California Rejects Petition to Drop Factory Farm Gas From Energy Credit System

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Food SystemClimate and Energy

For Immediate Release

Sacramento, CA — Executive Officer of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) Richard Corey unilaterally rejected a petition request from a coalition of environmental justice, animal protection, and community groups to immediately initiate a rulemaking to eliminate credits for factory farm gas from one of California’s premier climate programs, the Low Carbon Fuel Standard. The decision ignores ample evidence that the lucrative credit system is dramatically overstating the climate benefit of using methane sourced from factory farms as a transportation fuel, and illegally disregards the disproportionate environmental and health impacts that dairy digesters inflict on low-income communities and communities of color.

Advocates suggest that instead of investing millions in a credit system that incentivizes factory farm expansion and the use of more polluting manure management practices, California should instead use its climate dollars to invest in renewable energy solutions that cut pollution in environmental justice communities. 

Members of the coalition released the following statements:

“Governor Newsom and CARB have rejected this opportunity to stop California’s flagship climate program from incentivizing and entrenching the factory farm industry and the hosts of harms that come along with it. CARB’s decision to keep factory farm gas in the Low Carbon Fuel Standard and kick the can down the road ensures that the program will remain fundamentally compromised and California will fall further behind its climate goals.” said Food & Water Watch Staff Attorney Tyler Lobdell.

“The California Air Resources Board’s decision to delay the rulemaking our petition asks for represents a failure to meet its environmental justice commitments. The continued development of factory farm gas schemes will only serve to entrench a system that illegally and disproportionately harms low-income communities and communities of color,” said Brent Newell, Senior Attorney at the Public Justice Food Project.

“Some of the largest and most polluting dairy operations in California may already be making more money from factory farm gas than they do from milk. This manure gold rush incentivizes factory farm expansion, which increases air and water pollution — not to mention increased odor and flies — in environmental justice communities, all while failing to address the impacts of climate-warming methane emissions. It’s extremely disappointing that California regulators have decided not to address with adequate urgency the significant deficiencies and injustices inherent in this particular pollution subsidy, as petitioners requested,” said Phoebe Seaton, co-executive director with Leadership Counsel. 

“Incentivizing factory farming and Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) — and rewarding the industry for the mass amounts of pollution it causes — is a dangerous position for The California Air Resources Board to take. It is vital that government agencies work toward solutions to the climate crisis — not exacerbate it,” said Cristina Stella, Managing Attorney with the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

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Contact: Jessica Gable, (202) 683-2478, [email protected]

Dangerous Hog Slaughter Self-Inspection Program Should Be Stopped, Advocates Tell Court

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Food System

National food-policy and consumer organizations filed a motion asking for a federal court to rule in a case that could have major ramifications for food safety.

The case, filed in 2020 (Center for Food Safety, et al. v. Sonny Perdue, No.4:20-cv-00256-JSW (N.D. Cal) ) concerns the implementation of the USDA’s New Swine Inspection System (NSIS), a Trump administration rule that greatly undermines the ability of federal inspectors to protect consumers from foodborne illnesses. 

In the brief to the US District Court for the Northern District of California, the Center for Food Safety, Food & Water Watch and the Humane Farming Association argue that the 2019 rules violate the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA), one of our country’s cornerstone food safety laws.

“The Trump administration implemented this outrageous self-policing initiative that hands over inspection duties to meat companies themselves — even though 48 million Americans get sick every year due to foodborne illness,” said Zach Corrigan, Senior Attorney for Food & Water Watch and lead counsel in the case. “Enough is enough. We are asking a federal court to throw out the unlawful rules the Biden administration continues to defend.”

The NSIS program relies in large part on meat company employees conducting inspections instead of government inspectors, a radical departure from long-established practice. The brief argues that this raises significant dangers to public health: for example, an examination of USDA data showed that the plants that had piloted the new system had significantly more regulatory violations for fecal and digestive matter on carcasses than traditional plants. Since the government projects widespread adoption of the NSIS rules (plants producing over 90 percent of the U.S. pork supply), these policies will greatly impact consumers.

“The powerful meat processing industry wants to turn back time to Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, but Congress required federal inspectors to ensure that meat processing is safe for the public,” said Amy van Saun, senior attorney with Center for Food Safety. “USDA’s new rules gut that assurance of safety and allow the fox to guard the henhouse.” 

