The leading farm animal welfare charity
Today we campaign peacefully to end all factory farming practices. We believe that the biggest cause of cruelty on the planet deserves a focused, specialised approach – so we are relentlessly focused on ending factory farming.
Compassion in World Farming is a registered charity in England and Wales (registered charity number 1095050) and a company limited by guarantee in England and Wales (registered company number 4590804).
Our achievements so far
- Our award winning undercover investigations have exposed the reality of modern intensive farming systems and brought the plight of farm animals to the attention of the world's media
- Our political lobbying and campaigning has resulted in the EU recognising animals as sentient beings, capable of feeling pain and suffering. We have also secured landmark agreements to outlaw the barren battery cage for egg-laying hens, narrow veal crates and sow stalls across Europe
- Compassion in World Farming’s Food Business team is working with some of the world’s biggest food companies - retailers, producers and manufacturers. The companies we work with are a key part of the drive towards a more ethical and sustainable food supply. Our Good Farm Animal Welfare Awards are already benefiting millions of animals each year. 613 million animals are set to benefit each year as a result of our Good Award winners’ policies.
The challenges ahead
There are however, still many challenges we have to face if we are to realise our vision of a world where all farm animals are treated with compassion and respect and where cruel factory farming practices end.
We believe that farm animals should not and need not suffer. If you agree, please consider supporting us today. You will literally help us improve the lives of billions.
Our impact for farm animal welfare
We are one of the leanest, most cost-effective global charities who achieve extraordinary things with the resources gifted to us by our supporters.
Every year, we produce an Impact Report to show what we have achieved together. You can see our latest one here, or continue reading below for some highlights from the last few decades.
Ending factory farming
Factory farming is everywhere
Around two in every three farm animals are factory farmed (that’s over 50 billion every year!). These intensive systems put production above all else, creating vast quantities of seemingly cheap meat, milk and eggs.
But factory farming comes at a cost. Treated as commodities, animals are often raised in intense confinement. Factory farming is highly dependent on large quantities of precious resources, such as grain-based feed, water, energy and medication.
This archaic method of food production has failed
Factory farming is not just bad for farm animals. It’s dangerous, unfair and dirty, with impacts ranging from climate change to biodiversity loss and disease to food insecurity. Factory farming is too often viewed as the cheap, efficient solution to feeding our world. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. For every 100 food calories of edible crops fed to livestock, we get back just 17 calories in the form of meat and dairy; an 83% loss. In short, people are being forced to compete with farm animals for food.
We must stop this madness.
There is a better way
Tackling one of the greatest sustainability concerns of our time is a daunting challenge. But it is also a unique opportunity to resolve some of the world’s most pressing economic, environmental and ethical challenges. We need a common sense approach to feeding the world. One that ends the competition for food between people and farm animals. We need a food and farming revolution; one that provides healthy, affordable food for all, produced from farming systems that are:
- Safer, promoting our welfare and that of farm animals
- Fairer, supporting rural livelihoods and relieving poverty
- Greener, protecting the planet and its precious natural resources
With your support, Compassion in World Farming is fighting to end factory farming. We are a global movement to expose the truth about the food we eat, and fight for better food and farming. Compassion will continue to prevent suffering and make huge improvements to farming standards. However we believe that the animal welfare movement is less likely to win the arguments against factory farming on its own. We are building a groundswell of people and organisations to join our fight. Supported by people who recognise the danger that factory farming poses, we will end factory farming.
You can kick-start the revolution
Getting involved in the fight against factory farming couldn’t be easier. Simply sign up to receive email updates from Compassion in World Farming to hear about urgent campaign actions and other ways you can help end cruelty to farm animals.
We campaign to end factory farming. Farm animal welfare and wellbeing is at the heart of all we do and all we do is founded on scientific fact. Our supporters are pivotal to the success of all our campaigns. Find out how you can help and join us in actively seeking global reform for billions of farm animals suffering around the world...
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The Magic Of Loving Animals
There are more chickens in the world than any other bird. In fact, more than 50 billion chickens are reared annually as a source of food, for both their meat and their eggs.
The natural life of chickens
Chickens are gregarious birds and live together as a flock with a distinct hierarchy or “pecking order.” They would naturally spend their day foraging for food, scratching the ground looking for insects and seeds.
