What’s The Buzz On Pollinators?

Categories

PDFFood SystemClimate and Energy

Why are pollinators so important? Our food security is intrinsically tied to the lives of hundreds of thousands of insects and animals.

How Big Ag & Aging Infrastructure Are Blighting Our Beaches

Categories

Clean Water

by Michael Doerrer

For many families, summer means time at the beach! Streams, rivers, lakes and oceans are huge recreational draws — and they should be. They’re a natural resource we should all be able to enjoy. But broken wastewater infrastructure and giant corporations are bringing on summertime sadness. Beach closings are on the rise.

From Bathrooms to Beaches

We all know sewage spills hurt the environment. They pollute rivers, streams and other waters. Their toxins and pathogens endanger our health. Toxic overflows destroy aquatic ecosystems, kill fish and close shellfish harvesting areas. And as we try to enjoy the summer season, sewage spills have made many waters too polluted to swim, boat or fish in. Over the last five years, about a third of U.S. beaches have had at least one advisory or closing each year. 

Aging and poorly designed sewage and stormwater systems lead to closures. Sewer spills led to nearly 15% of beach closing and advisories with known causes. Many more with unknown causes were certainly related to wastewater events.

Big Ag’s Waste Coming Ashore

Pollution from industrial agriculture and other sources leaves two-thirds of U.S. estuary waters at greater risk for harmful algal blooms. And that means more unhealthy and even dangerous waters and beaches. For example, less than a third of the shoreline along the Great Lakes is in good biological condition. A third is in fair or poor condition.

Agricultural pollution wreaks havoc on all types of water bodies and waterways. More than 50% of rivers and streams, 40% of lakes and 20% of coasts are polluted with excess nutrients that cause algal growth and fish kills. On top of that, more than 70% of wetlands have lost plant life, stressing the ecosystems there.

How You Can Help Protect Our Beaches

The handful of giant multinational corporations that control U.S. agriculture care more about profit than human health. They brazenly pollute, while would-be government regulators do little to stop them. 

But we can step in to defend our beaches. We can demand funding to improve wastewater systems and address stormwater. And we can stand up for commonsense policies and legislation like the WATER Act to help save our water and our beaches. 

Food & Water Watch is fighting to spread the word about this landmark legislation — the bill already has more than 100 co-sponsors in Congress! It’s the best way to start restoring federal support for water protections. At the same time, we’re standing up to the corporate polluters ruining our beaches and waterways.

This summer, as millions of us head for the sand, let’s remember that our waterways need our help. Our beaches — and our summertime traditions — depend on our action. 

Help save our shores. Tell Congress to support the WATER Act!

Against All Odds: A Benefit to Protect Our Planet

Categories

Climate and Energy

On September 29, Food & Water Watch will host our first-ever hybrid annual benefit.

Corporations may have the money, but we have the power of people on our side. We’ve proven that against all odds, when we work together, we can win our fights for safe food, clean water and a livable climate for all!

Register today to join us for Against All Odds on September 29 to celebrate the progress we’ve made and mobilize for the future alongside hundreds of activists.

About the Event

Against All Odds is a hybrid event. You can choose to join us virtually for a live-streamed program, or you can join us in person in New York City for a reception with fellow activists. The event — whether virtual or in person — will feature stories of impact, calls to action, as well as a special recognition for our Honorees. Guest speakers will be announced soon! 

Virtual Program

Thursday, September 29, 2022 | 8-9 pm ET (5-6pm PT)
All registrants will receive an access link to join. 

New York City Reception

Thursday, September 29, 2022 | 7-9 pm ET
The Century Association – food, drinks and celebration on the terrace!
7 West 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036


The program will feature:

Elisa Gambino

Elisa Gambino is a journalist and filmmaker who spent her early career chronicling world events for CNN, including the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Gulf War, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the wars in Bosnia and conflict in Somalia. Her work in Somalia was recognized with a News and Documentary Emmy Award. Since founding One Production Place in 2001, Elisa has directed award-winning shorts that examine health equity, climate change, and racial justice. In 2020, Elisa was an executive producer for A Love Song for Latasha which was nominated for an Academy Award in the Documentary Short category. She also directed Welcome to Pine Lake in 2020 and Wasteland in 2022, which draws important links between factory farms, our waste and the human right to clean water and sanitation.

Bill Gee and Sue Crothers

Bill Gee and Sue Crothers are lifelong environmental activists. Together, they built one of the first sustainably designed homes in Illinois and founded the Manaaki Foundation, which supports environmental and social justice causes. Sue is a founding member of the One Earth Film Festival and Director of the One Earth Young Filmmakers Contest. Bill, as former co-owner of a commercial bakery (and a beekeeper!), is passionate about building a sustainable food system and is a member of Food & Water Watch’s Advisory Council.


Annual Benefit: Against All Odds

Ticket Information

Join us virtually from the comfort of your home, or join us in New York City for a reception. Whichever you choose, we invite you to celebrate the progress we’ve made together for safe food, clean water and a livable climate for all. 

View ticket and sponsorship options for each below. Each level comes with unique perks!

| Join Us Virtually

Tickets


ALLY | $50 (fully tax-deductible)
Details
  • Link to join virtual event live on September 29, 2022
  • Membership in Food & Water Watch, includes newsletter.

DEFENDER | $150 ($125 tax-deductible)
Details
  • All Ally benefits, plus:
  • A special Food & Water Watch branded t-shirt 
  • Access to a special pre-event virtual reception to celebrate with fellow guests 
  • Listing on event materials.

ACTIVIST | $500 ($465 tax-deductible)
Details
  • All Defender benefits, plus:
  • A branded protest sign to customize for your next rally.

Sponsorships


COMMITTEE | $1,000 ($930 tax-deductible)
Details
  • Listing on event materials 
  • A hand-picked bottle of wine and a Food & Water Watch branded t-shirt shipped to you for the event
  • Access to a special pre-event virtual reception to celebrate with fellow guests 
  • Champions Circle Membership in Food & Water Watch, includes special updates and invites to events.
  • Helps fund organizing software tools.

CHAIR | $2,500 ($2,430 tax-deductible)
Details
  • All Committee benefits, plus: 
  • Special access link for you to share with family and friends
  • Leaders Circle Membership in Food & Water Watch, includes special updates, invites to events, access to leadership, and a copy of the Book of the Year 
  • Helps fund training for new Food & Water Volunteer Network volunteers.

BENEFACTOR | $5,000 ($4,930 tax-deductible)
Details
  • All Chair benefits, plus:
  • Special recognition during the event
  • Helps fund organizing materials for rallies, canvassing and trainings.

LEAD SPONSOR | $10,000 ($9,930 tax-deductible)
Details
  • All Benefactor benefits, plus:
  • Opportunity to introduce a guest speaker at the event
  • Helps fund cutting-edge research on food, water and climate issues. 

| Join Us in New York City

All tickets include food and drinks at the reception on the Century Association terrace.

Tickets


DEFENDER – 1 ticket to in-person event | $150 ($70 tax-deductible)
Details
  • Membership in Food & Water Watch, includes newsletter.

CAMPAIGNER – 1 ticket to in-person event | $250 ($170 tax-deductible)
Details
  • Membership in Food & Water Watch, includes newsletter.

ACTIVIST – 2 tickets to in-person event | $500 ($340 tax-deductible)
Details
  • Membership in Food & Water Watch, includes newsletter.

Sponsorships


COMMITTEE – 2 tickets to in-person event | $1,000 ($840 tax-deductible)
Details
  • Champions Membership in Food & Water Watch, includes special updates and invites to events
  • Listing on event materials 
  • Helps fund organizing software tools.

CHAIR – 2 tickets to in-person event | $2,500 ($2,340 tax-deductible)
Details
  • All Committee benefits, plus:
  • Leaders Circle Membership in Food & Water Watch, includes special updates, invites to events, access to leadership, and a copy of the Book of the Year 
  • Helps fund training for new Food & Water Volunteer Network volunteers.

BENEFACTOR – 4 tickets to in-person event | $5,000 ($4,680 tax-deductible)
Details
  • All Chair benefits, plus: 
  • Reserved high top table for reception and seating for formal program
  • Special recognition during the event
  • Helps fund organizing materials for rallies, canvassing and trainings.

LEAD SPONSOR – 6 tickets to in-person event | $10,000 ($9,480 tax-deductible)
Details
  • All Benefactor benefits, plus: 
  • Celebratory bottle of wine for you and your guests
  • Opportunity to introduce a guest speaker at the event or make welcome remarks to kick off the night! 
  • Helps fund cutting-edge research on food, water and climate issues.

Highlights from our 2021 Virtual Conference & Benefit

We enjoyed an incredible day of learning and community building with 12 sessions and hands-on trainings, incredible speakers like our keynote Amy Goodman and special guests like Mark Ruffalo, Ed Begley, Jr., members of Congress and more! Watch last year’s highlights, and register today to join us on September 29! 


Become a Sponsor

Food & Water Watch doesn’t take corporate donations, so all our work is made possible by the generous support of individuals like you. By sponsoring the event, you’re providing funding to enhance our organizers’ ability to mobilize at the local, state and national level to stop fossil fuel projects, keep water sources clean and accessible to the public, shut down factory farms — and fight for legislation that will protect our food, water and climate.

The Hog Bosses: Fact Sheet

Categories

PDFFood System

The corporate hog takeover of Iowa’s rural landscape has wreaked severe economic and environmental damage. Iowa lost nearly 90 percent of its hog farms between 1982 and 2017, as factory farms squeezed out smaller, family-scale operations. Farmers are earning less (in today’s dollars) per pound of pork produced, while processors and retailers capture more profit. Meanwhile, factory hog farms pollute Iowa’s waterways and contribute to climate change.

Oregon’s Mega-Dairies, Mega-Pollution and Mega-Climate Consequences

Categories

PDFFood SystemClimate and Energy

The numerous problems that mega-dairies create and the incalculable damage that they inflict on Oregon are not going away without strong action from the state’s leaders. Touting factory farm gas as a solution is only entrenching pollution among frontline communities. Oregon’s legislature must take strong action to protect our air, water and health, beginning with a moratorium on new and expanding mega-dairies.

Food & Water Watch recommends that Oregon:
• Enact an immediate moratorium on new mega-dairies, and on the expansion of existing ones;
• Adopt regulations requiring mega-dairies to reduce their emissions of methane and other harmful air pollutants; and
• Reject the incentivizing of air pollution through factory farm gas and focus on real solutions to climate change like wind and solar.

Lab Meat Won’t End Factory Farms — But Could Entrench Them

Categories

PDFFood System

Can next-generation alternatives like lab meat actually replace factory farms, as some supporters boldly claim?

Consumers would first need to accept these novel products. They must appeal to people who enjoy meat and be comparable in taste and cost. This is a tall order. Scaling up cultured meat requires expensive facilities and equipment and sterile environments — such as those used in the biopharmaceutical industry. Moreover, consumers are increasingly interested in not just sustainability but nutrition; they are seeking fresh, minimally processed foods with short
ingredient lists. Cultured and plant-based meats are
neither.

Second, even if lab meat gains widespread acceptance, there is no guarantee that it will replace consumption of farmed meat, which is deeply embedded in Western culture. One study found that even if price and taste were equal, most consumers would still choose a beef burger over a cultured or plant-based one. This might help explain why fast food sales of plant-based alternatives are flatlining and chains are dialing back their offerings; as the novelty wears off, customers are choosing the familiar. Meanwhile, U.S. per capita meat consumption
reached an all-time high in 2020. Lab meat seems
to be complementing — not replacing — meat in
people’s diets.

Finally, factory farms are baked into the U.S. food system through various federal policies and economic incentive. This dooms any market-based solution from the very start. For instance, U.S. meat production already outstrips domestic demand, and surpluses
are exported. So even if everyone in the United States switched to lab meat, Big Ag would continue to produce meat. Likewise, reducing or eliminating meat consumption will not affect incentives to stick with the current ecologically depleting farming systems that prop up factory farms, such as the overproduction of commodity crops on monocultures. Both cultured and plant-based meat rely on many of the same commodities used in livestock feed and may further entrench these systems.

The Economic Cost of Food Monopolies: The Hog Bosses

REPORT - May 2022

What You’ll Learn From This Report

  • 1: Introduction
  • 2: The Rise of The Hog Bosses
    • Iowa becomes ground zero for factory hog farms
  • 3: Hog Farms Did Not Bring Prosperity to Rural Iowa
    • Counties with the most factory farm development score lower on numerous economic indicators
  • 4: The Factory Farm Industry Is Driving Climate Change
    • We need to support diverse family-scale farms
  • 5: Conclusion and Recommendations
    • We cannot solve this crisis without combating corporate power
  • 6: Methodology

Part 1:

Introduction

In December 2019, U.S. hog slaughterhouses were operating at nearly 100 percent capacity. The system was functioning as designed; corporations profit by maximizing output and contracting with large operations to ensure a steady stream of hogs.1 But the system buckled just a few months later as the United States entered pandemic lockdown. Plummeting foodservice demand and shuttered slaughterhouses created backlogs of hogs that depressed prices and forced some farmers to euthanize their animals. Meanwhile, meat disappeared from store shelves, while processors used their reserves to export record amounts of meat abroad.