“Turning over meat inspection duties to the regulated industry flies in the face of federal law and consumer safety,” said Bradley Miller, national director of the Humane Farming Association. “The Biden Administration’s refusal to reverse this Trump era rollback poses a significant danger to public health and animal welfare.”

The industry push for ‘self-regulation’ goes back decades, and in the 1990s the USDA began moving in that direction. This eventually led to the creation of a pilot program; 15 years later, government investigators found major problems, including lack of proper oversight and persistent regulatory violations. Whistleblower employees also came forward to document serious violations, and called for a halt to the program.

Despite these issues, USDA has continued to move forward with the NSIS program. As the filing documents, a Clemons Food Group plant in Coldwater, Michigan, was granted a waiver in 2017 so that it could begin to operate with these relaxed inspection rules. Despite a series of well-documented and serious problems, USDA decided to allow the plant to continue operating under the NSIS rules. 

The brief showed that employees in plants such as the one in Coldwater repeatedly could not perform newly assigned inspection tasks, such as slicing and feeling lymph nodes, that are  critical to identify animal conditions and diseases. These are tasks that are usually the responsibility of trained federal USDA inspectors. Employees in these plants also regularly missed fecal matter on carcasses, contamination that contains dangerous pathogens that can make people sick. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that 48 million people suffer from foodborne illness each year, while 128,000 people are hospitalized, and 3,000 die from it.

The motion notes the widespread opposition to the NSIS rules. The vast majority of the over 80,000 comments filed on the program — from consumer groups, animal welfare groups, and dozens of members of Congress — were critical of the proposal. 

One State’s Faulty Energy Plan Is Incentivizing Pollution Nationwide — Biden Wants To Make It The National Model

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Food System

California’s clean energy program is leading to the unprecedented growth of factory farm biogas facilities nationwide, an emerging sector of the fossil fuel industry that creates methane gas from factory farm pollution to inject straight into pipelines alongside fracked gas.  

The nascent industry has secured allies in high places, from California Governor Gavin Newsom to President Biden, whose USDA is set to unveil a plan to expand the flawed program. 

How “Renewable Natural Gas” (RNG) Props Up Polluters

Big Ag is teaming up with the fossil fuel industry to bail out their stranded fracked gas assets. The false climate solution they misleadingly call “renewable natural gas” (RNG) incentivizes the worst practices of the polluting industries. From pipelines to gas hookups in buildings, factory farm biogas keeps gas infrastructure on the grid and provides the rationale to build more. While industry touts RNG as a way to eventually supplant fossil fuel gas, the numbers tell a different story: This is an energy source that, at full potential, with 2019 data, accounts for just one percent of total natural gas use. At a time when we need to move off fossil fuels, factory farm biogas extends a lifeline to the fracked gas industry.

Biogas also drives polluting factory farm expansion, driving increased industry pollution and hampering efforts to transition our food and agriculture system away from emissions-intensive factory farming. Factory farm air pollution includes the release of ammonia, a smog-forming particle linked to more than 12,000 premature deaths annually — anaerobic digestion has been proven to concentrate the pollutant further. Further, the waste left over from the anaerobic digestion process is often land-applied, leaching harmful pollutants like nitrates into drinking water supplies, cropland and regional ecosystems.

How California Is Driving National Biogas Growth

In 2018, there was not a single factory farm biogas facility in California’s low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) program. Today, at least 66 facilities in nine states profit off the credit system. More than 30 large-scale projects are under construction explicitly to generate pipeline gas eligible to profit from the California program. 

California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) is the nation’s largest and most lucrative carbon credit system for factory farm biogas. Intended to incentivize the production and use of low-carbon fuel sources for the transportation sector, the LCFS determines credits based on the life cycle emissions of each energy source. Under the LCFS, factory farm biogas lifecycle emissions don’t include many of the greenhouse gas emissions attributable to factory farming, resulting in calculations that the fuel has a vastly lower emissions intensity than in reality. This faulty accounting attributes a greater supposed climate benefit to factory farm biogas that can be sold as a “credit”.

In his November Methane Emissions Reduction Action Plan, Biden charged his USDA with developing a plan which we anticipate will borrow language from California’s faulty LCFS. This threatens to extend the system’s faulty accounting nationwide, broadening the market and profit horizon for the polluting industry.

How Taxpayers’ Clean Energy Money Goes to Polluters

Factory farm biogas digesters need public funding to turn a profit. Unsubsidized and outside of a credit system, factory farm biogas costs between four and six times as much as fracked gas, per energy unit generated. With LCFS credits, digester facility operators can pay off their startup costs in no time — as much as a few years to profit, despite the hefty startup price tag, which ranges from $3-10 million.

