Written by Caitlin Balagula (Fellow) and Ed Yowell (Chair)
It is no secret that factory farms produce a vast majority of the nation’s meat. There are over 25,000 factory farms in the United States, and meatpacking is dominated by just a few corporations. Just four companies process 85 percent of all the beef in the U.S. and just three companies control 63 percent of America’s pork processing.
These operations have seriously hurt independent farmers and ranchers, and have little concern for workers, the environment, or farmed animals. Slaughterhouses disregard their frontline workers, as demonstrated by how many of them contracted COVID-19, the result of inadequate workplace safety. Factory farms also pose grave environmental and public health risks through extensive air and water pollution and account for some of the most egregious cruelties by constantly confining animals, giving them no space to even move or turn around. However, there is reason to be hopeful. Thanks to U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), a ban on factory farms is in the foreseeable future, as unveiled in the Farm System Reform Act (S.3221), co-sponsored by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA) has introduced a companion bill (H.R.6718) in the House, co-sponsored by multiple other Representatives.
The Farm System Reform Act includes multiple components to facilitate a transition to a better food and farm system. It would:
- Place an immediate moratorium on new and expanding large concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), or factory farms, and shut down preexisting large CAFOs by 2040. It includes a $100 billion buyout program that would allow owners of factory farms to transition to more sustainable operations such as specialty crops.
- Hold big corporations rightfully responsible for the immense waste, pollution, public health consequences, and property value declines that are a result of their operations. While Big Meat companies, like Tyson, JBS, Cargill, and Smithfield hold extensive control over their contracted farmers, they do not currently bear liability for the CAFOs’ negative externalities. In recent decades, the Farm Bill’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) has increasingly subsidized the environmental damage of large livestock operations with taxpayers’ dollars.
- Ban the unjust tournament system common to contract growing, and create a more level playing field for farmers. The tournament system operates such that contract growers are pitted against each other so those whose chickens weigh the most are paid the most and those whose chickens weigh the least are paid the least. This hurts farmers, who are punished for low output/productivity for reasons outside of their control, and who fear retaliation for speaking out against these injustices.
- Mandate country-of-origin labeling for beef, pork, and dairy products, and restore food safety by only allowing meat produced domestically to be labeled “Product of USA.” Currently, imported meat products processed in the U.S. can bear domestic labels.
For too long, Big Meat and Dairy have corrupted producers and consumers’ ability to farm and eat sustainably. This sweeping piece of legislation would disrupt this indecent cycle. All in all, the Farm System Reform Act is a winning solution for farmers, the planet, animals, and consumers.
Call to Action
It is important for you to request that your Congressmembers co-sponsor this legislation. You should outreach to a total of three – your House Representative and your two Senators. You can find the contact info of your Representative here and your two Senators here.
Dear [Rep. NAME or Sen. NAME],
As a constituent and supporter of Slow Food USA and an advocate of fair and sustainable food and agriculture, I strongly urge you to support the Farm System Reform Act (S.3221/H.R.6718). This bill:
- Places an immediate moratorium on large factory farms and phases out large factory farms by 2040
- Encourages local and regional food and farm systems that are economically and environmentally sound
- Prohibits foreign meat from being labeled “Product of USA”
For the sake of good farming, good food, and the planet, please co-sponsor the Farm System Reform Act. Thank you.
Despite the scale of factory farming in the United States, the Farm System Reform Act is the only bill introduced in the Senate and the House of Representatives aimed at addressing its tremendous pitfalls. This legislation alone will not fix the food system, but it is a vital step in cultivating a landscape that is more fair, sustainable, and humane for all parties involved from farm to fork.