Impact of Animal Agriculture on Social Justice

Tens of billions of farmed animals suffer and die each year so that lucrative animal agriculture corporations can continue to profit from global demand for their unsustainable products. These companies profit at the expense of not just animals but their own workers, too.

Animal agriculture is built on the exploitation of animals and humans alike. Its workers — many of whom are undocumented immigrants who may be afraid to report workplace dangers and rights violations — are often paid low wages and work in hazardous conditions, and must keep up with the dangerously fast pace of slaughter lines.

In fact, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) acknowledges many “serious safety and health hazards” in the U.S. meat industry.

Compounding the harms of animal agriculture operations, people in surrounding areas — many times in low-income communities and communities of color — are often impacted.

Please continue reading to learn more about animal agriculture’s impact on its workers and marginalized communities and ways you can make a difference.


  • In 2018, compiled OSHA data revealed that on average, two amputations were suffered by U.S. meat plant workers each week from 2015-2017 — and meat plant workers were three times as likely to experience a serious injury than the average U.S. worker.
  • Yet, the toll may be even higher than we know. An estimated 85 percent of deaths related to animal agriculture from 2011-2020 went unreported to the USDA, according to a Civil Eats investigation.
  • Smaller farms do not necessarily mean better working conditions. Civil Eats also found that 96 percent of U.S. animal agriculture operations do not fall under OSHA worker protections because they have 10 or fewer workers.
  • OSHA reports that musculoskeletal disorders account for many worker injuries in meat plants due to the “physically demanding” and “repetitive” nature of this work.
  • Research has indicated there may be higher rates of depression and anxiety, violent crime and addiction or substance abuse among slaughterhouse workers.
  • Slaughterhouse employees may also suffer from a type of post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from inflicting trauma or death on others, according to the American Psychological Association.
  • The workplace hazards of the meat industry have long gone mostly unaddressed. Back in 2005, a report by Human Rights Watch called meatpacking “the most dangerous factory job in America.”
  • Farm workers are also regularly exposed to high concentrations of ammonia from animal waste, often leading to respiratory problems.
  • Animal farms, especially large-scale operations with crowded and dirty sheds, workers are vulnerable to the rapid spread of illness. In the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic animal agriculture producers falsely claimed there was a meat shortage to keep plants open as workers were left largely unprotected.

Local Communities

  • Industrial animal farms and other facilities causing significant pollution are disproportionately located in marginalized communities.
  • A 2020 report by the Environmental Working Group found that in three mostly Black, Latinx and Indigenous counties that already held the majority of North Carolina’s pig farms, the number of farmed chickens and turkeys rose by 36% from 2012-2019 — compared to just 17% in the rest of the state.
  • Plus, Duke University researchers have found that North Carolina residents living near large-scale pig farms had an increased death rate.
  • A Clark University study found that communities home to Black and Hispanic residents, as well as low-income neighborhoods, are disproportionately impacted by Ohio’s industrial animal farms.
  • An article published by the American Health Association states that large-scale animal farms “exacerbate environmental and health injustice,” and urged physicians to become aware of such animal agriculture’s impacts on human health.
  • Animal agriculture operations emit air and water pollutants, noise, and strong odors — and ‘right to farm’ laws are increasingly limiting the ability of local communities to fight these harmful impacts.

The good news is you can oppose the harms of animal agriculture.