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Factory Farm Nation

Factory Farm Nation

Over the past decade, conversations and awareness about pasture raised livestock and humane husbandry practices have become commonplace. However, also over the past decade, the number of livestock on factory farms in the United States has risen by 20 percent, according to a report recently released by Food and Water Watch.

The number of broiler chickens on factory farms increased by nearly 80 percent, egg-laying hens by nearly a quarter, dairy cows by more than half, and hogs by more than a third between 1997 and 2012.

Food and Water Watch attributes this growth to three main factors: "First, unchecked mergers and acquisitions between the largest meatpacking, poultry processing and dairy companies created an intensely consolidated landscape where a few giant agribusinesses exert tremendous pressure on livestock producers to become larger and more intensive. Second, lax environmental rules and lackluster enforcement allowed factory farms to grow to extraordinary sizes without having to properly manage the overwhelming amount of manure they create. And finally, for much of the past 15 years, misguided farm policy encouraged over-production of commodity crops such as corn and soybeans, which artificially depressed the price of livestock feed and created an indirect subsidy to factory farm operations.”

This is a disturbing trend, and it warrants newfound introspection by the food movement and advocates of a more humane, sustainable, and just food system in the United States. In many ways, the stark figure, paired with increased consumer consciousness, belies a serious failing of the food movement. All the awareness and support thrown behind farmers who are raising livestock in alternative systems has failed to stem the growth of factory farms. It underscores the need to not only support farmers who are raising livestock sustainably, but put restrictions on industrial farms that force them to pay for detrimental environmental effects.

Food and Water Watch suggests the following recommendations to stem the growth and negative effects of factory farms:

  • “The EPA and states should establish a moratorium on the construction of new factory farms and on the expansion of existing facilities.

  • The EPA must implement and enforce appropriate environmental rules to prevent factory farm pollution.

  • The Department of Justice must prevent the continued consolidation of the meatpacking and poultry, egg and dairy processing industries and revisit the mergers that it already has approved to ensure that farmers get fair prices for their livestock.

  • Congress must restore sensible commodity programs that do not prioritize the production of artificially cheap livestock feed over fair prices to crop farmers.

  • The FDA must prohibit non-therapeutic use of antibiotics and other livestock treatments that facilitate factory farming at the expense of public health.

  • The USDA must enforce and strengthen livestock marketing and contract regulations to allow independent livestock producers access to fair markets.

  • State environmental authorities must step up their permitting and enforcement of water and air pollution regulations on factory farms.”

What new strategies do you think the food movement needs to embrace in order to stem the growth of factory farms and encourage the EPA and USDA to adopt the above policies?

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