We can place some blame on the pandemic for a bad year in farm country. But the reality is that the current centralized, corporate-controlled food system was not built for resiliency, or even to support family-scale farms. Nowhere is this more evident than in Iowa’s factory hog industry. This second issue brief in our ongoing series on the Economic Cost of Food Monopolies explores how massive growth in hog production has failed to bring economic prosperity to Iowa’s rural communities.

Food & Water Watch analyzed the economic welfare of Iowa counties with the most hogs sold and the largest hog farms, from 1982 to 2017. We found that:

  • Iowa lost nearly 90 percent of its hog farms from 1982 to 2017, as rapid factory hog expansion drove out smaller, family-scale farms.
  • Overproduction — and growing corporate consolidation — pushed down the real price of hogs. Today’s farmers earn $2 less per pound of hog produced compared to 1982, while the retail price fell only $1; slaughterhouses, processors and retailers are capturing the other $1.
  • Counties that sold the most hogs and those with the largest farms suffered declines across several economic indicators — including real median household income and total wage jobs — over roughly the same time period. These counties also experienced significant population decline — twice the rate of Iowa’s more rural counties.
  • The factory farm industry depends on the overproduction of feed grain like corn and soybeans. Yet grain farmers also experienced significant real price drops between 1982 and 2017 — 52 and 39 percent per bushel, respectively, for corn and soybeans. Iowa also lost more than 40 percent of its corn and soybean farms as production shifted to the largest operations.

As we continue to manage the pandemic, we need to fundamentally transform the way we produce and process food, especially in animal agriculture. Fortunately, the path forward is clear. It starts by banning new and expanding factory farms.a We must also restore supply management in upcoming Farm Bills and improve antitrust oversight and enforcement. Only then can we build a food system that achieves both economic and climate stability.

aWe define “factory farms” as operations meeting the following size categories: 500 or more beef cattle (on feed), 500 or more dairy cows, 1,000 or more hogs, 500,000 or more broiler chickens sold annually, and 100,000 or more egg-laying hens. These are based off of inventory categories used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Census of Agriculture and roughly align with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s definition of a medium-sized concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO). 

Part 2:

The Rise of The Hog Bosses

Iowa becomes ground zero for factory hog farms

Pig farm. Photo credit: CC-BY-2.0 / Farm Watch, Flickr

Up until the late 20th century, most hogs were raised on smaller, diversified operations. It was often cheaper to grow feed onsite, thereby limiting the number of hogs that a single farm could raise.2 But significant changes in U.S. farm policy and corporate power transformed the way we grow crops and raise livestock.

The U.S. government once had a robust food supply management system that prevented overproduction, a key contributor to low crop prices. New Deal farm policies encouraged farmers to voluntarily cut back production in exchange for price supports. These programs provided living wages to farmers of certain commodities and backgrounds, for much of the 20th century.3

But as U.S. antitrust enforcement eroded and agribusinesses amassed power, corporations lobbied to dismantle these systems to expand global commodity trading. The U.S. government embraced free trade, aiming to increase domestic production and to use expanding export markets to soak up excess commodities. In the 1970s, the agriculture secretary famously directed farmers to “plant fencerow to fencerow.” Many took heed, taking out loans to expand their operations.4

Harvesting crops in the 1970s.

But this all came crashing down in the 1980s. The export market proved volatile and grain prices crashed, leaving farmers with huge debt that they could not repay. Thousands of farms were foreclosed. Those that remained looked to new production models, including contract hog production, to save the farm.5

The death of supply management created a glut of low-priced grain, which agribusinesses purchased and processed into cheap livestock feed. It was now cheaper for farmers to purchase feed offsite and raise their livestock in confinement.6 And Iowa, with its ready supply of feed input crops like corn and soybeans,7 became ground zero for factory hog expansion.

More hogs, fewer farms

Cheap feed is one part of the equation that fueled rapid factory farm growth. Another is growing corporate consolidation within the meat slaughtering and processing industry. In 1980, the top four pork processors slaughtered one out of every three U.S. hogs. Over the past 40 years, their market share has doubled (Figure 1).8 Concentration at the local level can be even more extreme. For instance, between 2004 and 2011, the top four firms slaughtered 9 out of 10 Iowa hogs.9

Extreme market power gives corporations greater leverage to dictate farm prices and practices. Until the early 1990s, most hogs were sold in “spot markets” like live auctions, where multiple buyers competed to purchase a farmer’s hogs. Iowa alone had around 200 such facilities.10 Competition among buyers helped secure fair prices for farmers.11

But corporate consolidation reduced the number of buyers vying for Iowa’s hogs. Those that remained put pressure on the industry to expand their herd sizes, preferring to bargain with a few very large farms rather than numerous family-scale ones. Some buyers use production contracts, paying farmers to raise hogs owned by the processor — a near-universal practice in the broiler chicken industry. Marketing contracts, however, are more common in the hog industry, where farmers agree to deliver a set number of hogs at a future date. In both cases, farmers swap independence for a guaranteed income/buyer.12

In 1993, more than 80 percent of all hogs sold nationally were negotiated on the spot market. Two decades later, this had fallen to as low as 3 percent. Such a “thin” hog market prevents fair pricing and contributes to market volatility. This impacts farmers selling under marketing contracts as well, since the prices they receive are often tied to the spot market.13

A market dominated overwhelmingly by marketing contracts and with few negotiated hogs gives greater leverage to processing corporations. It is also open to manipulation. Pork processors have abused the system in various ways; one example is flooding the auction floor with their own hogs, driving down the spot market price just as a marketing contract is delivered.14

Corporate takeover of the hog industry has provided windfall profits to processing companies, but has gutted farm income.15 Nationally, farmers today are earning $2 less per pound of pork than in 1982 (adjusted for inflation). That’s a third of the value earned in 1982. But we are paying only around $1 less per pound at the grocery checkout. Pork processors and retailers are capturing the other dollar (Figure 2).16 In fact, the average net returns among Iowa’s wean-to-finish hog operations were negative for nearly half the years between 2004 and 2019.17

Part 3:

Hog Farms Did Not Bring Prosperity to Rural Iowa

Counties with the most factory farm development score lower on numerous economic indicators

Main Street in Readlyn, Iowa. Photo credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 / Orange Suede Sofa, Wikimedia Commons

Iowa’s farming landscape looks significantly different today than just a couple of decades ago. In 2017, Iowa sold 2.5 times as many hogs as in 1982. And the average number sold per farm each year has swelled nearly 20-fold, to 9,600 hogs per farm. Today, one out of every four U.S. hogs comes from Iowa. Yet the state lost almost 90 percent of its hog farms over this same period (Figure 3).

Moreover, our findings indicate that pork processors are capturing greater shares of profits, while farmers are feeling the pinch. In fact, the farmer’s share per pound of pork sold dropped two-thirds between 1982 and 2017 (adjusted for inflation). This suggests that the factory farm industry’s takeover of Iowa is not benefiting most farmers or rural communities. Instead, it shifts economic output from small, family-scale operations to a handful of very large operations — and ultimately to the pork processing corporations.

The study

A 2012 Food & Water Watch economic analysis,18 reviewed by the Agricultural Policy Analysis Center (APAC) at the University of Tennessee, is a valuable case study in what happens when governments endorse and enable factory farm growth. From 1982 to 2007, as factory farms mushroomed across the Iowa landscape, the value per hog sold to the Iowa economy actually declined. Moreover, the gains from hog sales are more unevenly distributed today, with fewer (but much larger) farms across virtually every Iowa county. This concentrates wealth among the largest farms, which in turn tend to make fewer local purchases than their smaller counterparts. This has cascading effects across the entire economy.

The 2012 study also compared the economic and social well-being of counties with the most hog sales and the largest farms to counties with fewer sales and smaller farms. We updated many of these comparisons using data from the 2012 and 2017 Censuses of Agriculture, while adding a few more. (For details, see the Methodology section.) The results suggest that failure to stop factory farm expansion and eliminate subsidies to the industry is wreaking havoc on Iowa’s farm economies. The results also counter the industry narrative that pork processors are building wealth and jobs in rural communities.

More hogs, less income

The National Pork Producers Council19 boasts that the U.S. pork industry supports over $22 billion in personal income.b We found that on a per capita basis, personal income increased in each Iowa county over the study period of 1982 to 2017. There were not significant differences in growth rates between counties with high hog sales and large farms, and those with fewer sales and smaller farms. The same is true even when comparing urban to rural counties.

However, measuring total personal income (not accounting for population) tells a different story. Iowa’s top hog-producing counties saw real total personal income fall roughly 8 percent from 1982 to 2017. In contrast, it ballooned 181 and 142 percent, respectively, among counties that sold fewer hogs and have smaller farms. Even Iowa’s more rural counties saw a 41 percent growth in real total personal income.

In other words, significant population losses (detailed below) went hand-in-hand with the drop in total personal income in counties with high hog sales and large farms. Moreover, per capita income measurements can mask economic inequality, especially when a few large earners bring up the county average. Median household income can help account for this by finding the middle point among all households in a sample.20

For instance, the real median household income among counties with high hog sales and large farms was between 6 and 7 percent less in 2017 than in 1979 (Figure 4). In contrast, it increased slightly within counties with fewer sales and smaller farms. Real median household income even increased modestly among Iowa’s rural counties. These findings suggest that the income benefits of factory hog production are not evenly shared across households living in counties with the most hog production — even though these counties collectively increased their hog production three-fold.

Job losses both on and off the farm

One of the most compelling findings of this report relates to employment. The factory farm industry likes to claim that its industrial model creates jobs — and to stoke fears about job losses to oppose regulation.21 However, the data do not support this. Instead, the rise of Iowa’s factory farms coincided with significant job losses both on and off the farm.

Statewide, total farm employment dropped 44 percent between 1982 and 2017. Every single Iowa county experienced double-digit declines in farm jobs. However, job losses among the top hog-producing counties exceeded the state average — and were even slightly higher than among rural counties overall (Figure 5).

Our previous report came to a similar conclusion: Farm size matters more than total hog output when it comes to job creation. Other studies echo this conclusion, including a 2021 analysis comparing job creation between Iowa’s conventional hog farms and those practicing pasture-based farming. (The average pasture-based farm in the study sells 600 hogs per year, compared to the state average of 9,600). The economic analysis found that the pasture-based farms created more than three times as many jobs per 100,000 hogs marketed compared to conventional farms. They also contributed more indirect and induced jobs.22

Iowa counties with high hog production lost jobs in other industries as well, including manufacturing and retail, whereas counties with low hog production and small farms gained jobs. When looking at all wage jobs, top hog-producing counties saw 30 percent declines from 1982 to 2017. Those counties selling fewer hogs and with smaller farms saw 131 percent and 102 percent growth in total wage jobs, respectively (Figure 6) — outstripping population growth rates by roughly 2:1. Even rural counties saw a 12 percent growth in jobs over the study period.

Simply put, the factory farm model is both anti-farm (pushing family-scale farms to foreclosure) and anti-job (reducing employment both on and off the farm).

Business and retail

Factory farms have cascading impacts on all sectors of the local economy. This is due in part to the different purchasing patterns between small and large farms. For instance, Iowa’s average large wean-to-finish operation purchases only $1 out of every $3 of inputs locally.23 Numerous economic analyses underscore the importance of small farms to local economies; some studies have concluded that smaller farms make more local purchases than larger farms, thereby supporting local retail and contributing to the “multiplier effect” that occurs when wealth is circulated in a local economy.24 Another study found that small, family-scale hog production models shift more profits from corporations to farmers, and induce more household spending among affected workers and farm owners.25

Our study aligns with these analyses. While Iowa experienced an estimated 2 percent decline in total retail businesses between 1982 and 2017, the counties with high hog sales and large farms saw extreme declines — 40 percent and 33 percent, respectively (Figure 7). This decline was even more severe than in rural counties. Counties with low hog sales and small farms, in contrast, saw double-digit growth in retail businesses.

Similarly, while Iowa lost nearly 60 percent of its grocery stores from 1982 to 2016,c losses among counties with high hog sales and large farms were even more stark —75 and 70 percent losses, respectively. This is even greater than losses in the most rural counties. In contrast, losses among low hog sales and small hog farm counties were lower than the state average.

The only business categories considered in this report that had positive growth among high hog-producing counties were meat slaughter and processing plants. However, growth still trailed that of the state as a whole. In fact, most of the growth in meat slaughter and processing facilities occurred in counties with low hog sales and small farms, as well as in rural counties. This could be due to a number of factors, including proximity to the workforces, transportation infrastructure and sewage treatment systems necessary to run slaughter facilities. It is also worth noting that more than a quarter of all hogs raised in Iowa are slaughtered across state lines.26

Before we commend the factory hog industry for a growth in livestock slaughterhouse and processing jobs, it is clear that the quality of these jobs has declined significantly over the past few decades. As meatpacking conglomerates rose in power, working conditions at their plants deteriorated; union representation declined, wages were cut, and conditions became more dangerous.27 In fact, today’s slaughterhouse workers suffer twice the rate of reported injuries and illnesses compared to the manufacturing sector as a whole.28 The COVID-19 pandemic revealed the willingness of pork corporations to put profit ahead of worker health and wellbeing, as corporations fought to keep plants open despite outbreaks that were killing workers.29

Population losses and net migration

Iowa’s total population grew 8 percent from 1982 to 2017. However, counties with high hog sales and large farms saw their populations decrease by 44 percent and 36 percent, respectively. In contrast, the populations of counties with low hog sales and small hog farms boomed 73 percent and 47 percent, respectively. These differences cannot be chalked up to rural and urban divides alone; population loss in rural counties was 18 percent — at least half as much as in counties with high hog sales and large farms.

