Outspoken vegan U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) is getting the pat on the back he seemed to so desperately seek, as several animal-rights activist organizations spoke up in support of the Farm System Reform Act, an aggressive political effort to ban CAFOs in the U.S.
Led by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (an organization far removed from the valuable work done by local-level SPCAs), the coalition supporting Booker and his allies released a statement saying they are targeting what they refer to as “factory farms,” a scare-tactic moniker often used by agriculture opponents to strip farming operations of a caring, human element. The intention being that factories are driven by profits only, a representation that doesn’t fit the reality of the American farming industry.
The measure first gained steam last summer, with the stated goal of eliminating large agricultural operations in the next 20 years (no large operations would go on after Jan. 1, 2040). As described in the resolution, CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) were considered to be animal feeding operations that include a minimum of 700 dairy cows, 1,000 beef cattle, 2,500 pigs weighing more than 55 pounds, 10,000 pigs weighing less than 55 pounds, 500 horses, 10,000 sheep or lambs, and 55,000 turkeys.
U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna, a California Democrat, is spearheading the bill in the House. The original version had several high-profile co-sponsors, including U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
“The COVID-19 pandemic exposed animal agriculture’s deceptive façade, revealing a broken factory farm system that is failing both people and animals. The Farm System Reform Act will help repair and bring compassion to our food system, protecting countless animals from unconscionable cruelty,” said Matt Bershadker, ASPCA President and CEO. “We thank Senator Booker and Representative Khanna for championing this necessary legislation to build a food system that values animals, people, and our planet — not just profit.”
This bill provides a paradigm shift in agricultural philosophy that has become the norm for American farmers. Lee Burras, an agronomy professor at Iowa State University, argues that this bill aims to help smaller family farms and offer a more environmentally friendly option for producers. He said it will have little to no impact on older farmers, and it will be easy to adapt to for young and beginning producers, but he is most concerned for middle-career farmers.
But, considering the use of loaded terminology like “factory farming,” it’s clear that the bill doesn’t have purely altruistic motives. “Factory farming” is a term that suggests a boardroom mentality, accentuated by ecological permissiveness and profiteering. It fits neatly into a stereotype that vilifies segments of American agriculture.
Case in point, from the news release put out today by the ASPCA:
“The factory farm agricultural model, which dominates our country’s food system, fuels toxic air and water contamination, drives dangerous and unfair working conditions, wreaks havoc on independent farmers and rural communities and threatens food safety,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.
If “factory farms” are intended to refer to the most highly efficient operations, then they are in fact a primary source of food security in the U.S. and help to centralize food-safety monitoring.
The most recent data show that family farms — defined as any farm where the majority of the business is owned by the producer and individuals related to the producer — account for 96 percent of farms in the country, a stat that likely puts targets on the backs of many farmers who Booker, Khanna, and their allies consider to be too “factory-like.”
“Ninety-five percent of cattle raised in the United States visit a feedyard. Feeding operations aren’t antithetical to small, family-owned farms and ranches — they’re part and parcel of the same, symbiotic supply chain that produces the most nutritious, sustainable beef in the world,” said Ethan Lane, Vice President of Government Affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. “Cattle feeders respond efficiently to meet a wide range of consumer demands, and that efficiency is one of the main reasons why the United States has had the lowest beef GHG emissions intensity in the world for 25 years. As our food supply chain is taxed by a growing number of mouths to feed at home and abroad, this efficient production system will be more vital than ever.”
His organization has called the Farm System Reform Act “misguided.”
CAFOs and other large animal operations are strictly regulated, lending support for their environmental and nutritional role in the food system. State and national environmental agencies register, monitor, require extensive plans and structures to contain runoff, manage manure, and fine violators at these kinds of operations.