The Bright Side
Thankfully, several alternatives have emerged for those who refuse to accept the corporate capture of our food system. Conscientious consumers can purchase sustainable animal products through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs and farmers markets.
Community Supported Agriculture is one of the best ways to obtain sustainably grown and raised food. Consumers become members of a CSA by contributing money and/or labor in return for food from the farm. This allows consumers get food directly from a farmer, and it keeps the farmer in the business of actually farming.
Others are trying to preserve family farming through farmers markets, where consumers can pick up a wide variety of locally produced foods and homemade goods. The number of farmers markets has increased dramatically over the years, with the USDA identifying 3,700 farmers markets across the nation in 2004.114 As with CSAs, farmers markets allow farmers and consumers to have a direct relationship and pass more of the consumers dollars directly to farmers.
Purchasing organic animal products is also growing in popularity. Organic beef sales alone increased by 55 percent in 2005.115 Unlike those raised on factory farms, animals on organic farms are fed organic feed and are not given antibiotics or hormones. The organic standards require that animals have access to the outdoors.
As large food corporations enter the organic market, drawn by the explosive growth of the organic sector, there has been pressure to weaken the organic standards for animals, especially for dairy cows. The controversy over the integrity of the organic standards illustrates that no segment, even supposedly alternative production methods, are immune to corporate pressure. It demonstrates the need for strong enforcement of the standards for organic production so that consumers are assured that the organic seal means what they think it does.
The movement for quality animal products also has created a demand for “cage-free” or “free-range” eggs. Several studies have shown that free-range eggs are far more nutritious than those from hens confined in factory farms, with more vitamin E, vitamin A, omega 3 fatty acids, folic acid, and beta-carotene.116
Beef cows that are raised on pasture where they graze on grass instead of being grain-fed in feedlots are also proving to be a popular alternative. Meat from grass-fed cattle has been found to be lower in saturated fat and contain higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, and vitamin A.117 This is not surprising, considering that cows are biologically designed to eat grass—a low-starch, high-protein fibrous food compared to carbohydrate-rich, low fiber corn and soybeans.
To address the impact factory farms are having on the environment, public health, food safety, and rural communities, Food & Water Watch recommends that:
- The Environmental Protection Agency establish a moratorium on the construction of new CAFOs and on the expansion of existing facilities;
- EPA and states establish and enforce strong pollution laws and water use permits, as well as pollution reporting requirements;
- Congress and government agencies (e.g., EPA, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of Justice, etc.) stop exempting agriculture operations from existing or proposed environmental and anti-trust laws and regulations;
- Congress continue to permit the hazardous substances contained in manure to be regulated through Superfund and the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act;
- EPA end the air emission monitoring study program that essentially allows factory farms to violate air quality standards;
- Congress address the concentration of corporate power in livestock markets by enacting measures to increase competition in the livestock industry (including a ban on packer livestock ownership, captive supply reform, and enforcement of antitrust laws);
- Congress reform federal farm policy to stop encouraging overproduction of corn, soybeans, and other commodities that have resulted in cheap feed for animals in CAFOs;
- State legislatures allow local governments to retain the authority to impose strict health and zoning regulations for CAFOs;
- USDA require country of origin labeling for all food; and
- Consumers vote with their dollars by purchasing meat produced in a more sustainable way. Learn how in the Eat Well Guide.