Factory Farming in Asia

March 10, 2021Zihao Yu


CAFO is an abbreviation for “concentrated animal feeding operation,” which is a specific type of large-scale industrial agricultural facility that raises animals, usually at high-density, for the consumption of meat, eggs, or milk.

“To be considered a CAFO, a farm must first be categorized as an animal feeding operation (AFO). An AFO is a lot or facility where animals are kept confined and fed or maintained for 45 or more days per year, and crops, vegetation, or forage growth are not sustained over a normal growing period.” (Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], 2009) CAFOs are classified by the type and number of animals they contain, and the way they discharge waste into the water supply.

The animal feeding operation requires over 1000 animal units, which equals to “1,000,000 pounds of ‘live’ animal weight” or “700 dairy cows, 1000 meat cows, 2500 pigs weighing more than 55 pounds (25 kg), 10,000 pigs weighing under 55 pounds, 10,000 sheep, 55,000 turkeys, 125,000 chickens, or 82,000 egg-laying hens or pullets.

The CAFO is different from a farm in three ways. First, the number of animals in the facility shall be more than 1000 animal units. Second, animals kept in the facility for more than 45 days within a year. Third, crops, pasture, or other vegetation are not present during the normal growing season on any part of the farm. (See What is a CAFO)

The size of a CAFO is divided into three groups as Large CAFOs, Medium CAFOs, and Small CAFOs. Methods of the numbers of animals in the operation, the waste disposal facility are used to distinguish these three groups. A Small CAFO confines a small number of animals and “designated as a CAFO by the permitting authority as a significant contributor of pollutants”; a Medium CAFO confines a larger number of animals and either “has a manmade ditch or pipe that carries manure or wastewater to surface water” or “the animals come into contact with surface water that passes through the area where they’re confined”, and if it is a significant contributor of pollutants, it may be designated as a CAFO by the permitting authority; a Large CAFO confines more animals in the operation. For example, Large CAFOs, Medium CAFOs, and Small CAFOs would have 1,000 or more, 300 – 999, less than 300 cattle or cow/calf pairs in the facility.

Please see more species here.

CAFOs are very highly regulated in the U.S. Due to the increased occupational, environmental and community hazards posed by CAFOs, state, local and federal authorities regulate them. The federal Clean Water Act prohibits discharges of pollutants from point sources into U.S. waters without a permit. Section 502 of the act specifically includes CAFOs in the definition of “point source.” Therefore, CAFOs that discharge wastes into waterways must obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, which limits the amount and types of pollutants that can be released. Under Section 402(b) of the Clean Water Act and 40 C.F.R. Part 123, states can be granted NPDES permitting authority from EPA by adopting federal requirements as state law; as of January 2008, 44 states have permitting authority for CAFOs. EPA retains NPDES permitting authority in Alaska, Idaho, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. (Alaska’s request for permitting authority is pending before EPA)

Read more here.

"20151110-RD-LSC-0539" by USDAgov is marked with CC PDM 1.0

Facts behind the CAFO


“When properly managed, located, and monitored, CAFOs can provide a low-cost source of meat, milk, and eggs, due to efficient feeding and housing of animals, increased facility size, and animal specialization. When CAFOs are proposed in a local area, it is usually argued that they will enhance the local economy and increase employment. The effects of using local materials, feed, and livestock are argued to ripple throughout the economy, and increased tax expenditures will lead to increase funds for schools and infrastructure.”

See Understanding Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations and Their Impact on Communities

Environmental impact and human health concerns

One of the major concerns of CAFO is the environmental and health impacts. CAFOs cause environmental damages to groundwater, surface water, air quality, and produce greenhouse gas, and have an impact on climate changes. The odors, insect vectors, pathogens, antibiotics increase the health risks in the surrounding neighborhood. And the property values of the neighbors will decrease because of the CAFO.

Due to the large quantities of animals, the amount of manure produced by animals is the most pressing public health issue related to CAFOs. The manure produced by a CAFO can vary from 2800 tons to 1.6 million tons a year. (Government Accountability Office [GAO], 2008) The amount is too large to be used all by the farms as fertilizer. The ground application is used for untreated manure as a disposal method for the consideration of cost.

“Groundwater can be contaminated by CAFOs through runoff from land application of manure, leaching from manure that has been improperly spread on land, or through leaks or breaks in storage or containment units.” “The agriculture sector, including CAFOs, is the leading contributor of pollutants to lakes, rivers, and reservoirs.” CAFOs also contribute to the reduction of air quality in areas surrounding industrial farms. The emissions contain Ammonia, Hydrogen Sulfide, Methane, and Particulate Matter which would increase the health risks. Globally, livestock operations are responsible for approximately 18% of greenhouse gas production and over 7% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. (Massey & Ulmer, 2008)

The odors, insect vectors, pathogens, antibiotics increase the health risks in the surrounding neighborhood. And the property values of the neighbors will decrease because of the CAFO.

