At a glance

  • Factory farming is a production system in which the basic needs of animals are disregarded in practically all respects.
  • For us humans factory farming and the associated excessive consumption of industrially produced animal products is highly problematic as well.
  • Factory farming harms the environment and is a driving force behind climate change.

Devastating for animals, humans and the environment

Factory farming is a production system in which the basic needs of animals are disregarded in practically all respects. Large groups of individuals are crammed together in very confined spaces. Regular exercise and adequate veterinary care cannot be guaranteed in this type of husbandry. Despite their capacity for suffering, animals in factory farms are not regarded as living beings but as products – contrary to the advertising messages of the milk and meat lobbies.

But not only animals suffer from factory farming. The current system is also highly problematic for us humans. For example, the excessive consumption of industrially produced animal products has been proven to contribute to cardiovascular diseases and diabetes and to cause dangerous long-term antibiotic resistance.

And from an environmental and climate perspective, factory farming is no longer sustainable. It is more harmful to the climate than all global traffic combined and – due to the cultivation of soy monocultures for animal fattening – it is also responsible for about 90% of all deforestation in the Amazon. Animal products require 83% of the world’s agricultural land (pasture land and cultivation of animal feed), but only provide us with 18% of the calories.

Animal Welfare

The consumption of animal products in Switzerland has increased by about 60% since the turn of the millennium. To meet this rising demand, the number of farm animals (chickens, cattle, pigs, sheep, goats and horses) has increased by almost half between 2,000 and 2013. The main reason for the overall increase is the massive growth of the chicken population. In the same period of time, the number of farms has decreased from almost 70,000 to 55,000. As a consequence, considerably more animals are currently kept per farm than in the past – which is fatal for animal welfare.

Up to 300 fattening calves, 1,500 fattening pigs or 18,000 laying hens or (depending on age) 27,000 broilers may be kept on one farm. This leads to conditions that cannot be justified from an animal welfare point of view. The animals are exposed to enormous stress, cannibalism, conflicts between themselves and premature death because dangerous diseases cannot be recognized in time. Particularly in the case of chickens, it is praxtically impossible for farm operators to consider the individual needs of the animals.

Demands of the initiative

  • Currently: Stock sizes with up to 18,000 laying hens, 27,000 broilers or an average of 17 hens per square meter.
    Demand: Significant reduction to a maximum of 2,000 animals (Bio-Suisse-Standard).
  • Currently: Ten pigs weighing 100 kilograms each share the area of standard a car parking space. Horrible crate stands are still allowed for up to ten days during «breeding time». Access to the outdoors is usually nothing more than an often slippery, dirty concrete surface with grids and an iron chain to play with. In addition, artificial insemination of the animals takes place with catheters.
    Demand: Complete abolition of the box stalls as well as free access to the meadow and to the mud. In addition, bedding in pigsties should become the norm and insemination should take place in a natural way.
  • Currently: The tethering of dairy cows is generally permitted.
    Demand: Tethering of dairy cows should only be allowed in combination with the government program that supports regular access to the outdoors.

Common practices

  • Male chicks are not even reared in most cases, but are killed millionfold by machines on their first day of life. Around two million animals suffer this fate every year in Switzerland alone.
  • Broilers are only allowed to live for six weeks until they are ready for slaughter. At this time they are often already very heavy due to their overbreeding and their legs are hardly able carry their bodyweight anymore.
  • Laying hens are usually «put out», i.e. killed, at the age of 18 months at the latest because their laying performance no longer meets the operational requirements. This period corresponds to approx. 15% of their natural life expectancy.
  • Similarly, since the 1960s, dairy cows have been bred up in such a way that today they produce between 8,000 and 10,000 liters of milk per year instead of 4,000. Dual-purpose breeds, which are suitable for both milk and meat production, are a minority.


In connection with animal products, hazards resulting from the use of antibiotics in factory farming are particularly relevant. In 2014, more than 48,000 kilograms of antibiotics were sold in the Swiss factory farming system. Multi-resistant germs are correspondingly widespread among farm animals. Since multiresistant bacteria are also transmitted to humans, the antibiotic supply to animals also reduces the chances of successfully treating humans with antibiotics in the future. An estimated 25,000 people in the European Union die annually from infections caused by resistant germs. In terms of the number of resistant bacterial strains, Switzerland at the average European level.