Additionally, counties with high hog sales and large farms experienced greater rates of net migration compared to counties with low hog sales and small farms. We cannot make sweeping claims about why populations are leaving these counties based on numbers alone. Job losses, decline of rural services, and nuisance and public health concerns from nearby factory farms could all play a role and deserve greater attention. This negative net migration can have cascading effects on communities, including reduced retail demand and declining tax bases.30

bPersonal income includes all wages, employer-provided benefits, rental property, government benefits, and interest and dividends. It excludes capital gains from stocks. See U.S. Department of Commerce. Bureau of Economic Analysis. “Income & Saving.” Available at https://www.bea.gov/resources/learning-center/what-to-know-income-saving. Accessed December 2021 and on file with Food & Water Watch.

cEstimate uses the U.S. Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns data, which changed reporting in the 2017 report year to no longer include data cells with three or fewer businesses. We used 2016 data instead to have a more accurate comparison across the years.

Part 4:

The Factory Farm Industry Is Driving Climate Change

We need to support diverse family-scale farms

Derecho damage seen on a grain bin in Jackson County, Iowa Photo Credit: CC BY 2.0 / Phil Roeder / Flickr

Decoupling hog and crop production has had significant consequences for Iowa’s environment and the global climate. Previously, smaller and more diverse crop-and-livestock systems could only get so big, restrained in part by the amount of cropland that they could dedicate to growing feed. Smaller farms also produce less manure, which can be sustainably recycled onsite as fertilizer and thereby reduce chemical inputs on cropland.31

But artificially cheap feed and pressure from the pork industry have incentivized farms to expand their herds to previously unthinkable sizes. This creates a surplus manure problem, with many regions of the United States, including Iowa, producing more nutrients than can be sustainably recycled. These problems, compounded in regions with high densities of factory farms, contribute to runoff that pollutes soil and water.32 In 2021, American Rivers named Iowa’s Racoon River, which receives overflows from hundreds of factory hog operations, one of the country’s “Most Endangered Rivers.”33

RaCcOON RIVER

The Country’s Most Endangered Rivers: Raccoon River

​​American Rivers named Iowa’s Raccoon River one of the Most Endangered Rivers in the U.S. The Raccoon River supplies drinking water to over half a million Iowans. Des Moines Water Works, Iowa’s largest water utility, depends on the Raccoon River in order to provide residents of central Iowa with safe drinking water.

SCROLL SIDEWAYS TO NAVIGATE

Photo: Raccoon River
RACcOON RIVER

But industrial agriculture practices are rampant in the watershed. Over 750 factory farms are located in the basin and have put our access to clean water at risk. In order to provide safe drinking water to residents in Iowa’s capital city of Des Moines, the Des Moines Water Works was forced to invest in one of the world’s most expensive nitrate removal systems — a cost borne by ratepayers, not the corporate agribusiness entities responsible for the pollution. Why?

Photo: Hog farm in Iowa.
RACcOON RIVER

Because E. coli, MRSA, and toxic levels of nitrates are as much a part of the water in Iowa as hydrogen and oxygen. Where are they coming from? These harmful pathogens and pollutants originate in factory farms. Each year, over 3,600 factory farms across the state produce more than 72 billion pounds of manure. That waste is then spread on acre after acre of cropland, oftentimes in amounts far greater than the soil’s ability to absorb it. From there, the excess runs off into Iowa’s waters, polluting drinking water, limiting recreation on the water, and destroying critical plant and animal habitat.

Factory farms decimate rural economies and rural life, a price no one should have to pay so that corporations can profit.

The unsustainable factory farm model is pushing our climate to the limit. Globally, livestock production contributes 14.5 percent of all human-sourced greenhouse gas emissions.34 Yet Iowa’s hog production continues to balloon, with processors profiting off this glut by expanding export markets.35 At a critical juncture where climate scientists are urging nations to reduce livestock production to sustainable levels, the pork industry is promoting U.S. pork abroad and exporting as much as one-third of all U.S. production.36

The factory farm model is propped up by a cropping system that similarly encourages overproduction.37 Crop farmers faced the same pressures to “get big or get out” in the 1970s and 80s38; in 2017, Iowa produced 65 percent more corn and 85 percent more soybeans compared to 1982, but on 40 percent fewer farms (Figure 9). This is a highly inefficient system, with the vast majority of corn bushels not directly feeding people but instead getting processed into livestock feed, ethanol and food additives.39 Corn and soybean production also contribute to climate change, given the huge amounts of land and fossil fuel-derived inputs they consume.40

Transitioning to smaller, diverse crop-and-livestock systems can curb overproduction and lessen Iowa’s ecological footprint.41 But these systems can only scale up once we have reformed the federal farm safety net to support family-scale operations and to incentivize sustainable practices. Corporate agribusinesses spend millions of lobbying dollars to keep the current polluting system in place.42 We cannot address these climate impacts without combating corporate power.

Part 5:

Conclusion and Recommendations

We cannot solve this crisis without combating corporate power

The factory hog industry is not delivering on its promises to Iowa’s rural economies. In fact, counties with the most hog production score lower across a range of social and economic indicators compared to counties with less hog production. This report complements a Food & Water Watch economic analysis that found that, as corporations tightened their hold on Iowa’s hog production, the value shared by rural communities declined.

As illustrated in our first report in this series, “The Grocery Cartels,” corporate consolidation is at the heart of our food system’s dysfunction. Lax attitudes towards antitrust, embraced by leaders on both sides of the aisle, created space for a handful of powerful corporations to amass power over each step of the food supply chain. The problem is too big for any single farmer or eater to solve; we need our elected leaders to stand up against corporate power.

Legislation for a just food system

First, we need a moratorium on new and expanding factory farms, to solve this crisis that worsens every passing year. Moratorium legislation has been introduced in the Iowa legislature for the past several sessions; federal legislation like the Farm System Reform Act would similarly stop factory farm expansion while funding a just transition for existing factory farms.43 In addition, we must halt agribusiness mergers and break up big conglomerates through comprehensive legislation like the Food and Agribusiness Merger Moratorium and Antitrust Review Act.44

But unravelling the factory farm model and transitioning to family-scale farms will take additional steps. We need to overhaul the federal farm safety net and steer U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) resources into smaller, diversified farms. Fortunately, we have this opportunity every five years, through omnibus legislation known as the Farm Bill. Here’s what we recommend:

Restore supply management in the next Farm Bill and ensure the programs benefit farmers of all backgrounds. The first Farm Bill was part of New Deal legislation, and a direct response to commodity overproduction that led to plummeting crop prices and drove many farms into foreclosure. This and other bills curbed overproduction, protected vulnerable cropland and guaranteed living wages for farmers who could access these programs.45

Here’s how supply management worked: The USDA would set a price floor for grains and provide loans based on this price floor, which farmers repaid after harvest. In years when market prices dropped below the price floor, the USDA collected the harvest as collateral, essentially buying surplus grains from the market for the federal grain reserve. Then, when drought or other disasters reduced crop yield, the USDA sold grains from the federal reserve into the market,46 smoothing out market volatility and ensuring a steady supply of grain to the benefit of both farmers and consumers.

Remarkably, supply management can operate at virtually no budgetary cost to taxpayers.47 We can reinstate supply management for grain crops and extend it to dairy — while ensuring participation by farmers of all backgrounds.

Reform — rather than remove — the current farm safety net. Immediately ending current farm subsidy programs would only drive more farmers off the land. Instead, we can realign these programs with the climate reality while moving toward a system that actually manages production. Participants in programs like federal subsidized crop insurance should be required to implement organic regenerative practices such as crop rotation or reduced pesticide reliance. We must also ban factory farms from receiving public funding from conservation programs and guaranteed loans.

Expand coverage for more crops that directly feed people. Feed corn, soybeans and cotton make up a huge chunk of acreage enrolled in federal crop insurance programs,48 while many fruits, vegetables and nuts are not eligible under many programs.49 Expanding safety net coverage to more specialty crops can help more farmers shift to new production systems.

Corporate interests have fought against supply management and other common-sense farm policies that would bring prosperity to rural America. They spend hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying each year for the current agricultural system that serves their corporate interests, all while claiming that they support the family farm.50 But the COVID-19 pandemic revealed whose side they are really on — and their total disregard for workers’ lives. We must elect leaders who are willing to stand up to these hog bosses and other agribusinesses. Only then can we pass a fair Farm Bill and reshape our food system so that it works for all farmers, food chain workers and eaters.

Part 6:

Methodology

Food & Water Watch compiled data from the U.S. Census of Agriculture, a comprehensive analysis of U.S. farms released every five years. We pulled data on the number of hogs sold and the number of hog farms in each Iowa county, for census years spanning 1982 through 2017. We also used the Census of Agriculture to estimate historical yields and prices for corn and soybeans.

For each census year, we sorted counties into quartiles by the total number of hogs sold. The top 50 counties were designated “high hog sale” counties, and the bottom 49 “low hog sale” counties. We used the same method to distinguish “large hog farm” and “small hog farm” counties, based on the average number of hogs sold per farm. This enabled us to compare economic outcomes between counties that saw the most factory farm development and those that saw the least. We created a third comparison based on population density (50 most-rural / 49 least-rural), using data compiled from the U.S. Census Bureau, providing a way to tease out the impacts of population density on the various economic outcomes.

The Census of Agriculture withholds county-level data on livestock numbers when there are only a handful of farms reporting, to protect farm identity. In these instances, we summed the available county-level data on hogs for a particular year and subtracted this by the state-level data to find the residual difference. We then divided this difference by the total number of farms in all counties with undisclosed data to generate a residual average. We multiplied this residual average by the number of farms in counties with undisclosed data, to derive an approximation. This method was repeated in various census years as needed.

We used many of the same economic indicators found in our 2012 report, matching the years with those of the Census of Agriculture (1982, 1987, 1992, 1997, 2002, 2007, 2012 and 2017) or the nearest approximate. We estimated total retail establishments using data from the Iowa Department of Revenue. Retail establishments by industry come from the U.S. Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns. We used NAICS (North American Industry Classification System) data starting in census year 2002, and SIC (Standard Industrial Classification) codes for all earlier releases, matching with the closest approximation (i.e., NAICS 4451 “Grocery Stores” and SIC 541 “Grocery Stores”; NAICS 311611 “Animal (except Poultry) Slaughtering” and SIC 2011 “Meat Packing Plants”; NAICS 311612 “Meat Processed from Carcasses” and SIC 2013 “Sausages and Other Prepared Meat Products”).

The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey provided data on population, county landmass in square miles and median household income. Personal and farm income, and wage jobs, came from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. We converted all monetary data into January 2020 dollars using the Consumer Price Index (CPI) Inflation Calculator provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Congress needs to know you support a transition to diverse, family-scale farms. Will you send them a message?

