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News Section Icon Published 1/7/2020

Last month, US Senator from New Jersey Cory Booker, introduced legislation that would place a moratorium on expansion and development of large concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), also known as factory farms—and ultimately ban their operation entirely after 2040—among a host of other important reforms. 

The Farm System Reform Act seeks to ultimately: 1) restore power to independent farmers who make up the backbone of the US food supply and have been forced into signing contracts with major integrators (large corporate entities that own all stages of animal product production from feed crops and breeding facilities to slaughter houses and processing operations) to stay on their land and out of bankruptcy, and 2) transition the US food system to a more sustainable model that does not rely on industrial animal agriculture. 

The current US food systemwhich overwhelmingly favors factory farminggives farmers, animals, and the planet far less than the shortest stick. Here’s how Booker’s bill intends to help: 

As previously stated, the bill would place an immediate ban on the development or expansion of all large CAFOs (as defined here) in the US, with a complete ban on operation after 2040. Such a policy has sweeping implications for animal welfare and environmental stewardship, with a vast majority of farmed animal suffering occurring on factory farms. 44% and 53% of methane and nitrous oxide greenhouse gas emissions attributed to animal agriculture, and up to 500 million tons of animal waste produced by factory farms every year. Ceasing factory farm operations would curtail many of the animal and environmental issues associated with industrial animal agriculture entirely. 

But even before the 2040 total moratorium, the bill would elicit major changes. 

The current landscape of animal agriculture redirects the environmental and financial risk associated with housing and raising the animals (such as managing manure, treating or culling diseased animals, and responding to natural disasters like hurricanes), squarely on the shoulders of the farmers. 

This new legislation, however, would prevent contracts from transferring the responsibility of environmental and community damage to farmers, meaning the factory farming industry would be liable for the disproportionate amount of air and water pollution that result in ocean dead zones and local health problems (affecting mainly lower-income communities and communities of color), as well as drive the climate crisis. 

The bill goes further to protect farmers by eliminating payment through the so-called “tournament system” common within the poultry industry, in which farmers are pitted against their neighbors in a winner-take-more scenario. This culminates in the highest-performing producers receiving proportionately higher wages for the same hard work. 

While unfair on its surface due to integrators controlling most of the inputs, there’s also been concern about tournament systems rewarding higher-performing producers with healthier animals and higher-quality feed, meaning those at the bottom are kept at the bottom. In the past, whistleblowers who have spoken out about these issues have allegedly been threatened with contract termination or provided with unhealthy animals meant undermine their advocacy. This sort of alleged retaliation would be banned under the Booker’s bill 

But Sen. Booker doesn’t stop there. To catalyze the shift away from the destructive, industrial animal agriculture model of food production, the Farm System Reform Act seeks to establish a $10 billion dollar grant program to assist independent farmers in severing ties with the factory farming industry all together in favor of more sustainable veganic or pasture-based agriculture. These types of incentives are crucial to transitioning the national food supply toward healthful and eco-friendly foods, as producers can get caught in a perpetual cycle of debt where the only options are bankruptcy or acquiring more debt to intensify production of animal products. 

Finally, in further support of US agriculture, the bill would reinstate country of origin labeling—mandating that all meat and dairy products sold in the US include packaging labels that indicate where the food was produced and processed. This creates transparency for consumers who wish to support US farmers, as well as ensuring a more equitable marketplace for those farmers competing with foreign productions utilizing lesser agricultural standards and practices. 

Under the current factory farming model, farmers are often left worrying about inconsistent or insufficient profits with little agency and incentive to restructure their operations. By ensuring just compensation for farmers, redistributing environmental responsibility to integrators, and providing an economic incentive for sustainable agriculture, the Farm System Reform Act could drive the action and innovation needed to meaningfully address animal suffering, agricultural pollution, and runaway climate change. 

Compassion USA welcomes this increased interest from Congress about the impacts of factory farming on independent farmers, vulnerable communities, and our environment. We encourage any legislative effort meant to reign in the unprecedented destruction caused by factory farming to forge a more compassionate, just, and sustainable food and farming system. Ultimately, our mission to end factory farming across the globe requires engagement with and by legislators like Sen. Booker, as well as big industry players, and we’re appreciative of the scale and scope of the legislation he’s put forward. 

Stay tuned for information regarding the Farm System Reform Act.