The rise of factory farming has left a trail of misery in its wake. Factory farms housing thousands of animals in crowded spaces have pushed smaller farms out of business. They produce enormous volumes of waste, exploit workers, and harm the rural communities they are supposed to benefit.
We’ve been working with Senator Cory Booker on a solution that we know will fix our badly broken food system. The Farm System Reform Act, introduced in 2019, will phase out factory farming on the national level and undo much of the corporate control of our food production.
Since 1997, the total number of U.S. farms fell sharply while the volume and percentage of animals raised on factory farms soared. This transition, which left a few corporations controlling most of the market, wasn’t by accident. It was fueled by bad farm policies that benefited the largest players in the meat industry, unrestricted access to antibiotics, and lack of antitrust enforcement.
Most farm animals are now raised on factory farms while small farmers often struggle to turn a profit. We need a solution to match the scale of our farm crisis, which is why we’re campaigning for the Farm System Reform Act (FSRA).
Booker’s Bill Phases Out Factory Farms
The first provisions of the FSRA immediately place a moratorium on new and expanded large Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).
Existing large CAFOs, which make up the vast majority of factory farms, must cease operation by 2040. To encourage factory farm owners to transition to more sustainable operations before then, the FSRA carves out $100 billion over 10 years for a voluntary buyout program.
Funds can be used to pay off outstanding debt from constructing and operating the factory farms, and cover transitioning to alternative activities such as raising pasture-based livestock, growing specialty crops, and more. Factory farms have spurred the decline of rural American communities, and the FSRA focuses on rebuilding a farm economy that works for small farmers—one that creates community wealth rather than extracting it.
The Booker Bill Holds Big Ag Accountable
Large multinational corporations that pack and slaughter meat dominate most animal agriculture in the U.S., yet face almost no consequences when things go wrong. These corporations, known as integrators, have major control over the farmers (referred to as contract growers) who raise their livestock.
For example, Smithfield Foods, among the worst corporations on the planet, owns just about every aspect of the food production process. Smithfield delivers hogs to the contract growers, micromanages how they are raised, and frequently requires expensive barn upgrades for growers to keep getting contracts. When the hogs are “finished,” Smithfield picks them up and delivers them to their own slaughter and processing facilities where the meat is packaged into Smithfield-branded products. According to our Factory Farm Organizing Manager Krissy Kasserman, “they own everything but the barn and the waste, which is where the most liability is.”
The FSRA would end this all-rewards, no-risk arrangement for integrators with a series of reforms. First, integrators exercising substantial control over factory farms (CAFOs) will be liable for any waste, pollution, adverse health impacts, or drop in property values resulting from their contract operations. It also allows citizens to enforce these provisions directly, and successful lawsuits against integrators would award attorney fees to the plaintiff. It also amends the Clean Water Act to require integrators to co-apply for discharge permits for their contract operations, making them liable for any water pollution, too.
The FSRA will prohibit poultry companies, meatpackers and swine contractors from retaliating against farmers for joining producer associations and talking to their Members of Congress or officials about concerns regarding contracts or making disclosures related to potential violations.
In addition to free speech for farmers, enforcement will also be strengthened. The USDA would have the authority to take action against unfair and deceptive company practices.
Undoing The Corporate Control Of Factory Farms
In addition to contract growers, meatpackers make life difficult for independent animal farmers. Independent farmers oftentimes have to travel very far to reach processing facilities that will process a small number of animals. Small processing facilities are becoming few and far between because USDA regulations are written with large facilities in mind, creating a hurdle that is difficult to clear.
In poultry farming, use of a complex “tournament” system is common. Regionally, contract growers are ranked based on output/productivity against each other and paid different prices. Because many of the inputs are controlled (and can be manipulated by the integrators) this deters farmers from speaking out against integrators who can retaliate by, for example, giving that farmer a delivery of sickly birds.
The FSRA will ban tournament and ranking systems for paying contract growers, or any payment based primarily on factors outside of the grower’s control. Integrators will be required to have a firm base price and be transparent about contract grower compensation.
These reforms will significantly shift the balance of power away from large food processing corporations to the farmers.
The Farm System Reform Act Will Strengthen Food Labeling
For most consumers, it’s impossible to know where food really comes from. Imported meat products can be labeled “Product of the USA” as long as they were processed in the U.S.
The FSRA will restore mandatory country of origin labeling requirements for beef and pork, and extend labeling to include dairy products. The USDA will be prohibited from labeling products “Product of the U.S.A” unless the meat was produced domestically.
What Is The Alternative to the FSRA?
If the farming system continues its current path, we’ll continue to see rapid growth of factory farms while small farms struggle and often go bankrupt. There is little hope that the tide will turn against factory farms without strong legislation. 300-600 new factory farms are constructed each year in Iowa. Next door in Missouri, where local communities previously had some degree of control over aspects of factory farm construction, a bill was passed in 2019 eliminating local control. “Now the flood gates are open in Missouri and it’s much easier for factory farms to be constructed there” Kasserman explains.
Kasserman makes it clear: “Without some sort of national moratorium or ban on factory farms, we will without a doubt continue to see explosive growth in the number of factory farms around the country.”
In addition to more animals being subjected to cruel conditions, without the FSRA we can expect continuing decline throughout rural America. The Pew Charitable Trusts found factory farms have resulted in “the transformation of rural America from a setting of many small, productive family farms and economically diverse, visible rural communities into a state of relatively few and ever-growing factory farms and dying communities.”
We Need Your Help To Pass The Farm System Reform Act
The Farm System Reform Act is the only solution on the table that can reverse these dangerous trends. The FSRA will make our food system more humane, revitalize rural economies, and make us all healthier. We hope you will join us in the fight to pass this bill!