For more detailed information please see Understanding Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations and Their Impact on Communities.

Animal welfare

The close confinement and crowdedness of the animals create boredom and stress in the animals, as well as physical and mental illnesses. To avoid the attacks between animals, physical alterations are often practiced in farms and CAFOs including beak trimming, dairy cow and pigtail docking, teeth-clipping, and de-toeing. CAFOs also increase the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant diseases, due to the antibiotics regularly given to the animals to avoid the risk of diseases spreading between animals.

“Beginning in 2002, several states enacted ballot proposals that focused on creating minimum confinement standards for animals on CAFOs. In reaction to these ballot initiatives, state legislation concerning animal welfare on CAFOs also sprang up. Concerns of this legislation included confinement standards, the treatment of non-ambulatory animals, humane slaughter methods, the force-feeding of birds, and tail docking.” (See Overview of CAFOs and Animal Welfare Measures)

Learn more on CAFO and Animal Welfare in the U.S. here.

"Undercover Investigation at Manitoba Pork Factory Farm" by Mercy For Animals Canada is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Factory farming in Asia

In Asia, Asian meat demand predicted to grow 19% from 2013 to 2025 to 144 million tonnes and factory farming grows rapidly. According to one report of FAIRR, the meat production in 2013 (thousand tons) by countries or regions are as follows: China, mainland - 83,462, India - 6,215, Vietnam - 4,534, Indonesia -3,318, Japan - 3,285, Philippines - 3,128, Pakistan - 3,040, Thailand - 2,558, South Korea - 2,242, Malaysia - 1,709, Taiwan - 1,538, Hong Kong, SAR - 167, Singapore – 0, and it is 13.2 times compared to that in 1963 (including Australia and New Zealand). Meat per capita consumption, 2013 (kg) varies from Hong Kong, SAR -123.9 to India 3.0. Mainland China, India, and Japan have the highest Eggs production, and India, mainland China, Pakistan have the highest milk production.

The report points out the major concerns of factory farming in Asia are food safety and nutrition, public health risk, environmental footprint, animal welfare, and labor standards. The risk of food safety and nutrition is very high and immediate. The risk of public health is high. The environmental footprint is low. Animal welfare and labor standards risk is low. (Unluckily, the low risk of Animal welfare and labor standards does not mean the protection level is high but means the regulation is weak.)

“How animal welfare is prioritized for consumers depends on the country. For example, there have been a number of recent news items highlighting poor animal welfare practices in Vietnam, while in India animal welfare concerns are linked to religious and cultural preferences and fundamental to the structure of the market. There is also growing momentum behind higher welfare farming in China. Elsewhere in Asia, healthy eating trends are driving a rapid increase in the production of vegetarian products, but from a low base, while animal welfare concerns are growing in importance for exporters.”

In Asia, “religious convictions play a strong role in animal welfare standards and consumption in many Asian countries.” In India, religious and cultural preferences have resulted in the world’s highest prevalence of vegetarianism – the government estimate is 29%, but others estimate up to 42%. Together with high levels of poverty, this has resulted in per capita meat consumption of only 3 kg per person per year.

“Countries with a significant Muslim population tend to have low pork production and consumption. Pakistan consumes almost none, while Malaysia consumes around 6.1 kg per person per year, far lower than other Asian markets with similar total meat consumption. Furthermore, Halal certification includes many standards that respond to welfare concerns, even if some secular advocates do not believe they go far enough. Buddhism – which has large numbers of followers across the region – is also linked to customary practices relating to animal welfare and vegetarianism in some interpretations.” (Source: FAIRR)

Here is some information offered in the report:

  • According to the World Bank, 80% of low and middle-income countries used antimicrobials for growth promotion – seen as a major cause of antibiotic resistance.

  • A pollution census from the Chinese government found agriculture was responsible for 44% more water pollution than other industrial operations. Waste from livestock was estimated at 243 million tonnes of feces.

  • China already consumes almost half of the world’s antibiotics, and due to increased intensive farming, Asia is estimated to increase antibiotic usage in chicken and pigs by 129% and 124% respectively by 2030.

  • Southeast Asia suffers 175,000 deaths per year from foodborne illnesses – the highest number of any global region.


CAFO or factory farming is an effective system to cut down the cost of the animal product but we should know the potential risks brought by CAFO or factory farming, including the health, environmental, and animal welfare issues. If the CAFO or factory farming is not well regulated, it will be a nightmare for the local neighborhood, environment, workers, and animals.

See the article on the protection of farmed animals in Asia here.

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