Yet public money flows freely to the false solution. In his 2022 budget, California’s Governor Newsom directed $48 million to factory farm biogas facility development, and the facilities carry President Biden’s endorsement. Federal efforts to prop up the false solution of factory farm biogas spell disaster for our climate. Seeing lucrative public investment, tax credits and pollution trading programs like California’s LCFS, private investment in the biogas scam has tripled since 2017 to $1.6 billion.

Food & Water Watch is tracking the factory farm biogas industry’s growth nationwide, and is engaged both in local fights to stop these methane refineries, in legal action to stop the buildout, and organizing to ban factory farms federally and in states across the country. In October, we worked in coalition to file a petition calling on California to remove factory farm biogas from its LCFS.

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]

Third Carbon Capture Pipeline Scam Proposed For Iowa

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Food System

For Immediate Release

Today, news broke of plans to develop a third carbon capture pipeline in Iowa. The new project, proposed by Archer Daniel Midland and Wolf Carbon Solutions, marks the third carbon capture pipeline project proposed for Iowa. The efforts have garnered widespread resistance from thousands of impacted landowners and Iowans.

In response, Food & Water Watch Senior Iowa Organizer Emma Schmit issued the following statement:

“Carbon capture and storage is an unproven and unsound technology that will do nothing to mitigate the climate crisis — it’s an industry scam and distraction from the real work of reforming our agricultural and energy sectors to combat the looming climate emergency.

We envision an Iowa where communities work together to care for our land, climate and communities alike — carbon capture has no part in that future. We will continue our sustained resistance to these corporate fat cats looking to profit at our peril. We urge our state legislators to introduce legislation this session to put an end to this destructive profiteering, and keep carbon capture out of Iowa. It’s time to focus instead on the real solutions to our climate and agriculture crisis by stopping destructive, emissions-intensive agricultural practices from factory farming to monocropping and ethanol production.”

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]

35 Groups Urge Governor Carney to Oppose Biogas Infrastructure Development in Delaware

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Food System

For Immediate Release

Today, 35 groups from across the Delmarva region issued a letter to Governor Carney, urging his opposition to factory farm biogas infrastructure development moving forward in Delaware. The controversial Bioenergy DevCo biogas scheme in Sussex County currently seeking state permits will be the first facility of its kind in the state and region. Groups warn that the project is only the start of what could be a destructive regional industry buildout, if allowed unchecked.

Letter signatories cited a host of concerns with the Bioenergy DevCo biogas operation, including:

  • Traffic and the safety of public roads: The methane refinery Bioenergy DevCo has planned would bring at least 20,000 heavy-duty truck trips per year (or more than 50 every day) to local roads. A yet undisclosed number of the trucks added to local roads would be hauling explosive gas – sometimes called “truck bombs.” 
  • Air quality: Biogas facilities emit smog-forming nitrogen oxides, ammonia, and hydrogen sulfide. These chemicals are known to cause chronic lung disease and other respiratory ailments like asthma, and would directly affect health in nearby neighborhoods.
  • Water quality: The waste at biogas facilities inevitably seeps into the soil either through mismanagement at the site or land application to fields, and has the potential to poison local drinking water with nitrate contamination that is linked to birth defects, miscarriages, various cancers and blue baby syndrome.
  • Environmental justice: The community surrounding Bioenergy DevCo’s proposed biogas facility is home to people of color at almost twice the rate of Sussex County as a whole and home to people living in poverty at almost three times the rate of Sussex County as a whole. To place a dirty and dangerous industrial plant for the sole purpose of extracting gas (and generating profit) from slaughterhouse sludge in this community is simply unjust.

In the letter, groups requested that Governor Carney direct the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to reject Bioenergy DevCo’s sought-after permits and oppose all buildout of biogas infrastructure. Food & Water Watch Delaware Organizer Greg Layton said:

“Delaware is facing the crises of a destructively expansive factory farm poultry industry and the imminent doom of the climate crisis. As they always do, Big Ag is looking to profit off the situation by peddling a false solution in factory farm biogas. But make no mistake — factory farm biogas will do nothing to aid our poultry waste overload, and everything to further entrench both factory farms and fossil fuel infrastructure in our communities. Governor Carney must say no to Bioenergy DevCo and no to biogas.”

