Advocates for the environment, corporate accountability, and public health on Monday welcomed Sen. Cory Booker's new agricultural reform bill—which would impose a first-ever national moratorium on factory farms—as "the bold approach we need."
"With a transformational bill like FSRA, our nation's food system will finally put public health, independent farmers, and the environment first."
—Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Action
Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Action, was among the activists who celebrated the New Jersey Democrat's Farm System Reform Act of 2019 (FSRA). Hauter's group has long highlighted the destructive impacts of factory farms—or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs)—and advocated for a ban.
"Factory farming is at the heart of climate disaster," Hauter said in a statement. "It fuels toxic air pollution and water contamination, feeds off of dangerous and unfair working conditions, wreaks havoc on independent farmers and rural communities, threatens food safety, and causes unnecessary animal suffering."
Booker, one of more than a dozen candidates seeking the 2020 Democratic nomination for president, noted in a statement announcing the bill that the country has seen a dramatic rise in the number of CAFOs in recent years.
"Large factory farms are harmful to rural communities, public health, and the environment," he said, "and we must immediately begin to transition to a more sustainable and humane system."
The White House hopeful emphasized the harmful impacts of industrial agriculture, from putting family farmers and ranchers out of business to producing as much as 1.4 billion tons of waste annually—including runoff that pollutes nearby waterways—and overuse of vital antibiotics that helps fuel a burgeoning superbug crisis.
Specifically, as Booker's office outlined, the FSRA would:
- Place an immediate moratorium on new and expanding large CAFOs, and phase out by 2040 the largest CAFOs as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency;
- Hold corporate integrators responsible for pollution and other harm caused by CAFOs;
- Provide a voluntary buyout for farmers who want to transition out of operating a CAFO;
- Strengthen the Packers and Stockyards Act to protect family farmers and ranchers, including:
- Prohibit the use of unfair tournament or ranking systems for paying contract growers;
- Protect livestock and poultry farmers from retaliation; and
- Create market transparency and protect farmers and ranchers from predatory purchasing practices;
- Restore mandatory country-of-origin labeling requirements for beef and pork and expand to dairy products; and
- Prohibit the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) from labeling foreign imported meat products as "Product of USA."
"Our independent family farmers and ranchers are continuing to be squeezed by large, multinational corporations that, because of their buying power and size, run roughshod over the marketplace," said Booker. "We need to fix the broken system—that means protecting family farmers and ranchers and holding corporate integrators responsible for the harm they are causing."
Mother Jones reported that the bill aligns with both Booker's own ethics when it comes to food and a growing public sentiment in a historically carnivorous country:
It might seem like a strange thing move for a candidate seeking to increase his broad appeal in a meat-loving nation—especially one who already flouts carnivory by embracing a vegan identity. Americans rank among the globe's most voracious consumers of chicken, beef, pork, and dairy; and in 2020, U.S. per capita meat production is expected to reach an all-time high.
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But there's a creeping unease about the way these foods are produced.
The public's growing discomfort with this system shows up in the booming popularity of alternatives to the animal-factory model—from pasture-based meats to high-tech soy-burger patties. And it's evident in the way communities in livestock-heavy regions—Wisconsin, Iowa, North Carolina, Delaware/Maryland—are rebelling by filing lawsuits and demanding that the industry scale back.
According to what is believed to be the first national poll (pdf) of U.S. voters' views on industrial animal farms—released last week by Johns Hopkins University's Center for a Livable Future—57% of voters want more oversight of CAFOs and 43% back a national ban, compared with just 38% who oppose a ban. Additionally, of those surveyed, more than eight of 10 expressed concerns about air and water pollution, worker safety, and health problems caused by such operations.
Kansas rancher Mike Callicrate said Monday that "I have seen first-hand how hard it is to challenge the multinational corporations who control the meat industry."
"Farmers and ranchers need a marketplace that compensates them fairly and Senator Booker's Farm System Reform Act is a big step in the right direction," he added. "Things like country of origin labeling on meat, updates to the Packers and Stockyards Act, and resources to get folks out of a system that is bankrupting them will make a big difference."
Booker's bill is endorsed by various individual farmers and ranchers as well as agricultural and environmental organizations, including the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and Hauter's Food & Water Action.
"With a transformational bill like FSRA, our nation's food system will finally put public health, independent farmers, and the environment first. This is not just a rural issue—we all need clean water and healthy food to survive," concluded Hauter. "As climate change continues to cause chaos, now is the time to make agricultural center stage. FSRA is the sweeping solution we need."
This post has been updated with recent data from Johns Hopkins University's Center for a Livable Future.