Industrial agriculture is a form of modern farming that refers to the industrialized production of livestock, poultry, fish, and crops. The methods of industrial agriculture are technoscientific, economic, and political. They include innovation in agricultural machinery and farming methods, genetic technology, techniques for achieving economies of scale in production, the creation of new markets for consumption, the application of patent protection to genetic information, and global trade. These methods are widespread in developed nations and increasingly prevalent worldwide. Most of the meat, dairy, eggs, fruits, and vegetables available in supermarkets are produced using these methods of industrial agriculture

The birth of industrial agriculture more or less coincides with that of the Industrial Revolution in general. The identification of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus (referred to by the acronym NPK) as critical factors in plant growth led to the manufacture of synthetic fertilizers, making possible more intensive types of agriculture. The discovery of vitamins and their role in animal nutrition, in the first two decades of the 20th century, led to vitamin supplements, which in the 1920s allowed certain livestock to be raised indoors, reducing their exposure to adverse natural elements. The discovery of antibiotics and vaccines facilitated raising livestock in concentrated, controlled animal feed operations by reducing diseases caused by crowding. Chemicals developed for use in World War II gave rise to synthetic pesticides. Developments in shipping networks and technology have made long-distance distribution of agricultural produce feasible.

Agricultural production across the world doubled four times between 1820 and 1975[1] to feed a global population of one billion human beings in 1800 and 6.5 billion in 2002.[2] During the same period, the number of people involved in farming dropped as the process became more automated. In the 1930s, 24 percent of the American population worked in agriculture compared to 1.5 percent in 2002; in 1940, each farm worker supplied 11 consumers, whereas in 2002, each worker supplied 90 consumers.[2] The number of farms has also decreased, and their ownership is more concentrated. In the U.S., four companies kill 81 percent of cows, 73 percent of sheep, 57 percent of pigs, and produce 50 percent of chickens, cited as an example of "vertical integration" by the president of the U.S. National Farmers' Union.[3] In 1967, there were one million pig farms in America; as of 2002, there were 114,000,[4] with 80 million pigs (out of 95 million) killed each year on factory farms, according to the U.S. National Pork Producers Council.[2] According to the Worldwatch Institute, 74 percent of the world's poultry, 43 percent of beef, and 68 percent of eggs are produced this way.[5]

According to Denis Avery of the agribusiness funded Hudson Institute, Asia increased its consumption of pork by 18 million tons in the 1990s.[6] As of 1997, the world had a stock of 900 million pigs, which Avery predicts will rise to 2.5 billion pigs by 2050.[6] He told the College of Natural Resources at the University of California, Berkeley that three billion pigs will thereafter be needed annually to meet demand.[7] He writes: "For the sake of the environment, we had better hope those hogs are raised in big, efficient confinement syste