What do you think? Should meat come from animals raised on family farms by independent farmers who meet high standards for environmental sustainability, workers’ rights and animal welfare?
Or on cruel and polluting factory farms controlled by multinational meat companies?
TAKE ACTION to ban factory farms! Tell Congress to pass the Farm System Reform Act of 2019.
The Farm System Reform Act of 2019, introduced by Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), would place an immediate moratorium on new and expanding large factory farms, or as the industry calls them, CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations).
Booker’s bill would also phase out, by 2040, the largest CAFOs as defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This would be accomplished by providing a voluntary buyout for farmers who want to transition out of operating a CAFO.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, CAFOs don’t allow animals to graze or forage in pastures, fields or rangelands. Instead, CAFOs “congregate animals, feed, manure and urine, dead animals and production operations on a small land area.”
Large CAFOs produce as much as 1.4 billion tons of waste each year. Manure could be kept dry and composted, but most is liquified, pooled in lagoons, then discharged on farmland, inevitably polluting drinking water along the way.
Who profits from all this polluting activity?
The top four meat companies—JBS, Tyson Foods, Cargill and Smithfield.
Yet these companies have managed to avoid responsibility through a business model known as “vertical integration” where they own everything about the business—except the farm. These “integrators” own or control the animals from birth to slaughter, but an independent family farmer raises them.
The meat belongs to the corporate integrators. The waste problem belongs to the farmer.
The Farm System Reform Act would shift responsibility for pollution and other harms caused by factory farms from farmers to the integrators who control their operations.
Under the Act, integrators exercising substantial control over a CAFO will be responsible and liable to contract growers and neighboring communities for the waste, pollution and adverse health impacts associated with the operation of the CAFO.
Let’s face it. When the farmer is locked into having to go to one company for everything—to buy animals, buy feed for the animals and have those animals slaughtered—it doesn’t take an economist to predict the farmer will get fleeced by that company.
That’s how it works for beef and pork, where the big four meatpackers control 85 percent and 70 percent of the production, respectively.
In poultry, where the corporate integrators control only 40 percent of the production, the meatpackers are even more aggressive. They keep farmers locked in abusive contracts where the big corporation owns the animals and dictates how they must be raised, while the farmers have responsibility for raising them and dealing with their waste.
The farmers take on all the risks, costs and responsibilities, borrowing money and going into debt to meet their contractual obligations. If animals die, water is polluted or anything else goes wrong, the contracts let companies off the hook—and there’s no requirement that farmers be paid fairly.
Integrators like Tyson Foods use a “tournament system” where the companies rank each farmer. Those who rank at the bottom take a pay cut that is used to give a bonus to the top farmer. The ranking is supposed to be based on how cost-effective farmers are in raising their birds, but it has been used by companies to discriminate against certain farmers.
The Packers and Stockyards Act was supposed to protect family farmers and ranchers from meatpackers’ unfair and discriminatory business practices, but it has never been enforced.
The Farm System Reform Act would accomplish the farmer-protection goals of the Packers and Stockyards Act by:
• Prohibiting the use of unfair tournament or ranking systems for paying contract growers
• Protecting livestock and poultry farmers from retaliation
• Creating market transparency and protecting farmers and ranchers from predatory purchasing practices.
The Farm System Reform Act untangles the wicked problem of factory farming by getting to its root: the power imbalance between the companies that control the meat industry and the family farmers who do their bidding.
Recognizing the economic plight of these farmers, the bill acknowledges that the best way to phase out factory farming is through a voluntary debt-forgiveness and transition-assistance program.
The Act authorizes $100 billion over 10 years for a voluntary buyout program for owners of factory farms who wish to transition to a better way to farm.
Under the Act, funds could be used to partially or fully pay off outstanding debt incurred to construct and operate the factory farm or to cover transition costs for alternative agriculture activities such as raising pasture-based livestock, growing specialty crops, or organic commodity production.
This is the kind of support for farmers that will make a ban on factory farms practically and politically possible.