Endnotes
  1. Decision Innovation Solutions. Prepared for Iowa Pork Producers Association. “2020 Iowa Pork Industry Report.” May 2020 at 6; Sexton, Richard. “Market power, misconceptions, and modern agricultural markets.” American Journal of Agricultural Economics. Vol. 95, Iss. 2. January 2013 at 6 to 7.
  2. Clark, E. Ann. “Benefits of re-integrating livestock and forages in crop production systems.” Journal of Crop Improvement. Vol. 12, Iss. 1-2. 2004 at 3 to 5; Ayazi, Hossein and Elsadig Elsheikh. Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society. “The US Farm Bill: Corporate Power and Structural Racism in the United States Food System.” October 2015 at 26 to 27.
  3. Rasmussen, Wayne D. et al. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Economic Research Service (ERS). “A Short History of Agricultural Adjustment, 1933-75.” Agriculture Information Bulletin No. 391. March 1976 at 3 to 4; Reynolds, Bruce J. USDA. “Black Farmers in America, 1865-2000: The Pursuit of Independent Farming and the Role of Cooperatives.” RBS Research Report 194. October 2002 at 8 to 9.
  4. McGranahan, Devan A. et al. “A historical primer on the US farm bill: Supply management and conservation policy.” Journal of Soil and Water Conservation. Vol. 68, No. 3. May/June 2013 at 68A to 70A; Ayazi and Elsheikh (2015) at 23 to 26.
  5. Olson, Allen H. “Federal farm programs — past, present and future — Will we learn from our mistakes?” Great Plains Natural Resources Journal. Vol. 6, No. 1. 2001-2002 at 13 to 16; Freese, Betsy. “How contract feeding changed the hog industry.” Successful Farming. November 25, 2019.
  6. Ayazi and Elsheikh (2015) at 26 to 27; Clark (2004) at 3 to 5.
  7. Decision Innovation Solutions (2020) at 29.
  8. USDA. Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration. “2008 Annual Report.” March 1, 2009 at 46; USDA. Agricultural Marketing Service. “Packers and Stockyards Division: Annual Report 2019.” August 2020 at 9.
  9. Sexton (2013) at 2; Food & Water Watch (FWW) analysis of National Pork Board. “Pork Facts: The Pork Industry at a Glance.” 2009-2012.
  10. Lawrence, John D. “Hog marketing practices and competition questions.” Choices. Vol. 25, No. 2. 2nd Quarter 2010 at 2 to 3.
  11. Ajewole, Kayode et al. “Price reporting in a thin market.” Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics. Vol. 48, No. 4. November 2016 at 347 to 348 and 361 to 362; Willingham, Zoe and Andy Green. Center for American Progress. “A Fair Deal to Farmers: Raising Earnings and Rebalancing Power in Rural America.” May 2019 at 16 to 19.
  12. Lawrence (2010) at 2 to 3 and 5; Sexton (2013) at 6 to 7; MacDonald, James et al. USDA ERS. “Contracts, Markets, and Prices.” Agricultural Economic Report No. 837. November 2004 at 41.
  13. Ajewole et al. (2016) at 345 to 347.
  14. Ibid.; Lawrence (2010) at 4; MacDonald et al. (2004) at 50 to 52.
  15. Willingham and Green (2019) at 20.
  16. USDA ERS. “Pork values and spreads.” Available at https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/meat-price-spreads. Accessed August 2021.
  17. Decision Innovation Solutions (2020) at 42, figure 38.
  18. FWW. “The Economic Cost of Food Monopolies.” 2012.
  19. National Pork Producers Council (NPPC). “Pork facts.” Available at https://nppc.org/pork-facts. Accessed November 2021 and on file with FWW.
  20. Missouri Census Data Center. “All about measures of income in the Census.” Available at https://mcdc.missouri.edu/help/measures-of-income. Accessed December 2021 and on file with FWW.
  21. NPPC. “Pork facts”; NPPC. [Press release]. “New economic impact study on livestock rule means rural job losses & higher meat prices.” October 21, 2010.
  22. Swenson, Dave. Iowa State University and University of Iowa. Prepared for Niman Ranch. “The Economic Contribution of Niman Ranch Hog Production in Iowa.” March 2021 at 6, table 1 and 10.
  23. Decision Innovation Solutions (2020) at 61.
  24. Andrews, David and Timothy J. Kautza. Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. “Impact of Industrial Farm Animal Production on Rural Communities.” 2008 at v to vi; Donham, Kelley J. et al. “Community health and socioeconomic issues surrounding concentrated animal feeding operations.” Environmental Health Perspectives. Vol. 115, No. 2. February 2007 at 317; Foltz, Jeremy D. et al. “Do purchasing patterns differ between large and small dairy farms? Econometric evidence from three Wisconsin communities.” Agricultural and Resource Economics Review. Vol. 31, No. 1. April 2002 at 37; Swenson (2021) at 9.
  25. Kelsey, Timothy W. et al. Pennsylvania State University. College of Agricultural Sciences. “Not Inconsequential: The Economic Effect of Small Farms in Pennsylvania, 2017.” 2021 at 5 to 9.
  26. Decision Innovation Solutions (2020) at 26.
  27. MacDonald, James M. et al. USDA ERS. “Consolidation in U.S. Meatpacking.” AER-785. February 2000 at 14 to 15; Fitzgerald, Amy J. “A social history of the slaughterhouse: From inception to contemporary implications.” Research in Human Ecology. Vol. 17, No. 1. 2010 at 62 to 64.
  28. U.S. Department of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2020 Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses. Available at https://www.bls.gov/iif/soii-data.htm#newsrelease.
  29. FWW. “Fact-checking Smithfield’s coronavirus food shortage BS.” April 22, 2020.
  30. McGranahan, David et al. USDA ERS. “Nonmetropolitan Outmigration Counties.” Economic Research Report No. 107. November 2010 at 2.
  31. Clark (2004) at 8, 19 and 24.
  32. Yang, Qichun et al. “Spatiotemporal patterns of livestock manure nutrient production in the conterminous United States from 1930 to 2012.” Science of the Total Environment. October 2015 at 14 to 20; Kellogg, Robert L. et al. USDA. Natural Resources Conservation Service and ERS. “Manure Nutrients Relative to the Capacity of Cropland and Pastureland to Assimilate Nutrients: Spatial and Temporal Trends for the United States.” Nps00-0579. December 2000 at executive summary, 1 and 89 to 92.
  33. Jones, Chris et al. “The urgent need to address nutrient imbalance problems in Iowa’s high-density livestock regions.” Agricultural Policy Review. Fall 2019 at discussion; Food & Water Action. “American Rivers has named Iowa river ‘Most Endangered’ in the country.” April 13, 2021.
  34. Gerber, P.J. et al. (2013). “Tackling Climate Change Through Livestock: A Global Assessment of Emissions and Mitigation Opportunities.” Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations at xii.
  35. USDA. Foreign Agricultural Service. “2020 United States Agricultural Export Yearbook.” 2021 at 1 to 2; Holcomb, Griffin. IBISWorld. “Meat, Beef & Poultry Processing in the US.” Industry Report No. 31161. March 2021 at 11, 14 and 20 to 21.
  36. Schiermeier, Quirin. “Eat less meat: UN climate-change report calls for change to human diet.” Nature. Corrected August 12, 2019; U.S. Meat Export Federation. “U.S. pork exports soared to new value, volume records in 2019.” National Hog Farmer. February 6, 2020.
  37. Smith, Trevor J. “Corn, cows, and climate change: How federal agricultural subsidies enable factory farming and exacerbate U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.” Washington Journal of Environmental Law & Policy. Vol. 9, Iss. 1. March 2019 at 47 to 48 and 55.
  38. McGranahan, Devan A. et al. (2013) at 69A to 71A.
  39. FWW analysis of USDA. National Agricultural Statistics Service. Quick Stats. Available at https://quickstats.nass.usda.gov. Accessed July 2020; “Sweet corn vs. field corn: What’s the difference?” La Crosse Tribune. October 16, 2015.
  40. Koneswaran, Gowri and Danielle Nierenberg. “Global farm animal production and global warming: Impacting and mitigating climate change.” Environmental Health Perspectives. Vol. 116, No. 5. May 2008 at 579.
  41. Clark (2004) at 11 to 13.
  42. Ayazi and Elsheikh (2015) at 26 to 27 and 34.
  43. Cadloff, Emily Baron. “Iowa representative pushing to ban new factory farms.” Modern Farmer. February 10, 2022; S. 3221. 116th Cong. (2019).
  44. S. 1596. 116th Cong. (2019).
  45. Rasmussen et al. (1976) at 3 to 5; Reynolds (2002) at 8 to 9.
  46. Graddy-Lovelace, Garrett and Adam Diamond. “From supply management to agricultural subsidies — and back again? The U.S. Farm Bill & agrarian (in)viability.” Journal of Rural Studies. Vol. 50. February 2017 at 76.
  47. Ibid at 76; McMinimy, Mark A. Congressional Research Service (CRS). “U.S. Sugar Program Fundamentals.” R43998. April 6, 2016 at summary.
  48. Shields, Dennis A. CRS. “Federal Crop Insurance: Background.” R40532. August 13, 2015 at summary; Schnepf, Randy. CRS. [Fact sheet]. “2018 Farm Bill primer: Marketing Assistance Loan program.” IF11162. April 3, 2019 at 2.
  49. Rosa, Isabel and Renée Johnson. CRS. “Federal Crop Insurance: Specialty Crops.” R45459. Updated January 14, 2019 at 9; Smith (2019) at 43 to 44.
  50. Ayazi and Elsheikh (2015) at 15; Open Secrets. “Sector profile: Agribusiness.” Available at https://www.opensecrets.org/federal-lobbying/sectors/summary?id=A. Accessed December 2021 and on file with FWW; Duvall, Zippy. American Farm Bureau Federation. “Your voice is essential to our country’s success.” July 21, 2021.

The World’s Biggest Carbon Capture Scam Is Coming to Iowa

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Phoebe Galt and Emma Schmit

Overnight, Iowa has become ground zero for the world’s biggest carbon capture scam. Two corporations, Summit Carbon Solutions and Navigator Heartland Greenway LLC, have proposed carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects. Each of them will require building hundreds of miles of hazardous pipelines across the state. The science and technology behind the ventures is unproven and unsound — minor details overlooked in the name of corporate greed. Iowa’s Governor Reynolds is happily ushering the projects forward.

We’re talking about “capturing” carbon emitted from ethanol and fertilizer facilities, transporting that hazardous material via pipeline, and injecting it into ancient rock formations. The companies claim that their technology is a requisite solution to the climate crisis. They’re lying.

‘Capturing’ Carbon Won’t Stop the Climate Crisis — It’ll Dig a Deeper Hole

CCS is a false climate solution, propped up by Big Energy and Big Ag so they can continue to profit. CCS relies on fundamental falsehoods to pull the wool over the public’s eyes about their real climate impact. Here’s how it’s supposed to work: carbon capture attempts to trap greenhouse gas emissions from smokestacks (in this case from dirty ethanol plants). It then transports the hazardous gas through communities via explosive pipelines, and injects it underground. In reality, these projects fail to capture all harmful emissions. They also don’t account for the pollution that goes into creating the ethanol in the first place. The industry also keeps quiet about CCS’ role in fossil fuel extraction. The dirty truth is that most of the captured carbon is pumped into oil wells to increase oil production. 

Carbon Capture Keeps Big Ag Alive

Over 13 million acres of land in Iowa are devoted to growing corn. Of that corn, 50% is currently used to produce ethanol. But those uniform acres of corn come at a serious cost to climate and communities. Industrial monocropping traps farmers in a cycle of dependence on Big Ag giants, like Monsanto, and forces their hand. Producers are required to use destructive farming techniques like tilling and fossil fuel-derived fertilizer application to turn a profit. Big Ag has profited off the lie that corn-derived ethanol is a “low carbon” fuel. They hope we’ll ignore the mega-emissions and harmful practices required to make it, so they can keep this system going.

Iowa is also littered with more than 10,000 factory farms, leaving communities to deal with their impact. This includes harmful water pollution, slumping rural economies and negative health effects. The ethanol industry plays a direct role in the success of the factory farming model. A leftover byproduct of the ethanol process is distillers grain, a cheap feed option often used in factory farming. Indeed, the existence of cheap feed is one of the leading factors keeping factory farming profitable. CCS will only make it worse, entrenching ethanol plants and factory farms, instead of shifting to a more sustainable system.

Carbon Pipelines Keep Fossil Fuels On The Grid

CCS and the miles of pipelines required to transport hazardous gases offer a lifeline to the fossil fuel industry. Pipelines created for carbon can also be used to transport fossil fuels, extending the industry’s reach.

What’s more, CCS can be used to extract even more fossil fuels. The majority of domestic CCS projects currently in operation are small projects located close to fossil fuel extraction and power plant sites. Where the carbon is created at these sites, it’s injected underground to extract oil. Summit has left the door open to this destructive process, known as enhanced oil recovery. Their pipeline runs right to Bakken oil fields in the Dakotas. 

Iowa CCS Projects Come At Our Risk And Our Cost

Iowans are expected to take on all of the risks of these CCS proposals, while Wall Street gets the reward. And the risks are tremendous. Carbon is an invisible, odorless gas that acts as an asphyxiant in the event of a pipeline rupture. It’s happened before; an entire town was gassed in 2020, sending 49 people to the hospital. Some of them are now saddled with negative lifelong health issues.

Rural community health systems are already overburdened by the enduring pandemic. Most Iowa communities don’t have the training or timely access to emergency services to properly handle a mass gassing event. The last thing our support services need is dangerous hazardous gas moving through peoples’ backyards.

Tens of thousands of Iowans are expected to risk their lives for these projects — and we’re expected to fund it. Like Big Ag and the fossil fuel industry, Summit and Navigator can only profit by crushing real people. Despite clear proof that CCS doesn’t work, we continue to see public tax dollars wasted on this false promise. Summit’s record-keeping shows their carbon pipeline proposal will be eligible for up to $600 million in tax credits each year. This is an immoral use of our public money.

Iowans Deserve Better Than Carbon Capture Scams

Iowans’ lives are a damn sight more important than the balance of multi-millionaires’ bank accounts. If you believe in putting people before corporate profit, join us in opposing carbon pipelines.

Tell President Biden to oppose carbon capture schemes — your voice can make a difference!

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Five Cities Where Wildfire Smoke Is Making It Harder to Breathe

Categories

Climate and Energy

by Arianna Chopelas

Burning nostrils. Watery eyes. A cough that won’t quit. These are feelings that are all too familiar to people living in the Western U.S. The sunny, blue skies that were once a backdrop for beach days and camping trips are now smoky and grey, serving as a frequent reminder that we are in a climate crisis. And this summer, Western wildfires made national headlines when the smoke turned air quality “unhealthy” all the way in New York City.

Air pollution from wildfire smoke is full of dangerous, microscopic particles called PM 2.5. These tiny specks of debris can lead to long-term health problems like respiratory disease, heart failure and developmental impacts in children, not to mention the mental health stresses of living in a world shrouded in smoke. 

But protecting our communities from climate change and these fires is as much of an environmental justice issue as it is a public health issue. Low-income communities and communities of color are already more likely to live in areas with unhealthy air quality, and due to years of systemic racism, suffer from higher rates of disease and illnesses like COVID-19. Adding in another layer like wildfire smoke is like pouring fuel on the fire.

The Drought in the West and Climate Change Are Making Smoky Skies the New Normal

Here are five cities where smoky skies are getting worse – and might become standard – if our elected officials don’t act to stop climate catastrophe and ban the fossil fuel infrastructure that’s driving it.