When a cockerel finds food, he may call the hens to eat it by clucking in a high pitch and picking up and dropping the food. This behaviour can also be seen in mother hens, calling their chicks.
Chickens tend to range widely, using the cover of trees and vegetation for safety from predators.
Life on some farms and small-holdings is just like that. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the 50 billion chickens reared each year experience intensive farming methods.
The reality of life on the farm
Where do cattle come from?
Bos taurus (European cattle) are descended from the Auroch that lived in Northern Europe. They were domesticated as long ago as the Neolithic age and have been kept as livestock ever since for their meat, milk and hides.
Historically there was less distinction between dairy cattle and beef cattle, with the same breeds used for both milk and meat. However, in the developed world today farmers generally keep either beef or dairy cattle. Through generations of selection, dairy breeds such as the Holstein, are bred specifically to produce very high volumes of milk.
Cattle farming today
The calves of dairy and beef cows are likely to have very different lives. Beef cattle are generally slaughtered after one to two years in Europe but they can be up to five years old in the case of extensively reared animals. Female dairy calves are usually reared on for milk production. Dairy cows produce some male calves which are generally less suitable for beef production. Sadly, in the UK some of these are either shot at birth or could be exported to low welfare veal farms outside the UK. Fortunately the number of calves being exported from England, Scotland and Wales is low currently, but several thousand animals are exported to the continent each year from Northern Ireland.
Due to co-operation between Compassion in World Farming, the RSPCA and the industry through the Calf Stakeholder Forum, more male dairy calves are now reared humanely for beef and the number of calves being shot at birth has greatly decreased. There is more work to do - around 95, 000 dairy calves are still shot every year.
Beef cattle are often reared outdoors on grass, although many are brought indoors or crowded into feedlots for fattening before slaughter. Even though many cattle in the UK, Ireland and Northern France are fattened on grass, many cattle are kept indoors and fattened on a high grain diet across most of Europe. In indoor systems, beef cattle are commonly housed on slatted floors in crowded conditions, which increases aggression and can lead to severe injuries and lameness.
Fish are the most utilised animals on Earth. Up to three trillion individuals are killed for food every year. They are able to feel pain, pleasure and other emotions throughout their lives. Despite this, fish receive very little legal protection and are either farmed in terrible conditions or caught using extremely cruel methods.
Fish are aquatic vertebrates that live in the sea and fresh water. Most fish have highly developed senses with excellent taste, smell and colour vision. They also have a ‘lateral line system’ of receptors that can detect the motion of currents, nearby fish and prey.
They are sentient animals: capable of feeling pain, and experiencing a range of emotions. Scientific evidence has revealed that fish are far more intelligent than people assume. They have long-term memories, complex social structures, problem solving abilities, and some have been seen using tools.
Fish are eaten by people around the world and are either caught from the wild or farmed, which is known as aquaculture.
Fish farming today
Some scientists have predicted that by 2048, stocks of all species of sea fish will have collapsed, largely due to over-fishing. Meanwhile, aquaculture is growing rapidly. In 1970 around 5 per cent of the fish we ate came from farms. Today, around half of the fish we eat has been farmed. Globally, between 40-120 billion farmed fish are slaughtered for food each year.
Farmed fish are reared in large numbers in crowded enclosures. These may be situated on land or in rivers, lakes or at sea. The vast majority of Atlantic salmon and rainbow trout consumed around the world are farmed intensively. Other species commonly farmed include carp, catfish, sea bass, and tilapia.
When fish become fish feed
Although aquaculture may seem like a solution to the problem of over-fishing wild stocks, it can actually add to the issue. As many of the species farmed are carnivorous, they are fed largely on wild-caught fish. Over 450 billion fish are caught each year for reduction to fish oil and fishmeal, which is then fed to farmed fish.
This means even greater numbers of fish are taken from the oceans and rivers for use as feed, than if they were eaten by humans directly. This is very unsustainable.
For example, to produce one tonne of farmed salmon it takes about two and a half tonnes of wild-caught fish, such as anchovies. Due to the small size of anchovies, this can mean that 500 individuals must be caught and killed for fish oil, just to produce one salmon.
There are also serious welfare concerns about how wild fish are caught and slaughtered. To find out more about the welfare of wild fish visit www.fishcount.org.uk and for information on sustainable fishing see www.msc.org.
You can read more about the welfare of farmed fish here.
Pigs are highly intelligent, sociable animals with an amazing sense of smell.
Where are pigs from?
Pigs are believed to have been domesticated from wild boar as early as 9000 years ago. They were originally native to Europe and parts of Asia but have, over the centuries, been introduced to many parts of the world.
Most pigs in the world today are farmed pigs, but some have become feral, having escaped from farms or been deliberately introduced into the wild for hunting. Some breeds of pig, such as the Asian pot-bellied pig, are kept as pets. Because of their foraging abilities, and an excellent sense of smell, pigs are used to hunt for truffles in some parts of Europe.
The natural life of pigs
In natural conditions, pigs live in small social groups, consisting of a few sows with their young. They range over hundreds of kilometres and spend much of their day foraging and rooting for food.
Pigs are naturally omnivorous and will eat both plants and small animals; they will forage for leaves, grass, roots, fruits and flowers. Pigs make nests to sleep in and dig out mud wallows when they need to cool down.
This level of freedom to express their natural behaviour is not the experience of most pigs today.
Pig farming today
Around 1.4 billion pigs are slaughtered annually for meat worldwide. The majority of these are in East Asia, particularly China, which rears around half of the world’s pigs. This is followed by the EU, North America, Vietnam and Brazil. The majority of pigs are reared for meat and a smaller number are kept for breeding.
Whilst some pigs are kept free-range and in back yards in many developing countries, at least half of the world’s pig meat is produced from intensive systems.
Intensive pig farming
This footage shows potentially upsetting scenes of animal suffering.
In intensive systems, sows (mother pigs) are often confined in narrow crates, unable to to move freely, when they are pregnant and nursing their piglets.
The piglets reared for meat are often mutilated, without anaesthetic, and kept in concrete sheds without bedding.
This shift away from traditional pig farming to large-scale intensive methods has resulted in significant concerns for the welfare of millions of pigs throughout the world.
The most commonly farmed species of quail is the Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica). They were domesticated around the 11th century in Japan, and originally kept as song birds. In the 1950s, they were brought to Europe and are now bred for their meat and eggs. Quail are the smallest farmed bird, some weighing as little as 100g when fully grown.
There are around 20 different types of wild quail found around the world and around 70 domestic breeds. Domestic quail behave very similarly to wild quail, although they seem to have lost some, or all, of their migratory instincts.
The natural life of quail
Quail can be found living in grassy fields, cropland, and meadow habitats. Wild Japanese quail live in East Asia, Russia and parts of Africa, and some populations migrate. They feed mainly on grass seeds, but also eat small insects. Quail live on the ground: foraging, nesting and sleeping in the grass. They dust-bathe regularly to clean their feathers.
When in danger, quail fly up rapidly to avoid a predator but drop back into the grass a few dozen yards away. However, their first reaction to danger is usually to hide in the vegetation. Their elusive lifestyle means they are more often heard than seen; in fact, they have quite distinctive calls.
In the winter, quail usually live in large groups but in the breeding season, during warmer months, many quail will be found living in breeding pairs. Hens lay their eggs on the ground in simple nests made out of dry grass.
Quail farming today
An estimated 1.4 billion quail are farmed annually for their meat and eggs. The majority of quail are farmed in China, with over 80% produced there. The European Union produces over 100 million quail, but the industry is largely unregulated and there are no official published statistics on this.
Quail reared for meat are slaughtered by around 5 weeks old. Egg laying quail hens start laying at around 7 weeks old and will be slaughtered at around 8 months old. The vast majority of quail are farmed intensively in battery cages or overcrowded barns.
Find out more about the welfare of farmed quail.
Rabbits have been domesticated fairly recently, compared to other domesticated animals. The ancestor of both farmed and pet rabbits is the wild European rabbit we still see today. Wild rabbits live in varying habitats including forests, woodland, meadows, Savannah deserts and wetland and are found in several parts of the world. Domestic rabbits behave very similarly to wild rabbits.
The natural life of rabbits
Rabbits are prey animals and to avoid predators they mainly feed at dusk and dawn. They are herbivores and eat a variety of plants including grass. While above ground, rabbits will frequently check for predators by sitting up on their back legs or against objects with their ears pricked to listen for potential danger; this is part of their natural behaviour.
