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ILO Fact Sheet

Consumer Benefits vs. Consumers Risks

Why urban residents should care about Intensive Livestock Operations

There is a concern that many urban residents are either unaware of the impact of Intensive Livestock Operations (ILO) {1}, or view the effects of ILOs as a rural problem that has no bearing on the lives of city dwellers. This is a great misconception, for the negative impacts of industrial hog production are vast, touching many aspects of rural and urban life.

What is an ILO?

An Intensive Livestock Operation (ILO) {3} is characterized by three features:

  • Number of animals - Generally between 750 and 1000 hogs is considered an ILO, yet the latter two characteristics are much more important for the definition;

  • Industrial structure - Characterized by absentee ownership, vertical integration, money leaving the state or province, corporate control, and contracted land{4}; and

  • High volume efficiency - The use of antibiotics, elimination of hay in crates and living in cramped conditions to allow more livestock and limiting animal movement. .

In effect, it is more like factory than a farm.

With bacteria like Salmonella and E.coli capable of transmittance, the Canadian Medical Association is calling for Canada to ban subtherapeutic antibiotic use for livestock growth promotion {2}


Hogs are kept in confinement with no room to turn around. They are weaned from their mother at 5-10 days as opposed to the traditional ten weeks. These factors, along with excessive numbers of animals crammed in confined areas, causes disease to run rampant. The ILO industry’s response to this issue is to administer daily doses of subtherapeutic levels of antibiotics in the animal’s feed or water. That is, the hog receives medication whether is shows symptoms of illness or not because the farmer knows these conditions make disease inevitable. This overuse of antibiotics has led to bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.

Proof Livestock Production Can Go On: The case of Sweden

Sweden has banned the use of subtherapeutic antibiotics, and in doing so has not only improved the quality of meat, and reduced the spread of antibiotic resistance, but it has has improved animal welfare. The use of antibiotics allows animals to be kept confined when they otherwise could not due to disease. In banning the use of subtherapeutic levels of antibiotics, livestock operators were forced to change how they raised livestock. Animals now spend time outdoors, are given toys for mental stimulation, have greater stall space, and hay or some other type of bedding within the stall. In other words, Sweden has gone back to biological systems rather than technological systems, of animal agriculture. {5}

Many of the same antibiotics used at the subtherapeutic level are used to treat both human and other animal diseases. Included in this are eleven that are identical to those used in treatment of human disease, including penicillin, and tetracyclines. This should be a concern for everybody because resistance can develop quickly and bacteria can transfer the DNA carrying resistance to other bacteria species. {6}

Manure is high in nitrates and phosphates, when these nutrients enter water systems in excessive quantities they lower the oxygen available for living organisms, leading to fish kills and algal blooms.[8]

Consumer Benefit?

There is no support of the claim that ILOs benefit consumers, in terms of lower cost and higher quality. Farm record data have shown that costs of large-scale hog operations are only slightly lower than average sized commercial producers.{7} Any savings in low cost feeding practices would be lost in the processing, packaging, advertising, transportation and other marketing costs that make up 65% of hog production. It is a realistic suggestion that due to having only a handful of large hog producers and packers, who control the industry, we can expect pork prices to go up rather than down in the long run because of changes in the Canadian hog industry.

Water Quality

Clean water is something that most urban residents take for granted in Canada, yet the threat of contamination of water supplies in rural areas is a daily concern for rural citizens. People should be aware that freshwater sources are FINITE, and need to be protected. Urban residents should know that water contamination is not just something that happens “elsewhere” but here in Canada, the US, and Europe as well. Consumers must realize that their purchasing power has multiple effects and in supporting ILOs, a consumer is putting money into an industry that has proven to pollute our water.

Food Quality

Food quality is an issue that needs to be considered separately from economics. When taking into account antibiotic use in the process, as discussed above, it is difficult to argue that ILOs produce higher quality pork than small farms, local farms, free-range pig farms or organic pork producers.

What can urban residents do?

  • Write a letter to your MP, to the Minister of Agriculture, and to the Prime Minister, demanding a ban on the use of sub-therapeutic levels of antibiotics on farm animals;

  • Write your provincial MPP (or MLA), the provincial Environment, Agriculture and Health Ministers and demand a moratorium be placed on the expansion of Intensive Livestock Operations;

  • Be a responsible consumer – if that means that you boycott Maple Leaf or Smithfields, only buy pork from small farms, don’t eat pork, or buy organic pork – feel good about it; and

  • Encourage small communities to sign anti-ILO declarations.


    {1} Fulton A., Mausberg B., Campbell, M. It’s hitting the fan: the unchecked growth of factory farms in Canada. Environmental Defence Canada. May 2002.
    The term ILO, in the context of this fact sheet, is designates the intensive production of hogs.

    {2} Agricultural Antibiotics and Resistance in Human Pathogens, Canadian Medical Association, November 1998

    The term ILO, in the context of this fact sheet, is designates the intensive production of hogs.

    {4} Characteristics taken from an interview with Karen Hudson, consultant for GRACE factory farm project, by Prairie Farmer Magazine, January 2003.

    {5} For more information on the situation in Sweden, including health and economic impacts since the ban see: Halverson, Marlene, The Price We Pay For Corporate Hogs, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, March 2001 (Second Printing), pp. 38-42.

    {6} Antibiotic Use in Food Animals Contributes to Microbe Resistance, National Academy of Sciences, July 1998,

    {7} Ikerd, John, Large Scale, Corporate Hog Operations, 2002, p. 2.


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