Known for its ancient Native pueblos and towering mountains, Flagstaff, Arizona is one of the many Western cities living in a fog of wildfire smoke. From 2016-2020, people living in Flagstaff experienced an average of 72 smoky days every year, which is a 79 percent increase from the years 2009-2013. Since most summers are 92 days long, that means that Flagstaff residents could have experienced unhealthy air quality and smoke for almost four out of five days of the summer.

The geography of California’s state capital already makes it vulnerable to air pollution, with smog and PM 2.5 often collecting in the valley throughout the year. The addition of wildfire smoke left residents having to cope with an average of 58 unhealthy air quality days per year from 2016-2020. On top of that, people living in Sacramento experienced a shocking 174 percent increase in unhealthy air quality days compared to 2009-2013. And even more shocking? People living in neighboring Yuba County experienced an average of 81 smoky days per year from 2016-2020. Yes, you read that right: 81.

Reno’s proximity to the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California means it’s also close to California’s wildfires. From the years 2016-2020, Reno residents experienced an average of 42 smoky days every year, which represents a considerable difference and a 132 percent increase compared to the years 2009-2013. In 2021 alone, Reno lived through 24 days of an unhealthy air quality index of 101 or higher – all before mid-August.

People living in the Denver area are no strangers to wildfire smoke, but that doesn’t make the increased number of smoky days any more manageable. With residents experiencing an average of 40 wildfire smoke-affected days per year from 2016-2020, that would be like spending nearly half of every summer unable to see the horizon and breathing unhealthy air. 

Portland made national headlines earlier this year after an extreme heatwave melted streetcar power cables and killed nearly 100 people. But what didn’t make the headlines is another climate change-related problem: Portland’s residents experienced an average of 34 smoky days per year from 2016-2020. Compared to the average of 23 smoky days per year from 2009-2013, that represents an increase of almost 50 percent.

It Doesn’t Have to Be Like This. We Can Stop Our Planet From Going Up in Smoke.

By refusing to stop new fossil fuel infrastructure and relying on false climate solutions like carbon capture or “renewable” natural gas, our elected officials and the Biden administration are locking us into decades more of fossil fuel dependence, all but ensuring that climate change – and the resulting droughts and wildfires – will only get worse. Switching sunglasses out for N-95 respirators and having important community events canceled because of fires simply isn’t sustainable.

That’s why all of us in the climate movement need to raise our voices together and demand that the Biden administration start taking the climate crisis seriously. Will you sign a petition now to urge President Biden to ban fracking on federal lands? We need to act now – before it’s not just harder to breathe, but impossible.

President Biden, it’s time to ban fracking on federal lands.

Time Is Up On Fossil Fuels, Biden. Our Communities Can’t Wait!

Categories

Climate and Energy

Photo by Emad Mohammed | Survival Media Agency

by Laurel Levin and Thomas Meyer

As the climate crisis has picked up speed, so has the movement to stop it in its tracks. From October 11th – 15th, Food & Water Watch co-organized the People vs. Fossil Fuels actions in D.C. Throughout the week, thousands took to the steps of the White House and the U.S. Capitol with a clear demand. We asked that President Biden stop all new projects involving fossil fuels and declare a national climate emergency. Indigenous organizers and other front-line communities made the message loud and clear. Continuing business as usual is catastrophic for our communities, our water, our health, and our future. 

Food & Water Watch mobilized our allies from many different local campaigns to join the action in DC. From the fight against fracking in Pennsylvania and pipelines in Virginia, we came together to demand that President Biden end the era of fossil fuels. In addition to dozens of volunteers and activists, twelve Food & Water Watch staff participated in civil disobedience on October 14.

A Glimpse Into The Action At The People Vs. Fossil Fuels Rallies

In total, over 650 people were arrested in nonviolent civil disobedience. It generated a huge amount of media coverage, and forced the Biden administration to publicly respond to our demands!

Each day, hundreds of people gathered at Freedom Plaza for opening prayer and grounding. Indigenous water protectors, activists, and Tribal leaders from across the country lead the march from Freedom Plaza to the White House. Then on the final day, youth organizers led as we marched to the Capitol. All told, about 120 people on average were arrested daily in an act of peaceful civil disobedience. The purpose was to demand that President Biden uphold his promises on climate action.

People who volunteered to be arrested stand in front of the White House during a march to protest against fossil fuels on Thursday, October 14, 2021 in Washington, DC.
People who volunteered to be arrested stand in front of the White House during a march to protest against fossil fuels on Thursday, October 14, 2021 in Washington, DC. Photo by Amanda Andrade-Rhoades | Survival Media Agency

The Message Was Clear — Choose People Over Fossil Fuels

Protesters rallied under banners that read “Our Communities Cannot Wait,” “Stop Fueling the Flames,” and “Real Solutions, No Bullshit.” Speakers from Alaska to Louisiana gave testimony about heatwaves, floods, fires, hurricanes, and other climate disasters that threaten their communities. The gravity of these testimonies fueled our spirits and kept the energy going through each long day.

Additionally, we heard from Ginny Marcille-Kerslake, the Eastern Pennsylvania Organizer for Food & Water Watch. She gave a moving testimonial on Thursday about the Mariner East pipeline cutting through her community in Chester County.

Ginny Marcille-Kerslake, the Eastern Pennsylvania Organizer for Food & Water Watch, speaks about the devastation of pipelines that transport fossil fuels.
Ginny Marcille-Kerslake, the Eastern Pennsylvania Organizer for Food & Water Watch. Photo credit: Rebecca Wolf

“This fracked gas pipeline has brought danger and destruction to families across Pennsylvania. But it has also helped change public opinion, and now residents from across the political spectrum oppose fracking and the pipeline. President Biden may falsely believe he won Pennsylvania on account of his support for fracking, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Fracking is a loser for our climate, air, water, health and safety.”

Ginny Marcille-Kerslake, Food & Water Watch Eastern Pennsylvania Organizer

Biden Has The Unique Authority To Act On Climate Now

President Biden has the authority through executive action to implement our demands today; no messy negotiations in Congress necessary. But here’s the main problem: Biden is unwilling to take on the fossil fuel industry. As a movement, we must make it clear that anything less than a rapid and just transition away from fossil fuels is not enough. We call on President Biden to deliver on his promises. He must directly take on the fossil fuel industry to keep coal, oil and gas in the ground.

The Pressure Activists Are Placing On Biden To Thwart Climate Change Is Just Beginning

People vs. Fossil Fuels was the largest climate mobilization and civil disobedience action in years, but the struggle continues. Our actions forced the Biden administration to respond to our demands. Additionally, they highlighted resistance to fossil fuel projects just weeks before the next UN Climate Summit in Glasgow.

Casey Camp Horineck, Councilwoman and Hereditary Drumkeeper of the Women's Scalp Dance Society, of the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma, speaks at the People Vs. Fossil Fuels mobilization.
Casey Camp Horineck, Councilwoman and Hereditary Drumkeeper of the Women’s Scalp Dance Society, of the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma, speaks at the People Vs. Fossil Fuels mobilization. Photo by Shadia Fayne Wood | Survival Media Agency

Overwhelmingly, this week of action demonstrated that the people have had enough empty promises and watered-down climate policies. At Food & Water Watch, we are determined to keep the pressure on. We’re meeting President Biden and his team wherever they go across the country, demanding that they stop fossil fuels and declare a climate emergency. And it’s not just us. Rep. Cori Bush’s office, along with twelve other members of Congress, released this letter. It calls on President Biden to meet our demands and act on fossil fuels before it’s too late. 

Urge President Biden to show bold leadership through executive action today!

Use your voice to stand in solidarity and ask President Biden to act now.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline Could Decide President Biden’s Climate Legacy

Categories

Climate and Energy

A collaboration of the Protect Our Water Heritage Rights Coalition and Food & Water Watch. All photography by Matthew Pickett.

Frontline and Indigenous communities turned out in record numbers to elect President Biden, who campaigned on a platform of bold climate action. But our allies fighting on the frontlines of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), a sprawling, multi-state fracked gas monstrosity, have yet to see the President match his rhetoric with executive action. Within the next six months, it will be agencies and appointees in the Biden administration who will cast deciding votes on the controversial project’s future, offering a critical climate test by which the president’s legacy will be judged.

MVP Is An Unnecessary Relic of The Fossil Fuel Era

We are facing a climate crisis of epic proportions and fossil fuels are to blame. But instead of issuing a clear ultimatum to end our reliance on fossil fuels, our President has remained silent on some of the largest fossil fuel infrastructure projects moving forward under his administration. MVP is one of them.

The MVP is a massive interstate fracked gas pipeline, seeking building approvals across West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. A frequent perpetrator of environmental injustice, the pipeline threatens to burden low-income communities and communities of color with the health and safety risks of living near a fracked gas pipeline and the trauma of battling the corporate intruder.

The proposed route covers hundreds of miles of high landslide risk areas, cuts through nationally protected forests, threatens regional waterways and clean drinking water supplies, and will add an additional 90 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere every year — equal to that of 23 new coal plants. The pipeline corporation has already accumulated millions of dollars in penalties owed for environmental violations and mired dozens of landowners in extensive legal battles to regain access to their private property taken using eminent domain.

MVP is wildly out of line with Biden’s climate promises — it must be stopped.

This October, We Brought The Fight Against MVP to Biden

Holding signs and leading chants, we brought the fight against MVP to the White House. We marched with frontline activists and people from around the country as part of the People vs Fossil Fuels mobilization, demanding President Biden take executive action to end the fossil fuel era and stop MVP. A full photo essay is available from our allies at POWHR.

The People V. MVP

When a pipeline corporation comes to your door requesting permission to bore through your family farm, the fossil fuel resistance gets personal. For residents of Southwest Virginia, the fight against MVP is more than just a counter to the fossil fuels amplifying the climate crisis — it is a fight to protect family and home.

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The People V. MVP

Biden has thus far abdicated his responsibility to act on MVP. That means it is the frontline communities who must bear the burden we elected him to relieve. It’s time for the President to step in and take this pipeline off our shoulders.

THE PEOPLE V. MVP

“We have been organizing against the Mountain Valley Pipeline since 2014 and we will continue to resist that project until it is defeated,” said Russell Chisholm, Coordinator, Mountain Valley Watch, and Co-Chair, Protect Our Water Heritage Rights. “Not just to protect our water, not just to protect that tiny spring that feeds my home, but to protect our brothers and sisters who live along the Gulf Coast, who live with the climate induced catastrophes all the way back to Katrina.”

THE PEOPLE V. MVP

“When we march together, we show the power that the people hold,” said Jorge Aguilar, Food & Water Watch Southern Region Director. “President Biden cannot be silent in the face of our movement — it’s time for him to make MVP the first domino to fall, signaling the end of the fossil fuel era.”

To Come Clean on His Climate Commitments, Biden Must Stop MVP

MVP is wildly out of line with Biden’s climate goals, and it will take us backwards in the fight to lower our reliance on the fossil fuels driving the climate crisis. We stand in solidarity with frontline and grassroots activists across Virginia including our allies at POWHR, as they face down their eighth year of sustained resistance to the project.

Ultimately, the decision on MVP is one that President Biden can influence. His Army Corps of Engineers and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will have the final say on the project. Will he shut the project down like he did with Keystone XL? Or will he remain silent, and lock the planet into a fossil fuel future, as with Line 3? The choice is in the president’s hands.

Join us in demanding President Biden side with people, not fossil fuels.

Send Biden a message — it’s time to stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

We’re Following Biden Everywhere To Urge The End Of Fossil Fuels

Categories

Climate and Energy

Photo CC-BY © Nasa Earth Observatory / Flickr.com

by Thomas Meyer

With historic drought, fires, hurricanes, and floods, the impacts of our collapsing climate are being felt all across the country, but despite his rhetoric about climate change being an “existential threat,” President Biden and his team have continued to advance a fossil fuel-friendly agenda

That’s why we’re working with our allies to organize people across the country whenever and wherever Biden and team go. 

We’ve challenged Biden directly in California, Ohio, Virginia, New York, and New Jersey. When he came to survey damage from climate disasters, we told him to stop fossil fuels.

Biden, Sacramento, 9/13/21

Biden, New York + New Jersey, 9/7/21

Biden, Alexandria, 7/23/21

Biden, Cincinnati, 7/21/21

McCarthy, San Diego, 8/17/21

When Climate Czar Gina McCarthy came to California and promoted fracked gas as she did during the Obama administration, we were there to confront her.

Granholm, Berkeley, 8/20/21

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is a big proponent of liquified fracked gas exports and when she came to California and New Jersey, we were there with a clear message: No more fossil fuels, ban fracking now!

Granholm, New Jersey, 7/14/21

This is just in the last couple of months and we’re just getting started. You can join our next actions in Washington, DC from October 11-15 to urge Biden to finally choose the good of the people over handouts for the fossil fuel industry.

Join us in DC to demand Biden choose People Vs Fossil Fuels!

Mark Ruffalo

Actor & Environmental Advocate

Max Frost

Singer / Songwriter

Dr. Xue Zhang

Postdoctoral Associate, Cornell University

Dr. Mildred Warner

Professor, Cornell University

Matt Smith

New Jersey State Director

Tyler Lobdell

Staff Attorney

Emily Wurth

Managing Director of Organizing

Tarah Heinzen

Legal Director

Emily Miller

Staff Attorney

Brooke Errett

Senior Florida Organizer

Thomas Meyer

National Climate Organizing Manager

Krissy Kasserman

Factory Farm Organizing Director

Mary Grant

Public Water for All Campaign Director

Arianna Chopelas

Social Media Manager

Oakley Shelton-Thomas

Researcher

Alex Beauchamp

Northeast Region Director

Michelle Allen

Deputy Director, Southern Region

Angie Aker

Digital Content Manager

Jorge Aguilar

Southern Region Director

Rep. Jamie Raskin

U.S. Representative

Rep. Brenda Lawrence

U.S. Representative

Rep. Nanette Barragán

U.S. Representative

Ed Begley, Jr.

Actor & Environmental Activist

Federal Legislation for a Just Food System

Categories

PDFFood System

Sussex County Council Approves Up to $60 Million in Bonds to Cover Bioenergy DevCo Costs

Categories

Climate and Energy

Georgetown, DE — Today, the Sussex County Council voted to approve up to $60 million in Private Activity Bonds to cover construction and other costs associated with Bioenergy DevCo’s recently approved biogas scheme. The vote came one week after the Council voted to approve a conditional use permit for the industrial gas production facility to be sited near Seaford in an agricultural-residential zone, despite an outpouring of public opposition.

In order to build their massive gas production and refining project, Bioenergy DevCo will need to secure numerous state pollution permits. If permitted, this Sussex County factory farm gas facility will be the company’s first in Delaware and their fourth project in the United States since joining forces with Italy-based BTS Biogas to enter the US market. A portion of the $60 million in private activity bonds will be exempt from federal income taxes, meaning taxpayers will subsidize the start-up costs of the dirty gas facility, rather than go toward projects that directly benefit County residents. The site is located in a community where a third of the residents currently live below the poverty line. 

In response, Food & Water Watch Delaware Organizer Greg Layton issued the following statement:

“Today’s vote confirms one of our worst suspicions — that taxpayers will subsidize the cost of this polluting facility, all to assure venture capitalists a ready profit. The hundreds of residents who expressed public opposition to the biogas scheme should have been considered in the decision to issue the tax exempt bonds, which are limited in supply, to fund the very project they opposed. Governor Carney must stop this project in its tracks, and direct the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to deny Bioenergy DevCo its pollution permits.”

Florida Legislature Passes Extreme Energy Preemption Bills

Categories

Climate and Energy

Tallahassee, FL — Yesterday, the Florida State Senate voted to pass a suite of energy preemption legislation that has been making its way through the legislature. The bills, SB 1128/HB 919 and SB 856/HB 839, now head to Governor DeSantis’ desk for his signature. If signed into law, the suite of bills would preempt any local government action to restrict or prohibit sources of energy production, thus hampering local governments’ abilities to move off fossil fuels. 

Part of a nationwide push by the oil and gas industry to preempt local government initiatives to move off fossil fuels, Florida’s bills are the most stringent to move ahead in any of the fourteen states with similar legislation under consideration. Another dangerous bill making its way through the legislature is SB 896/HB 539, which would redefine Florida’s clean energy to include false solutions like “renewable natural gas,” ensuring fossil fuel industry entrenchment for years to come. The bill would also prevent communities from being able to decide if and where to site utility-scale solar installations. 

In response, Food & Water Watch Florida Senior Organizer Brooke Errett issued the following statement:

“The Florida legislature is drilling the nail into their own coffin. Instead of following the lead of our local legislators who have forged boldly ahead with clean energy resolutions that respond to constituent demands, our state legislators are carrying water for industry interests. Florida will suffer from these energy preemption bills today and in the future, as we try to fight climate change’s worst impacts only to find our toolboxes emptied. Governor DeSantis pledged to fight for Florida’s environment and ban fracking — which he has thus far failed to do. DeSantis now has the chance to rise to this historic occasion and veto these dangerous energy preemption bills, or he will be responsible for driving the final stake into the heart of Florida’s clean energy future.”

###

(Note: For additional background, read this op-ed by Food & Water Watch Senior Florida organizer Brooke Errett)

Well-Fed

REPORT - April 2021

What You’ll Learn From This Report

  • 1: A Broken Food System
    • Deciding what and how to farm should be left to farmers, not corporations
  • 2: From Extractive To Regenerative Food Systems
    • The farmers at the forefront of this movement
  • 3: Rebuilding Regional Food Hubs
    • Rebuilding regional food hubs connects farmers and eaters, and reduces the monopoly corporate agribusiness has on the food system.
  • 4: Policy Recommendations: A Roadmap To A Just Transition
    • Here are our policy recommendations on how to pivot to this much-needed systemic change.
  • 5: Conclusion
    • We can build regenerative food systems

Part 1:

Our Food System Is Broken

Deciding what and how to farm should be left to farmers, not corporations.

Corporate monopolies control food production.

Today’s supermarkets seem like the pinnacle of choice and variety. But consumers might be surprised to learn that this choice is really a façade, and that a few companies dominate the market in each food category. Your steak? Just four companies slaughter 83 percent of all U.S. cattle (see Figure 1).1 Your flour? It likely comes from Ardent Mills or ADM Milling, which together mill half of all U.S. wheat.2 And then there are companies that profit from value-added processing of raw ingredients. The jars of Gerber, boxes of Cheerios and Lean Cuisine, and tins of Fancy Feast in your shopping cart are all Nestlé-owned brands.3 Agribusinesses make consumers feel like they have ample choices, while forcing them to buy much of their food from just a handful of corporations.

Livestock Farmers Sell into Highly Concentrated Markets

Market share of top four processing firms

Source Data: USDA AMS 20184

Even supermarkets themselves have gobbled up competitors and secured huge market shares. Four companies — Walmart, Kroger, Costco and Ahold Delhaizea — control 65 percent of the grocery market.5 This stranglehold raises food prices and wipes out local grocery stores, reducing food access in both rural and urban communities (see Figure 2).6

Supersizing the Supermarket: National Market Share

Source Data: CBRE 20197

Less competition among agribusinesses means higher prices and fewer choices for consumers. But for farmers and the rural communities they support, it is a fight to survive.

Corporate agribusinesses gut rural America.

Market consolidation has wiped out competition, giving farmers fewer choices when they buy seed and feed and when they bring products to market (see Figure 3 on page 3). As a result, they face both rising costs and stagnating income.8 In fact, today’s median farm income is negative $1,840; many farms manage to stay afloat through off-farm income.9

Ironically, while farmers have little power in our industrial food system, they often receive much of the blame for that broken system. Misguided policymakers and others deride farmers for overproduction, for receiving subsidies, or for participating in contract farming when all of these are symptoms of the underlying dysfunction in the food system.

Market Share Of Top Four Seed Firms

All Source Data: ETC Group 201810

Market Share Of Top Four Agrochemical Firms

All Source Data: ETC Group 201810

Corporate consolidation also hurts rural communities. Local slaughterhouses and flour mills have shuttered as processing facilities became fewer and larger. Revenue that once circulated in rural communities and built thriving main streets is now funneled to Wall Street and far-away corporate headquarters.11

Corporate agriculture perpetuates exploitation and racism.

Our farming system rests on stolen land, stolen labor and stolen resources, including forced removal of Indigenous peoples, the enslavement of African Americans and the sharecropping model. These systems persist today in vertically-integrated livestock systems that lock farmers into abusive contracts and high debt, the patenting of Indigenous seed varieties, the freezing-out of farmers of color from federal loans and subsidies, and the exploitation of low-wage labor in dangerous conditions in our nation’s produce fields and slaughterhouses.12

Industrial agriculture is extractive.

The industrial farming system focuses on squeezing out as much profit as possible, with little regard for long-term environmental ecological or public health impacts. Planting monocultures year-after-year can impair soil health.13 So does spraying synthetic pesticides. Intensive practices also harm bees and other pollinators and microorganisms that make up healthy ecosystems.14

Factory Hog Farm Counties Produce as Much Waste as Metropolitan Areas

Source Data: Food & Water Watch analysis of USDA 2017 Census of Agriculture15
Industrial agriculture pollutes the environment and fuels climate change.

Factory farms confine thousands of animals in inhumane, unsanitary conditions. They produce more manure waste than can be sustainably disposed and increase the risk of diseases jumping from livestock to humans (See Figure 4).16 In many parts of the country, factory farms are concentrated around communities of color and low- income communities, making them environmental justice catastrophes.17

Rural communities bear the brunt of pollution from industrial farming, from pesticide exposure to toxic emissions from factory farms.18 Yet these impacts reach far beyond the farm; nutrient runoff from manure and pesticide application pollutes waterways, contributing to fish kills and aquatic “dead zones” from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.19 Pesticide residue is found on all food types of food, from organic produce that was never sprayed with pesticides to human breast milk.20

Agriculture is also one of the largest human sources of climate change; across the entire production chain, it contributes 19 to 29 percent of all human-sourced emissions. Overproduction of commodities and meat, food waste, growing crops for fuel, and use of synthetic fertilizers produced from fossil fuels all enlarge this footprint.21

Our food production chain is not resilient.

Decades of unchecked corporate consolidation has worn away our food system’s resilience.22 For instance, large, centralized processing facilities replaced the regional slaughterhouses and dairy processors that once dotted the rural landscape, leaving farmers with fewer options for marketing their products.23 When some of these large facilities closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, many farmers were left with no choice but to euthanize livestock or dump milk — gut-wrenching scenarios that would not have been as widespread if we still had networks of smaller facilities serving local markets.24

Our food system does a poor job of feeding people.

Even after accounting for commodities grown to feed livestock and produce energy, the U.S. still has roughly 4,000 calories of nutrients available per day per capita.25 Yet nearly one in seven children live in food-insecure households.26

Much of what goes into deciding what and how to farm is shaped by agribusiness, not farmers. Corporations set farm markets and policy.27 We need to join farmers and food chain workers to break Big Ag’s stranglehold and rebuild our food systems so they work for everyone. It can be difficult to imagine what alternatives to the industrial system might look like. We can start by learning from those at forefront of this movement, who are building healthy farmland and rural communities through regenerative agriculture.

Part 2:

From Extractive to Regenerative Food Systems

The farmers at the forefront of this movement

Regenerative agriculture is generating a lot of buzz today, with everyone from food activists to big agribusinesses floating the term. But with no unifying definition, the term “regenerative” can take on different meanings.28 So let’s start by defining what we mean by “regenerative food systems.”

Regenerative food systems are those that invest in the long-term health and fertility of farmland; build soil and prioritize soil health; and rely on natural rather than synthetic inputs. They embody these principles along each step of the food supply chain — investing in local economies; providing farmers and food chain workers with living wages and safe working conditions; and addressing racial and economic injustice. The regenerative movement shares roots with organic farming, a reaction against the environmental degradation caused by industrial farming. Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversees the National Organic Program, creating standards for the organic label and certifying compliance. Regenerative farming, on the other hand, has no federal standards or label any farmer or food company can market their products as regenerative.

Some regenerative advocates market it as a new concept that goes beyond the limits of organic agriculture.29 This is a disservice to the organic community and its decades of work in strengthening the integrity of the organic label and increasing federal funding for organic research and adoption. It also erases centuries of contributions from indigenous and other farmers of color who farmed regeneratively long before the term emerged.30

In this piece, we use the term “regenerative” as an umbrella term for sustainable farming systems. Some of the farms featured are certified organic whereas others have not sought certification. What unites them is a holistic method of farming that seeks to regenerate, rather than extract, natural resources.

Part 3:

Regional Food Hubs

Rebuilding regional food hubs connects farmers and eaters, and reduces the monopoly corporate agribusiness has on the food system.

Farms need access to open, competitive markets to thrive. However, agribusiness consolidation has all but wiped out the nation’s smaller-scale slaughterhouses, grain mills and mom-and-pop grocery stores,81 making it increasingly difficult to imagine a food system that is not dependent on highly consolidated supply chains. The truth is, agri- businesses built the industrial food system over a few decades; we can similarly rebuild this broken system to ensure justice for all farmers, food chain workers and consumers.

Building just, regenerative food systems will not happen overnight. It requires significant public investment and political will. Direct sales and farmers markets are important but insufficient; we must also connect local farms to the grocery stores and restaurants where consumers spend the majority of their food dollars.82 Regional food
hubs can play a vital role, aiding smaller farms with distribution and marketing of their products so they can reach new markets that would otherwise be difficult to enter on their own.83

Common Grain Alliance

How Food Hubs Work

The idea for Common Grain Alliance98 emerged in the winter of 2018, as a group of friends were baking bread together and discussing how difficult it is to find local grain. “If you go to the Shenandoah Valley, you see all this grain infrastructure, silos, row crops,” says founder Heather Coiner.

“The landscape suggests that grains should be growing here, so how come we can’t find any?”

SCROLL SIDEWAYS TO NAVIGATE

Photo: Common Grain Alliance members. Photo credit: Beth Ferguson
Common Grain Alliance

Heather, who owns Little Hat Creek Farm and bakery, started by looking for growers who produced and processed grain in the mid-Atlantic. “We feel strongly that grain is a missing part of the local food table and we want to change that in this area,” she says. In just a couple of years, Common Grain Alliance grew to include over 60 members, connecting wheat growers and millers to local restaurants, brewers and distillers.

Common Grain Alliance’s mission is to revitalize the mid-Atlantic’s grain economy. “We’re trying to tap into the historical infrastructure and skills that got pushed aside by industrial agriculture in the last half of the 20th century,” says Heather. For example, some millers have restored existing stone mills while incorporating modern equipment to take advantage of recent advances in grain milling.

Photo: Murphy & Rude Malting Co. in Charlottesville, Virginia, which is part of the Common Grain Alliance. Photo Credit: Glenn Stone
Common Grain Alliance

Common Grain Alliance has received some federal funding to grow its network, including a grant through a USDA program called SARE (Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education). But while some Farm Bill programs directly target small-scale growers, Heather says that non-commodity crops are still largely off the radar of most academics and policy experts. “Even with this support, the vibe I get is, this is a fun idea but you are not going to feed millions of people.” Heather hopes that as the Common Grain Alliance grows, so will the political will of its growers and buyers who want grain that is transparently sourced, traceable and grown without chemicals.

Photo: Murphy & Rude Malting Co. in Charlottesville, Virginia, which is part of the Common Grain Alliance. Photo Credit: Glenn Stone
Common Grain Alliance

In fact, the pandemic showed the importance of local food chains like those created by Common Grain Alliance. “One thing the pandemic laid bare is the flaws in the global food supply chain. Americans saw empty grocery store shelves — that’s not something most people have seen in their lifetimes. And your local farmers are like, we have grain, we have vegetables… Our supply chain isn’t interrupted because it’s shorter.” Heather is optimistic that for some people, the trends that led people to seek out local food and support nearby farms might endure past the pandemic. “It is worth going out of your way to invest in your local food producers, because when crisis hits, they’re the ones that are still going to have food.”

Photo: Murphy & Rude Malting Co. in Charlottesville, Virginia, which is part of the Common Grain Alliance. Photo Credit: Glenn Stone

Small farms often lack the volume and consistency of products to sell directly to a retailer or foodservice institution. Larger institutions prefer to purchase from a single entity rather than several small farms. A food hub can help bridge this divide by connecting several smaller farms with regional buyers. Some food hubs even invest in infrastructure farmers need to bring products to market, like warehouses where food is stored, packed and labeled. What distinguishes food hubs from other local distributors is that they are formed with the goal of improving the economic, social and environmental health of their communities. As such, they are committed to providing farmers with fair prices and longstanding relationships rather than undercutting them in search of the cheapest alternative.84

There are many current efforts to revitalize local food systems through the food hub model. Public investment and incentives can help create similar food hubs across the country that are unique to each region’s geography and food culture.

Part 4:

A Roadmap For a Just Transition

Here are our policy recommendations on how to pivot to this much-needed systemic change.

Regenerative and organic farming are economically viable and already working to feed people, invest in local communities and create jobs. But federal farm policy is not designed to serve “alternative” or smaller-scale farming systems. Powerful agribusinesses have spent billions of dollars influencing lawmakers and regulators to serve their economic interests.126 But we can fight back against corporate control and reshape farm policy to achieve social and economic justice.

Enact Federal Legislation

Stop the growth of factory farms.

A handful of state legislatures have introduced factory farm moratoriums in recent years; the moment is growing. But to enact systemic change, we need a national moratorium on all new and expanding factory farms.

Models for federal legislation include the Farm System Reform Act (FSRA),127 introduced by Senator Cory Booker and Representative Ro Khanna. The FSRA would immediately ban all new large factory farms and the expansion of existing ones, and would phase out existing large factory farms by 2040.

Moreover, the FSRA would invest in a “just transition” by creating a $10 billion buy-out program for factory farm operators to pay off debt (an obstacle for farmers wishing to exit contract growing) or transition to more sustainable systems, such as pasture-based livestock or specialty crops. Notably, this funding would only be available to farmers for projects on land they own which ensures that corporate giants that created the problem do not pocket the funds.

Send a note to your Congressperson asking them to support the Farm System Reform Act today!

Stop further consolidation in the food industry.

The COVID-19 pandemic makes hitting the pause button on mega-mergers all the more critical, to ensure that agribusinesses do not use the pandemic recovery to buy out struggling competitors and further entrench market power.

Federal lawmakers are targeting agribusiness consolidation. This includes Senator Cory Booker and Representative Marc Pocan’s Food and Agribusiness Merger Moratorium and Antitrust Review Act.128 The legislation would enact a moratorium on all agribusiness and grocery mega-mergers and create a commission to recommend steps to strengthen antitrust and merger rules and enforcement. The moratorium would be in place until Congress passes comprehensive legislation to address market consolidation in the agribusiness sector.

End discrimination within USDA programs and support farmers of color.

Black farmers faced disproportionately higher rates of farmland loss throughout the 20th and early 21st centuries. This was accelerated by systemic racism within federal agencies like USDA.129

Legislation like the Justice for Black Farmers Act,130 introduced by Senators Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand, seeks to end discrimination by establishing an independent civil rights board to review reports of and appeals to civil rights complaints filed against USDA. It would also create a number of initiatives to address Black farmer land loss, including creating a land trust to provide the next generation of Black farmers with land and resources to farm.

Overhaul the Federal Farm Safety Net

The current farm safety net is just a Band-Aid on a broken system. Crop insurance provides some economic relief to farmers, but does not address overproduction, a key contributor to price slumps. And farmers are not incentivized to implement sustainable practices that make land more resilient to future disasters in a changing climate.

Reinstate federal supply management for commodities.

The first Farm Bill enacted a federal supply management program, saving countless farmers from bankruptcy during the Dust Bowl.131 The program took marginal farmland out of production and provided farmers with living wages — until it was systematically dismantled by Big Ag.132

USDA used to set a price floor for grains that achieved parity, an income that both covers the cost of production while providing farmers with a living wage. USDA provided farmers loans based on this price floor, which farmers repaid after harvest. In years when market prices dropped below the price floor, USDA collected the harvest as collateral, essentially buying surplus grains from the market for the federal grain reserve. Then when drought or other disasters reduced crop yield, USDA sold grains from the federal reserve into the market,133 smoothing out market volatility and ensuring a steady supply of grain to the benefit of both farmers and consumers.

Remarkably, supply management can operate at virtually no budgetary cost to taxpayers.134 We can reinstate supply management for grain crops and extend it to dairy, if our elected officials stand up to the corporate agribusinesses greedy for artificially-cheap commodities.

Require farmers to implement organic practices in order to participate in safety net programs.

This would provide a huge incentive for farmers to shift from ecologically-depleting monocultures to ones that incorporate cover crops, crop rotation and no-till farming. Safety net programs should also promote crop and livestock systems that are appropriate and sustainable for each region. In turn, organic practices would build soil and help make farmland more resilient to future climate change events, reducing reliance on disaster insurance.

Expand coverage for more crops that directly feed people.

Feed corn, soybeans and cotton make up a huge chunk of acreage enrolled in federal crop insurance programs,135
while many fruits, vegetables and nuts are not eligible under many programs.136 Expanding safety net coverage to more specialty crops supports farmers in shifting to new production systems and diversifying their operations.

These crucial changes will encourage organic practices and stop propping up factory farms with taxpayer-subsidized feed. However, we must also correct past failures of safety net programs to include historically underserved farmers, including farmers of color, female and beginning farmers.137

Redirect Public Funding To Support Organic And Regenerative Agriculture

Big Ag has perfected the art of funneling public dollars into maintaining industrial agriculture’s status quo.
Money earmarked for conservation programs flows to factory farms, and agribusinesses court public universities to develop patented seeds.138 It is time to end public research for private gain and instead invest in building a food system that works for every farmer, food chain worker and consumer.

Increase funding for regenerative practices.

USDA spends billions of dollars each year on agricultural research, yet only a small slice of this goes into regenerative systems.139 Federally funded research should prioritize practices that reduce chemical inputs, build soil and help farmers adapt to a changing climate. Similarly, state legislatures should follow the example of states like Maryland and California and earmark funding for regenerative practices.140

Farmers must also have access to information on regenerative practices. State extension services have long played vital roles in sharing new practices with farmers. They can be important facilitators in connecting farmers with the growing body of research on climate-friendly practices.141 We should also provide financial and technical support to help farmers — especially those historically under-served — transition to USDA Organic certified operations.

Develop climate-resilient seeds and livestock breeds and make them publicly-available.

Land-grant universities have long been incubators of new farming practices and seed varieties that were once shared widely with farmers, with each public dollar invested paying out $10 in benefits.142 But when public funding lagged, federal policies increasingly encouraged private corporations to partner with universities. Today, agribusinesses develop new seeds at public universities which they then patent. This raises seed costs and prevents farmers from seed-saving.143 Corporations are more interested in developing seeds that lock farmers into costly, poisonous pesticides than those that adapt to climate change.

Federal dollars should instead fund research into non-GMO, patent-free seeds and livestock breeds through traditional breeding methods. We must increase funding for land-grant universities and discourage so-called public-private partnerships. Seeds should be developed to respond to specific geographical conditions and to be climate-resilient. State extension services can help distribute innovative seeds and breeds to farmers and encourage farmers to save seed in order to break free from buying expensive patented seeds year after year.

Reject false solutions and close “conservation” loopholes that fund factory farms.

Money from conservation programs flows to false solutions, such as anaerobic digesters, which generate factory farm gas from manure and other waste.144 Factory farm gas is a dirty, polluting energy. 145 Digesters built with taxpayer money simply prop up factory farms and entrench fossil fuel infrastructure. Instead, we should encourage farmers to shift to smaller, integrated crop-and-livestock systems where they can sustainably recycle manure as crop fertilizer.

Another false solution peddled by corporate interests are carbon pricing schemes for farmers. Carbon pricing — or “pay-to-pollute” schemes — allow polluting industries to avoid emissions reduction by purchasing “offsets” from another source, such as a farmer who sequesters carbon in her soil. But pollution trading doesn’t meaningfully reduce carbon emissions and instead allows companies to pay to pollute.146 The practice is unfair to farmers who have already been practicing climate-friendly agriculture and are unable to claim new offsets. Instead, we must leverage existing conservation programs to implement sustainable practices and tie their adoption to safety net participation, while investing in a rapid transition to a 100 percent clean energy economy.

Part 5:

Conclusion:

We Can Build Regenerative Food Systems

This is a window into what regenerative farming systems and food hubs in the United States can look like. It is meant to start a conversation, not offer a prescription, as there is no “one-size-fits-all” model for regenerative farming. We can build new farming and food systems that work for everyone if we embrace a few core principles:

Communities of color are leaders — not afterthoughts — in rebuilding food systems.

Our great-grandparents modeled many of the farming systems and practices we strive for today, with diverse farms serving local markets. But we must not romanticize the past; our farm systems have largely benefitted white male farmers with the most capital. We need to ensure that everyone has a seat at the table, and work alongside communities of color that have been in this fight for generations. There is no food justice without racial justice.

Everyone must be able to afford to participate.

Food hubs that provide farmers and food chain workers with living wages should be accessible to everyone. In the short term, we must increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and extend benefits to farmers markets, co-ops and online purchasing. We must also reform labor laws to raise the minimum wage, eliminate wage theft and provide universal paid sick and family leave, so that everyone can afford healthy food.

Reform will bring choice, variety and availability.

Reforming the way we produce animal products will impact cost and availability. We can embrace a “less-is-better” approach, choosing high-quality meat, dairy and eggs produced sustainably while increasing our consumption of whole produce and grains.

Food policies must promote food sovereignty at home and abroad.

This means empowering communities to feed themselves with fresh, local, healthy food. We must also reorient our trade policies so they do not undermine the ability of farmers and rural communities in the developing world to feed themselves.147

Perhaps the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will be this generation’s “Dust Bowl” that forces a systemic overhaul. Let’s seize the moment and pressure our leaders to enact policies and make investments in food systems that work for all farmers, food chain workers and consumers.

Send a note to your Congressperson asking them to support the Farm System Reform Act today!

Endnotes
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  141. Ibid at 17.
  142. Fuglie, Keith O. and Paul W. Heisey. USDA ERS. “Economic returns to public agricultural research.” Economic Brief No.10. September 2007 at 3.
  143. FWW (2012) at 1 and 12.
  144. FWW analysis of EQIP payments, using data received from the Environmental Working Group; Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI). “Biogas: Converting Waste to Energy.” October 2017 at 1; U.S. EPA. “How does AD work?” Accessed July 2020. Available at https://www.epa.gov/ anaerobic-digestion/basic-information-about-anaerobic- digestion-ad.
  145. Kuo, Jeff. California State University, Fullerton. “Air Quality Issues Related to Using Biogas from Anaerobic Digestion of Food Waste.” Prepared for California Energy Commission. CEC-500-2015-037. March 2015 at 2, 9 and 10.
  146. FWW. “The truth about offsets.” May 2013 at 1; Ritter, Tara and Jordan Treakle. Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) and National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC). January 2020 at 1 to 2.
  147. Gonzalez (2011) at 755 to 759; Frison, Emile A. Interna- tional Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (iPES FOOD). “From Uniformity to Diversity: A Paradigm Shift from Industrial Agriculture to Diversified Agroecological Systems.” June 2016 at 24 to 26.

1. Wenonah Hauter

Wenonah Hauter

Founder & Executive Director

Wenonah Hauter is the founder and executive director of Food & Water Watch and Food & Water Action Fund. Wenonah has three decades of experience campaigning and writing on food, water, energy and environmental issues. She has trained and mentored hundreds of organizers and activists across the country and worked at the national, state and local levels to develop policy positions and legislative and field strategies to secure real wins for communities and the environment.