They have an excellent sense of smell and peripheral vision and are very good diggers. When chased by a predator, their long, powerful hind legs allow them to run very fast. Some can reach speeds of 35 miles/hour. They can also jump over a metre high.
Rabbits are highly social animals and live in family groups of 2-9 females, 1-3 males and their offspring. The family will share their home range and live in a network of burrows, called a ‘warren’, which they will defend against predators and other rabbits. A warren contains different areas which are used for specific activities such as sleeping and nesting. Mutual grooming is important to reinforce social bonds.
Female rabbits (‘does’) tend to reproduce when the climate is favourable. Before giving birth a doe will build a nest, lining it with her own fur, in an isolated part of the warren. After the kits (young rabbits) are born she leaves them alone for most of the time. She only enters the nest for a few minutes once a day to feed the kits, and seals up the nest entrance afterwards to keep them safe.
Rabbit farming today
Almost one billion rabbits are slaughtered annually for meat worldwide; over 50% of these are in China (FAOSTAT 2017). In the European Union approximately 180 million rabbits are slaughtered for meat every year: 120 million from commercial farms and 60 million from backyard farms. The majority of these are produced in Spain, France and Italy. Around 94% of commercially farmed rabbits in the EU are caged (European Commission 2016).
Nearly all rabbits farmed for meat and fur are kept in small, barren cages where their natural behaviour is severely restricted. Rabbits in intensive farming systems experience very bad welfare.
Find out more about the welfare of farmed rabbits.
One of the first farmed animals, reared for thousands of years for meat and milk. Read about how sheep and lambs are farmed today.
There are over 1 billion sheep worldwide. The greatest numbers are farmed in Asia and Africa. Sheep are kept for meat (lamb and mutton) and for milk.
Sheep are prey animals, largely defenceless against predators and naturally nervous and easily frightened. They flock together for safety. Sheep have a ‘flight zone’ – the distance they keep from a potential threat such as a person or sheepdog - which varies depending how wild the sheep are.
Lambs are very independent at birth and form strong bonds with their mothers, recognising each other by their bleats.
Where do sheep come from?
Sheep originate from wild sheep. They were one of the first domesticated animals, farmed since about 9,000 BC. Over the years of domestication, sheep have been bred to have more wool and developed black, white and spotted varieties.
Sheep farming today
Most sheep are farmed outdoors in extensive systems, with less than 1% kept in intensive systems (although this is still several million animals). Some sheep may be housed over winter but otherwise housing is generally reserved for lambing, fattening of some lambs and for milking sheep.
Although the vast majority of sheep are not intensively farmed, there are still significant concerns for sheep and lamb welfare.
Wild turkeys are large birds native to North America. They live in a variety of habitats, mostly forests, and spend much of their time foraging for food. Turkeys are omnivores and will eat various seeds, plants, insects and worms. They investigate their surroundings by pecking and scratching, and keep their feathers clean by preening and dustbathing regularly. At night, they fly up to rest in trees for safety from predators.
Domesticated turkeys are believed to descend from the South Mexican turkey, and were brought to Europe by the Spanish who had discovered them as a favourite domesticated animal of the Aztecs.
Almost 630 million turkeys are produced for meat each year, globally (FAOSTAT, 2014). Of these, over 240 million are produced in the US and over 240 million in the EU.
Modern commercial turkeys have been selectively bred for fast growth and disproportionately large breast muscles. They are slaughtered when they are between 9 and 24 weeks of age, and may weigh upwards of 20kg.
Intensive indoor systems
In the EU, over 90% of turkeys are kept in intensive indoor systems. These turkeys are kept in enclosed sheds in groups of up to 25,000 birds and have no outdoor access.
Inside the turkey shed
Turkey barns are usually barren, with only food and water stations, and litter. The barns are overcrowded and often windowless, with artificially lighting and ventilation. Lighting schedules are strictly controlled to encourage the turkeys to eat more food, reduce their activity and grow fast. They are kept in very low light to reduce feather-pecking but this can cause eye abnormalities and blindness.
Smaller producers, especially those who produce turkeys for the Christmas market, often keep turkeys in open barns with natural lighting and ventilation and more space.
Intensive methods of rearing turkeys lead to many welfare issues.