Bernie Sanders took aim at factory farms and agribusiness in a speech kicking off his Iowa presidential campaign Thursday.
"We need policies in Washington for rural America that represent the needs of working people and family farmers," the Independent senator from Vermont told a crowd of around 2,000 at the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, "not agribusiness and large, multinational corporations."
That Sanders would focus on agriculture in his first Iowa appearance isn't a surprise: the Midwestern state has seen an explosion in factory farming over the past two decades and that growth is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. According to a report at Food and Water Watch, there were at least 15,000 factory farms in operation in Iowa in 2018—producing untold amounts of pollution and waste.
Mega-mergers in the pork packing industry have fueled the rise of factory farms. Between 1982 and 2007, the number of hog farms in Iowa plunged by 82 percent, while the average number of hogs per farm rose from just under 500 to just over 5,000—a 10-fold increase. In 2018, an Iowa State economics professor predicted that hog production would expand faster in Iowa than in the rest of the country.
Consolidation and incorporation of the farming industry have had major effects on the health and economic well being of Iowans. Sanders noted that change in his speech Thursday.
"We have seen family farmers by the thousands go out of business, as the prices that they receive for their products decline rapidly," Sanders said, "and large agribusiness corporations and factory farming takes over agriculture."
Sanders also addressed the power held by large farming companies in how they interact with both smaller farms and the economy of Iowa and the U.S. as a whole. After listing a litany of problems plaguing the rural communities in Iowa, the senator talked solutions—beginning with enforcing laws put in place to stop corporate consolidation.
"Among many other things that need to be done is for the federal government to enforce anti-trust laws," said Sanders.
Reaction to the mention of agribusiness in the speech was positive from both Sanders supporters and agriculture and health advocates.
I am so happy that Bernie talked about the issues facing rural America. He is the only candidate who has the courage to inform the rest of the country on how rural communities are doing at this time of great economic uncertainty.#Bernie2020 #BernieInIowa https://t.co/Cwev3L5tRx
— Aaron Canape (@AaronDTreyfive) March 8, 2019
YESS!!! @BernieSanders is talking about factory farms in iowa!! He's talking about the greed and monopolistic behaviour of Big Ag and Big Meat and how it's destroying rural family farms. He brought up the Monsanto Bayer merger.
— Stephanie Quilao (@stephaniequilao) March 8, 2019
Really pleased with #BernieinIowa. He addressed rural community issues we almost never hear about—he even mentioned the egregious contractuallly monopsonistic relationship farmers have with agribusiness (most family farms are treated as contractors or worse). #BernieSanders2020 https://t.co/quVoF6sbfq
— Skips Legday (@r_deficitsvegan) March 8, 2019
Watch the whole speech here: