid warming beyond 1.5 degrees celsius, we need to consider not only the lifespan of a greenhouse gas but also its capacity to trap heat. Both of these gases impact global temperatures so dramatically because they can trap heat to a far greater degree than carbon dioxide - methane is 25 times more potent at trapping heat, whereas nitrogen oxide is 300 times more potent and has a lifespan of around 120 years.

Water Pollution

England’s rivers are in the worst health of all nations in the United Kingdom, with only 16% achieving a good ecological status. Animal agriculture is a major cause of this. This is caused largely by dangerous substances, such as pesticides, chemicals and heavy metals, being released by factory farms in animal waste and entering local water sources. These substances have devastating consequences on both aquatic ecosystems and human health.

Again, factory farms throw up so many different social issues that we can’t explore them all here. So, in this section we’ll be focussing on the impact that intensive animal agriculture has on food security, health, and local communities.

Food Security

Increased food security is an argument often made in favour of building new factory farms, wherein it’s suggested that more meat farms are vital to ensuring the UK can produce enough food for itself. However, this is not an efficient nor sustainable solution to becoming less reliable on food imports.


  • Firstly, as we discussed above, the UK is still heavily reliant on importing the animal feed needed to supply all these factory farms.

  • Secondly, the UK already has over 1,700 megafarms, housing millions of animals (more specifically, at least 2,000 meat pigs or 40,000 poultry - EACH).

  • Thirdly, we’ve already established that meat farming is not an efficient food source when we look at the input of resources vs the calorie output.

  • And finally, if the method of food production is catastrophically unsustainable (as factory farms are), then the resulting environmental degradation can actually cause us to become even less food secure.


In 2021 the government-commissioned national food strategy for England recommended that people should cut their meat consumption by 30% in order to mitigate the effects of climate change (and to safeguard public health), a sentiment also echoed in reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.


Factory farms are simply not the answer to food security concerns.

Health Impacts

Factory farms pose a serious threat to both local and international public health, for a multitude of reasons.


Disease risk - Animals tightly packed together in conditions that are cramped, stressful, and that involve the routine use of antibiotics, contributes to an environment where viruses can mutate and spread rapidly between animals - and to humans. Scientists have recently warned that, in order to avoid another deadly pandemic, we must urgently de-intensify animal agriculture systems. You can read more on this here.


Air pollution - Factory farms are major sources of air pollution, producing dangerous particulate matter that can penetrate deeper respiratory airways and compromise both the health of animals and people in the vicinity.


Overconsumption of Meat - Excessive consumption of processed and red meat has been linked to the development of serious health complications, such as coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and various cancers.


The Social Impact

The Economic Impact

Factory farms can have benefits for the local economy by providing, for example, employment. These benefits, however, need to be carefully assessed and weighed against the risks when planning applications are being considered.


A common misconception is that factory farms will always be profitable for local communities. While this may be the case for smaller, family run farming operations, it is becoming increasingly rare. Intensive agriculture is dominated by a number of large corporations that are privately owned and often have very little connection to the area in which their farms are based. For example, many are held by overseas companies. This means that profit often flows directly out of the local area and back to the holding companies to be distributed to members. Additionally, the industry is becoming increasingly mechanised, meaning that the actual number of potential jobs created may be lower than the number promised. There is therefore is a serious risk that local communities will be exploited; suffering the burdens of vast, destructive factory farms with little to no compensation.


Factory farms are also incredibly unappealing for local people and potential new residents (would you want to buy a house right by a factory farm?). Aside from the environmental and potential health risks that we’ve already discussed, they are visually unattractive and produce offensive odours that impact on residents enjoyment and use of the surrounding area. This can pull house prices down, cause local residents to move away, and ultimately devalue entire communities.


Furthermore, factory farms can also have a detrimental impact on local industries, for example tourism related businesses such as holiday rentals, canoeing, and fishing that rely on the appeal of the natural landscape as well as local wildlife. No one goes on holiday for lungfuls of pollution and to gaze upon decimated natural habitats.

The Future

When considering food systems, there is a strong consensus within the scientific community that, in order to achieve the objectives of sustainable development a radical transformation of the global food system is needed, that necessitates a movement towards a diet rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal sourced foods.


The Plant Based Treaty is a brilliant example of this movement, clearly outlining what needs to change and how we can do it (to read more about this, or to sign the treaty yourself, click here). By committing to initiatives such as this one, we can - as a society - take significant steps forward, to a truly sustainable future, rather than blindly stumbling backwards into the dark, well-trodden realm of meat-churning, pollution-belching mega farms.

*A full list of references is available in the full report.

If you’d like to download the full report, or if you’re a local councillor and you’d like to access our full planning guide, you can do so below.

If you have any questions, you’d like to discuss our report further, or you’d like our advice, contact us today - we’d love to hear from you.

bottom of page