Wenonah holds an M.S. degree in Applied Anthropology from the University of Maryland and a Bachelor of Science in Sociology from James Madison University.

Our Right To Clean, Affordable Water

Categories

Clean Water

Corporations are seeking to control and restrict our increasingly scarce and polluted water supplies. But we must treat water like the priceless resource it is — and as a human right.

Water is essential for life, but increasingly, it is viewed as a source of windfall profits. This is unacceptable. Access to clean water should not be based on who can pay the most.

Food & Water Watch opposes the commodification and privatization of water in all forms. We support managing water supplies as a public trust, improving our public water systems, and making water service safe and affordable for all.

A monthly donation helps us scale up the fight to keep corporations out of our public water supplies.

Supporting the WATER Act

Categories

Clean Water

Making Things Happen On A National Level

Rather than letting corporations exploit our water problems for profit, we believe our federal government should provide the support our water systems need so that everyone in the United States can have access to locally managed, affordable, safe, and clean drinking water services. Our research supports this path forward

On a per capita basis, federal funding has declined 82% since its peak. In 1977, the federal government spent $76.27 per person (in 2014 dollars) on our water services, but by 2014 that support had fallen to $13.68 per person. 

That’s why we support the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act.

This legislation will provide a long-term, comprehensive solution to bridge the current water-funding gap by taxing offshore corporate profits in the year they are generated. If passed, the WATER Act will secure a significant portion of what we need to protect our drinking water and create up to 945,000 jobs. With many systems advancing in age (some more than 100 years old), we need this funding more than ever. We must renew our commitment to public water, and make sure everyone has access to affordable water service.

We Fight Locally, Too

In addition to fighting for important federal legislation to protect our water, we also organize people in towns across the country to fight back when a corporation is plotting a takeover of municipal water services.

For instance, in a stunning win for public water, voters in Edison, New Jersey voted 84 percent to 16 percent in favor of bringing their sewer system and part of their drinking water system under public control. This makes the town the third municipality in the country to effectively ban water privatization and the first to do so through a citizen-initiated referendum.

We must manage our water as a common resource, not a profit center, and we must provide tap water as public service, not a business.

Urge your members of Congress to support the WATER Act!

Bottling Profits

Categories

Clean Water

Bottled water means massive corporate profits — and less support for our public water. Multinational corporations like Nestlé Waters, PepsiCo, and Coca-Cola sell single-use plastic bottles – waste that ends up in landfills and ultimately, litters our oceans – for thousands of times what it costs to get that water from the tap. While they market bottled water as a beverage of convenience, it’s coming at the expense of our public water infrastructure — which has provided affordable and convenient access to water for over a hundred years.

We shouldn’t have to rely on corporations like Nestlé for this life-giving resource.

Water should be locally-managed by accountable authorities, like democratically-elected local governments. We oppose needlessly expensive bottled water in favor of affordable, safe tap water service.

Support the WATER Act to redirect our public funds toward protecting safe, affordable water for all.

Factory Farms Make Us Sick

Categories

Food System

Factory farms contribute to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Every single day, factory farms feed animals routine, low doses of antibiotics to prevent disease in filthy, crowded living conditions. In fact, 80% of the antibiotics used in the U.S. are for agricultural uses.

Overuse of antibiotics creates conditions that fuel the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. When these antibiotic-resistant bacteria spread to humans through our food supply, via animal to human transfer on farms, or through contaminated waste they can cause serious or even deadly antibiotic-resistant infections in people. Over two million Americans suffer from an antibiotic-resistant infection every year, and 23,000 people die. The FDA has known about the misuse of antibiotics since the 1970s but has not required factory farms to stop this dangerous practice.

The Farm System Reform Act will replace factory farms with more sustainable operations. Send a note to Congress to support it.

A Safe, Sustainable Food System

Categories

Food System

Factory farms pollute the environment and our drinking water, ravage rural communities, and harm the welfare of animals—while increasing corporate control over our food.

Factory farming is an unsustainable method of raising food animals that concentrates large numbers of animals into confined spaces. Factory farms are not compatible with a safe and wholesome food supply. It’s time to ban them.

The Farm System Reform Act bans factory farms and helps them transition to smaller, environmentally sustainable operations. Message your member of Congress to support it.

Waste From Factory Farms: An Environmental and Public Health Crisis

For several decades, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state governments have failed to regulate the environmental impacts of factory farms. When factory farms operate virtually unregulated the environment and nearby rural communities pay the price. The vast quantities of manure from factory farms can — and do — make their way into the local environment where they pollute air and water. Several municipal water systems in the midwest must regularly implement costly clean up techniques to remove factory farm pollution from the water supply in order to avoid public health disasters.

Likewise, pollution from factory farms runs off into streams that feed into our major waterways like the Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes and Gulf of Mexico — contributing to algal blooms and dead zones that impact drinking water supplies, aquatic ecosystems, recreation and people’s livelihoods.

Small, diversified farms that raise animals alongside other crops have always used manure as fertilizer without polluting water. The difference with factory farms is scale. They produce so much waste in one place that it must be applied to land in quantities that exceed the soil’s ability to absorb it as fertilizer.

We Must Push For Sustainable Food Production

Small- and medium-sized independent farms are able to meet the demand to feed the population, but that won’t remain the case if mega-corporations are allowed to keep stomping them out of existence. See our visionary report, “Well-Fed: A Roadmap To A Sustainable Food System That Works For All.”

A message to your member of Congress supporting the Farm System Reform Act can make a difference.

Workers Deserve Safe Conditions

Categories

Food System

Whether it’s pushing to increase line speeds in chicken processing facilities to dizzying speeds or trying to get a “liability shield” included in coronavirus relief bills to avoid accountability for pushing sick workers to come to work, corporations spare no expense to protect their bottom line.

Factory farms are unhealthy and stressful work environments. Workers are subjected to increased exposure to air pollutants, including particulate matter carrying mold, animal dander and pathogens. Exposure to these pollutants can lead to respiratory illness. An estimated one-quarter of hog confinement workers suffer from chronic bronchitis.

They are also astonishingly unsafe workplaces. In 2016, 6 out of every 100 workers in the animal production industry reported a work-related injury or illness. Tyson meatpacking plants reported on average one amputation per month in the first nine months of 2015. Across the county, regulations to prevent workplace injuries have not kept pace with the rapid growth of factory farms. Idaho had two deaths in 2016 caused by workers falling into dairy manure ponds. In both cases, federal regulators fined the dairies just $5,000

This is all in the name of profits, and it simply isn’t acceptable.

Food & Water Watch organizes people to fight this reckless disregard for the safety of workers in the food system. We hold corporations accountable and demand public agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture do the jobs they were instituted to do — protect the people.

Tell the USDA it’s not safe to increase line speeds in meat packing plants!

Stopping The Privatization Of A Public Right

Categories

Clean Water

Corporate Control of Water Systems

Water corporations, like Veolia or Suez, are seeking to profit off of managing local systems that provide our drinking water and sewer services. Wall Street investors are working with these companies to take advantage of cash-strapped local governments and entice them into selling or leasing off their water assets.

But this is a recipe for disaster. Profits should not be the priority when it comes to providing water services to people, but that’s exactly what happens when private companies take over local systems.

Using Our Tax Dollars to Support Public Water Systems

Rather than letting corporations exploit our water problems for profit, we believe our federal government should provide the support our water systems need so that everyone in the United States can have access to locally-managed, affordable, safe and clean drinking water service. 

On a per capita basis, federal funding has declined 82% since its peak. In 1977, the federal government spent $76.27 per person (in 2014 dollars) on our water services, but by 2014 that support had fallen to $13.68 per person. 

That’s why we support the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act.

This legislation will provide a long-term, comprehensive solution to bridge the current water-funding gap by taxing offshore corporate profits in the year they are generated. If passed, the WATER Act will secure a significant portion of what we need to protect our drinking water and create up to 945,000 jobs. With many systems advancing in age (some more than 100 years old), we need this funding more than ever. We must renew our commitment to public water, and make sure everyone has access to affordable water service.

We must manage our water as a common resource, not a profit center, and we must provide tap water as public service, not a business.

The WATER Act is the key to a future where safe water is available to all of us. Sign on to show your support!

GMOs Plant Seeds For Corporate Control

Categories

Food System

Genetically modified foods — GMOs — are another tool industrial agriculture uses to control our food system. GMOs aren’t about feeding the world, they’re about corporate profits.

The majority of U.S. corn and soy are GMOs. These products mostly provide cheap fuel for factory farms and become processed junk food. They also devastate the environment, leaving vast monocultures in their wake and leaving farmers hooked on dangerous herbicides like Roundup.

Be a part of the movement to save independent farms and protect our environment.

Five Things Monsanto (Bayer) Doesn’t Want You To Know About GMOs

  • GMOs increase corporate control of our food
    Increasingly, the food industry is dominated by a handful of powerful corporations that control nearly every aspect of how our food is produced. Monsanto, for example, now owns a staggering number of seed companies that were once its competitors. For people who buy groceries, it’s distressing to realize that the dozens of brands in the grocery store are mostly owned by a few parent companies. When a company has a virtual monopoly on a whole aisle of the grocery store or a set of agricultural products, they make decisions based on what’s best for their profits, not what’s best for their customers or the planet.

    This consolidation of control is easy to see in the corporations that create GMOs. Biotech companies like Monsanto, Dow, Dupont and Syngenta create not only GMO seeds, but an entire system of food production. If there’s profit to be made in selling one product farmers need to buy, there’s far more profit to be made from creating a system of products designed to work together; for example, linking seeds with specific chemicals that these companies also sell, like Monsanto soybeans that are engineered to withstand Roundup, the weed killer produced by Monsanto. If a farmer plants those soybeans, they’re going to buy Roundup as well.

    Nor is it easy for farmers to avoid planting GMOs. In our increasingly consolidated food industry, farmers have fewer and fewer options, and the advice they hear at every turn is “go GMO.” This happens not just in the United States, but increasingly around the world as well.
  • GMOs don’t live up to the hype
    GMOs often don’t even do what they’re supposed to do. You’ve probably heard that “we need GMOs in order to feed the world,” on the presumption that only GMO crops have a high enough yield to keep up with a growing population. The trouble is, that simply isn’t true. Studies on certain GMO crops have found little to no yield improvements, and long-term studies of organic farming show that organic can match conventional agriculture’s yields.

    In other cases, biotech companies claim that their GMOs have nutritional benefits, or will solve some other pending crises. Take “golden rice,” which is supposed to cure vitamin A deficiency in the developing world. Unfortunately, it doesn’t: the beta-carotene in golden rice can’t be absorbed by the body unless combined with certain fats and oils, which is not helpful for people living in poverty with a limited diet. Plenty of non-GMO foods, like carrots and sweet potatoes, are rich in vitamin A and don’t require millions of dollars to produce and grow. Golden rice makes for good PR, but it won’t solve the world’s nutritional problems.

    Other times, GMO crops serve no practical purpose at all – at least for the people who eat them. Do we really need science to stop apples from turning brown when we cut them? Non-browning GMO apples are purely a marketing scheme, a way to make produce look fresher than it actually is and to make life easier for processors who want to sell cut-up apples to fast food chains.
  • More GMOs means more chemical use
    Many GMO crops are specifically engineered to resist certain weed killers, such as the potentially carcinogenic Roundup, so planting GMOs means that farmers end up using the associated chemicals, and using them in more ways, when they use GMO crops. Those chemicals end up in the environment and threaten the health of farmers and farmworkers, as well as the communities they live in. The system for making sure these chemicals don’t end up in our food is extremely weak.

    What’s even worse is that, because of increased chemical use, the pests are catching up. Over time, weeds and insects evolve a resistance to the chemicals we use against them. The more we use, the faster they adapt. Many common herbicides are no longer effective on our farms, which leaves biotech companies to encourage the use of harsher chemicals, which the pests will eventually adapt to… leading to an arms race of dangerous chemicals where people and the environment will inevitably be the losers.
  • GMOs and organics can’t coexist
    Trying to keep a farm GMO-free is harder than you might think. Some GMOs don’t stay put where they’re planted. It’s quite common for them to contaminate neighboring farms, or even farms many miles away when pollen from GMO crops drifts on the wind. Seed supplies can be contaminated with GMOs, too. In 2013, an Oregon farmer found GMO wheat in his field – an unapproved crop that hasn’t been field tested since 2005. This is a serious problem for organic farmers, who are not allowed to use GMOs.
  • The research on GMOs is biased
    There is a great deal of research out there about the safety and effects of GMOs – but far too much of it is conducted, funded or otherwise influenced by the biotech industry. Disturbingly, this includes research done at public universities. When GMO advocates claim that there’s a “scientific consensus” about GMOs, or that leading scientific organizations are on their side, they’re often cherry-picking points from reports that cast the debate in a more nuanced light. We need more truly independent long-term safety research into the effects of GMOs on our health and the environment.

    There are plenty of good reasons to be concerned about GMOs. But for consumers who are concerned, it’s not always clear in the marketplace where these crops end up – and biotech and food companies are fighting tooth and nail to stop new requirements that GMO foods be labeled.

Be a part of the movement to prioritize independent, sustainable farms.