An additional problem of high bacterial density in factory farms is the risk of developing diseases such as bird or swine flu. COVID-19 has shown the whole world that such «zoonoses» can also be dangerous to humans.

Excessive consumption of meat and dairy products can be detrimental to health. A predominantly plant-based diet is healthy and reduces the risk of contracting certain diseases, especially cardiovascular diseases, diabetes mellitus or obesity.

Environmental protection and security of supply

Livestock farming is responsible for about 85% of all greenhouse gas emissions caused by Swiss agriculture and causes massive problems for Swiss soils and waters due to its immense nitrogen inputs. By importing over one million tons of animal feed, industrial animal husbandry in Switzerland also contributes significantly to various environmental problems in other parts of the world.

Greenhouse gas emissions

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimates that factory farming is responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is roughly equivalent to the total emissions from global transport. The greenhouse gas methane, which is primarily originating in the digestive process of ruminants such as cows, goats and sheep, is of particular importance. On the one hand, it causes almost half of the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from intensive livestock farming. On the other hand, its earth-warming effect is 25 times stronger than that of carbon dioxide. To prevent the worst effects of global warming, greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by at least half by 2050, starting from the emissions in 2000. The reduction of agricultural animal husbandry and an increasingly plant-based diet can make a significant contribution to achieving this goal. For Switzerland, researchers at ETH Zurich have determined that the reduction of livestock numbers is the most potent of all measures to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.

Water pollution

The over-fertilization of agricultural land with phosphorous fertilizers has frequently led to the formation of algae in various Swiss lakes. The consequence: numerous fish die due to the increasing lack of oxygen. At the same time, half of all antibiotic residues and 37% of toxic heavy metals in Swiss waters originate from livestock farming. And last but not least, feed production also contributes to large-scale water pollution, because more than a third of the pesticides that end up in the water balance come from agricultural livestock farming.

Inefficient use of resources: Soil

The production of one unit of meat protein requires an area that is between 6 and 17 times larger than that required to produce one unit of soy protein. In short: feeding plant proteins to farm animals is enormously inefficient. Moreover, this fact is directly linked to deforestation on the other side of the world. Nearly 70% of the deforestation in the Amazon region is directly attributable to livestock farming. A large part of the remaining 30% is also used primarily for the cultivation of animal feed. Most of the soy used in Switzerland as concentrated feed also comes from abroad. In total, almost one third of the earth’s surface is used for livestock farming – this corresponds to more than three quarters of the global arable land.

Inefficient use of resources: Water

The production of animal-based products is considerably more water-intensive than the production of plant-based foods. On a global average, more than 15,000 liters of water are needed to produce one kilogram of beef – this corresponds to almost 100 bathtubs. In regions with low rainfall, water shortages are significantly exacerbated by the production of meat and animal feed. Switzerland imports around one million tons of animal feed per year, thus indirectly aggravating the water shortage in developing countries.

Inefficient use of resources and world poverty

The resource inefficiency of livestock farming is not only problematic in view of climate change, but also causes socio-economic problems, especially in the areas of water and food security. As a result, world market prices for staple foods are rising. Moreover, the large-scale cultivation of fodder crops is displacing small farmers. These problems seem particularly serious in view of the fact that there are currently almost 800 million people worldwide who lack regular access to staple foods.

Security of supply in Switzerland

Calculcations by the Federal Statistical Office on the degree of self-sufficiency in Switzerland underestimate our enormous feed imports. The stated degree of self-sufficiency is reduced from 58% to 50% without the imported feed. The production of the 430’000 tons of protein animal feed that are imported into Switzerland every year requires a cultivated area abroad that is almost equal to that of the entire Swiss arable land (250’000 hectares or 270’000 hectares). Reducing the consumption of animal products can therefore directly improve the security of supply for Swiss agriculture.