“Biogas is a threat not only to the environment, but to the health of the communities in which our members live and work,” said Javiel Nazario, UFCW Local 27 VP & Executive Asst. to the President. “We call on Governor Carney to oppose the buildout of biogas infrastructure in favor of safer, cleaner energy alternatives.”

“Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice (SDARJ), supports fellow environmental justice advocates and, therefore, opposes the construction of an anaerobic digestion system in Sussex County,” said SDARJ Chair Charlotte King. “The hazards associated with the proposed methane refinery site that have been shared with state agencies responsible for protecting the environment and the health of Delawareans, state and county legislators and residents, raise serious concerns that the project would import and concentrate massive quantities of pollutants, and would threaten local and regional water quality. In addition, given our mission, SDARJ is especially concerned about people of color who live near the proposed plant. As a matter of fact, in Seaford, Delaware, people of color make up about 32 percent of the population within the three-mile radius of the proposed anaerobic digester. Indeed, an extensive and expanding body of scientific evidence finds that people of color are located more often in communities that are exposed to disproportionately higher levels of pollution.”

“The Sierra Club Delaware Chapter strongly opposes this methane refinery in Sussex Co,” said Sherri Evans-Stanton, Sierra Club Delaware Chapter director. “The facility would send toxic chemicals in the air and would poison our local drinking water. This would result in significant increased health impacts. Additionally, the facility would be located next to some of our most vulnerable communities. Biogas is not a renewable energy and this project should be denied.”

“Factory farm gas or so called ‘biogas’ is a dirty energy with serious safety and health concerns for the minority communities where this project is being sited,” said Maria Payan, Socially Responsible Agriculture Project senior regional representative. “Furthermore, to represent this as an Environmental Justice solution for frontline communities is reprehensible. “

“The Community Housing & Empowerment Connections Inc. (CHEC) stands with Food & Water Watch and other nearby residents in Seaford in preventing Bioenergy DevCo’s project from moving forward. While there are a number of reasons why this project should not be located there, the primary one is that it’s harmful to people’s health,” said Penny Dryden, Community Housing & Environment Connections, Inc. Executive Director. “Low income communities of color already face higher pollution burdens than their more affluent and whiter neighbors, as highlighted in our 2017 EJ for Delaware report. The placement of dirty digesters in these communities is unjust, detrimental to health and will only exacerbate the existing environmental hazards facing these vulnerable communities in Sussex County Delaware. CHEC Inc. urges the governor and all other public officials to put the people above profits and reject this project.”

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]

7. Farms vs. factory farms

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Food System

Farms vs. factory farms

See the difference between independent farms and factory farms.

Take a tour on our site Farm Vs. Factory to see how they compare.

The Economic Cost of Food Monopolies: The Grocery Cartels

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PDFFood System

IA Landowner Names Impacted by Carbon Pipelines Must be Public, Legal Filing States

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Food System

For Immediate Release

Yesterday, Food & Water Watch filed legal comments requesting that the names of landowners impacted by the proposed Summit Carbon Solutions carbon pipeline be made public. Given the project’s substantial dangers and uncertain regulatory environment, Food & Watch demanded the Iowa Utilities Board make landowner names public to facilitate transparency and community organizing around the proposed project.

In an attempt to prevent organized public opposition to its project, Summit has been pressuring the Iowa Utilities Board to prevent the disclosure of impacted landowner names. The project has been met with widespread opposition from landowners, and the public access to names is critical to sharing accurate information on project risks with impacted citizens.

Food & Water Watch Senior Iowa Organizer Emma Schmit issued the following statement:

“Iowa is not a sacrifice zone. Our state is already ravaged by the factory farming and corporate agriculture industries that pollute our air, water and land with abandon. We cannot give another free pass to corporate abuse — that begins by releasing the names of Iowan landowners impacted by the proposed pipeline.

Carbon pipelines are a nightmare for Iowa. The dangerous project has already seen massive opposition. Information sharing and community organizing are critical to ensuring all parties have an accurate understanding of how to take action against the proposal. Governor Reynolds and her Utilities Board must make all impacted landowner names public.”

Contact: Seth Gladstone, [email protected]

As Food Prices Soar, New Report Details Vast Grocery Industry Consolidation Crisis

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Food System

Washington, D.C. – With food prices soaring, the consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch released a new report detailing the deepening consolidation crisis present in the country’s grocery industry, and what it means for consumers.

In the report — “The Economic Cost of Food Monopolies: The Grocery Cartels” — Food & Water Watch examined the market share of the dominant companies across 55 grocery categories, representing a variety of common products, from fresh vegetable side dishes, milk and milk alternatives to convenience meals. The research calculated the ratio of sales of the top four (or fewer) companies in each food category, compared to those of all other companies. 

The research finds that more than 60 percent of the analyzed grocery categories are tight oligopolies/monopolies. Just eight of the 55 categories (15 percent) could be considered highly competitive. 

This concentrated marketplace is dominated by several giants across categories. Kraft-Heinz is among the top four companies in 12 categories (22 percent of the total). It is the lead company in five of those categories (including dry macaroni & cheese mixes and table sauces).General Mills and Conagra are among the top four companies in 9 out of the 55 categories we surveyed. Conagra has monopolies in more than one category, including single-serve prepared pasta dishes (64 percent of sales) and single-serve prepared Sloppy Joe sauce (92 percent of sales). Campbell Soup Company is in the top 4 in seven of the categories, and PepsiCo and Del Monte are both in six.

The consolidation is especially acute within specific food categories: 

  • Yogurt: While this category could fill an entire supermarket showcase, just four companies make up three-quarters of all yogurt sales. These include Danone (maker of Activia and Oikos), General Mills (Yoplait and Mountain High) and Groupe Lactalis (Stonyfield Organic and siggi’s).
  • Baby formula: Just three companies capture 85 percent of all liquid formula sales and around 95 percent of powdered formula, enabling these companies to engage in anticompetitive behaviors such as price fixing.
  • Dip sales: PepsiCo alone captures 88 percent of all dip sales in the United States, largely through brands that do not carry its name (like Fritos, Lay’s and Tostitos).
  • Soy milk: Danone dominates the refrigerated soy milk market with its Silk brand, accounting for 80 percent of all sales. The next leading brand takes in just over 1 percent.

The research also shows an alarming trend towards fewer, bigger stores. From 1993 to 2019, the number of grocery stores nationwide declined by roughly 30 percent, as the combined market share of the four largest grocery retailers tripled to 69 percent. 

The acutely consolidated market funnels wealth into the hands of corporate shareholders and executives, at the direct expense of small businesses, local economies and consumer choice. 

At the store, consumers are faced with rising food prices — as much as a 26 percent increase since January for a family of four on a “thrifty food plan”.

“Over the past century, food giants have been quietly consolidating their power, stripping out the resilience baked into more diversified, regional food systems, and cutting local economies out of the picture. The grocery cartel has created an illusion of choice and efficiency to disguise their profiteering off of the American consumer who is unwillingly asked to trade abundance for resilience,” said Food & Water Watch Research Director Amanda Starbuck. 

She continued: “We envision a U.S. food system more resilient, just and sustainable than the one we have today. To get there, we need to address the rampant food monopoly consolidation crisis on our hands. President Biden must reinstate the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Act to enforce antitrust laws, break up monopolies, and invest in the grocery cooperatives, regional food hubs and local food processors that can rebuild our food system from the ground up.”

In recent months, the Biden administration has taken some first steps to address agricultural industry consolidation — but much more action is necessary. From strengthening and enforcing antitrust law, to providing public incentives to help regional food hubs take root, the report offers a clear-eyed description of the crisis we face and outlines the federal action needed to address the problem.

Contact: Seth Gladstone – sgladsto[email protected]

Food & Water Watch Sues Sussex County Commission Over Factory Farm Biogas Facility

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Food System

For Immediate Release

On Friday, Food & Water Watch, alongside and on behalf of a local resident, filed a lawsuit against the Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission for their unlawful zoning decision regarding CleanBay Renewables’ planned factory farm biogas facility in Georgetown. The petitioners argue that the Commission exceeded its jurisdiction and ignored County law when it found that construction at the site was “substantially underway,” and that therefore CleanBay Renewables’ conditional use approval could remain in effect.

Food & Water Watch was forced to bring this lawsuit after County officials refused to process its appeal to the Sussex County Board of Adjustment. This refusal marks only the latest move by County officials to ram through factory farm biogas facilities in areas otherwise reserved for agriculture and low-density residential uses, despite local opposition. County officials’ apparent disregard for impacted residents is an affront to their constituents. 

If the lawsuit is successful, CleanBay Renewables’ zoning approval will become null and void, a major setback in its effort to bring a polluting factory farm biogas facility into the area. Given the public health, safety and environmental threats of factory farm biogas, a voided permit would be a victory for nearby residents, who staunchly opposed the facility when it was first proposed in 2018.

With the filing, Food & Water Watch Attorney Emily Miller issued the following statement:

“In flagrant violation of their own County Code, the Commission’s decision to allow CleanBay Renewables’ zoning approval to remain in effect flies in the face of the law and the best interests of their own constituents. Commissioners claimed they were giving the company the ‘benefit of the doubt’ when they made this unlawful decision. But the benefit of the doubt should go to the communities who will bear the brunt of the public health impacts from the toxic air and water pollution the gas refinery would emit — not to the companies who stand to profit off the entrenchment of two mega-polluting industries, factory farms and dirty energy providers. Factory farm biogas must not take root in Delaware. That begins with holding developers like CleanBay Renewables to account, as opposed to giving them special treatment in contravention of state and county law.”

Petitioners are represented in this matter by Kenneth T. Kristl, Esq., Professor of Law & Director of the Environmental & Natural Resources Law Clinic at Widener University Delaware Law School.

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]

Biden Hog Speed Decision Puts Food Safety at Risk

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Food System

Today, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a one year pilot program to once again allow faster line speeds at hog plants.

In response. Food & Water Watch Senior Staff Attorney Zach Corrigan issued the following statement: 

“With this decision, the Biden administration is caving to industry pressure. We already know that industry-friendly hog inspection rules create significantly more food safety problems than rules that require strong federal oversight. The administration was right to accept a court decision throwing out the awful Trump administration rules that allowed slaughterhouses to ramp up their slaughter-line speeds. Unfortunately, they are now reversing course on this with a pilot program that continues to put industry profits over protecting the safety of our food supply.”

Why Did The EPA Give Factory Farms A Free Pass With Air Pollution?

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Food System

By Emily Miller

The Biden administration talks a big game when it comes to protecting the environment. On his first day in office, President Biden signed an executive order to hold polluters accountable for toxic air pollution. Unfortunately, these policies don’t seem to apply to Big Ag. When it comes to factory farm pollution, Biden’s EPA has quietly preserved a George W. Bush-era policy that does the opposite. It continues a corrupt amnesty deal for factory farms that shields them from complying with federal air pollution laws. 

Enough is enough. As part of a coalition of advocacy organizations, we recently called the Administration out on its hypocrisy. On October 26, we filed a legal petition with EPA urging it to end this 16-year-old amnesty agreement. They must enforce our clean air laws against this major polluting industry.

Factory Farm Air Pollution Kills Thousands of People Every Year in the U.S.

This decades-long amnesty has had far-reaching consequences for public health and the environment. Factory farms emit deadly air pollutants like ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, and climate-warming methane. They put nearby residents — often low-income communities of color — at risk for serious illnesses, like asthma and pneumonia. 

Even worse, the livestock industry’s air pollution is responsible for over 12,700 deaths per year. That’s more deaths than are attributed to coal-fired power plants. That means over 200,000 lives have been lost due to this industry’s air pollution since 2005. 

Despite Serious Threat To Public Health, EPA Has Given Factory Farms a Free Pass To Pollute Since 2005

In 2005, the George W. Bush administration announced an agreement it had secretly negotiated with the pork lobby. EPA would refrain from enforcing key air pollution control and public transparency laws like the Clean Air Act against animal feeding operations (AFO) that signed up for the deal. In exchange, the AFOs agreed to pay a small fee to fund a nationwide air monitoring program to help EPA develop more accurate air emissions estimating methodologies (EEMs) for AFOs. These were supposed to help calculate factory farms’ pollution so clean air law enforcement could finally begin. 

At the time, environmentalists challenged the legality of this agreement, arguing it was an abdication of EPA’s enforcement authority. However, the D.C. Circuit Court allowed EPA to proceed. Their decision partly relied on the agency’s assurances that the “limited” deferral would last no longer than three and half years. 

Nearly 14,000 AFOs nationwide signed up for this sweetheart deal. By EPA’s own estimate, this accounted for over 90 percent of the country’s largest factory farms. The industry has grown significantly since 2005, but EPA has used the agreement as an excuse not to regulate the industry at large until it develops accurate EEMs.  

EPA Dropped The Ball, Exposing Communities To Air Pollution  

EPA promised to complete the air monitoring study, develop emission models, and end the Air Consent Agreement by 2010. But a series of agency missteps and delays means EPA has yet to finalize any methodologies or end the agreement. 

From the start, fundamental problems plagued the emission methodologies development process. From how EPA designed and ran the study, to how it attempted to use the data, it was a mess. For instance, close to 14,000 AFOs signed the Air Consent Agreement. But EPA selected just 20 AFOs in 10 states to study, an incredibly small, and non-representative industry sample. This, along with equipment failures and other technical problems, limited EPA’s ability to develop accurate emission models. 

When EPA used this compromised data to develop draft methodologies, the drafts were deemed utterly unusable by the scientific community. Even EPA’s own Science Advisory Board lambasted the emission models. It concluded they were unfit for national use, and incapable of predicting emissions beyond the small number of farms studied. In short — garbage in, garbage out.

After that, EPA efforts completely stalled. It wasn’t until 2017, when EPA’s Office of Inspector General criticized EPA for its inaction, that the development process restarted. But this revived process hasn’t fared any better. Now, after nearly five more years of delay, EPA has still not finalized any methodologies. It has largely ignored advice it received from its Science Advisory Board about how to produce accurate emission models.

Meanwhile, thousands of AFOs enjoy protection from EPA enforcement indefinitely, even if their emissions exceed legal limits or reporting thresholds. EPA’s unwillingness to cross Big Ag is the same under Biden, and people are paying with their health and their lives.

EPA’s Inaction Is Unacceptable And Must End Now

AFO air pollution has serious and unregulated public health impacts. We are demanding EPA put a stop to its unacceptable dereliction of duty. It must terminate the Air Consent Agreement, and take all actions consistent with President Biden’s executive orders to enforce applicable clean air laws against AFOs. 

The agency never should have granted this amnesty in the first place. After nearly twenty years of this mistake, it absolutely must put an end to this perpetual license to pollute.

Your friends need to know about this, too.

DE Governor Carney’s Climate Action Plan Promotes False Solutions In Factory Farm Biogas

Categories

Food System

For Immediate Release

Yesterday, Governor Carney released Delaware’s Climate Action Plan, outlining a roadmap for the state to prepare for climate change in the years to come.

Included in plans for how to reduce high global warming potential greenhouse gases, the Governor’s plan outlines a strategy to “increase renewable natural gas production and incentivize markets for its use as a fuel.” The plan goes further, identifying “renewable natural gas” as a clean energy source, despite its known threats to public health, climate and the environment.

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

“Cutting climate warming emissions must begin at the pollution source — by banning the continued growth of the factory farm industry in Delaware. Factory farm biogas is a false climate solution that props up polluters. Methane refineries keep the factory farm industry solvent, and biogas provides a lifeline to fossil fuel infrastructure.

Factory farm biogas is neither a clean or renewable energy source and the methane gas refined from factory farmed animal waste does nothing to lower our greenhouse gas emissions. We have no time to waste on false climate solutions, peddled by polluting industry. Governor Carney must invest in real renewable energy in the form of wind and solar, and reject factory farm biogas operations as the scam they are.”

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]

Ag Sector Methane Emissions Are A Big Problem — Factory Farm Biogas Is Not The Solution

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Food System

For Immediate Release

Today, the White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy released its U.S. Methane Emissions Reduction Action Plan. The plan promotes the use of anaerobic digesters, and touts a “new public-private partnership” to promote factory farm biogas as a solution.

In response, Food & Water Watch Policy Director Mitch Jones released the following statement:

“Agricultural sector methane emissions are a critical driver of climate change — but stopping them requires shifting away from gas infrastructure, not more industry-friendly band aids like digesters. Factory farm biogas and carbon trading schemes are false solutions that distract from the root cause of the industrialized agriculture industry’s pollution problem — the continued concentrated corporate control of our food system.

Congress must pass the Farm System Reform Act to curb the growth of this destructive factory farm model, and President Biden must direct his administration to stop incentivizing false solutions like factory farm biogas, which only intensify the current system.  

We have no time to waste on greenwashed solutions that offer a lifeline for the destructive corporate agriculture industry.”

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]

New Report Highlights MD Poultry Industry’s Stranglehold Over People and the Environment

Categories

Food System

For Immediate Release

A report released today by the Environmental Integrity Project, finds that Maryland’s expanding poultry factory farm industry is woefully under-inspected, despite massive pollutant violations. Key findings include, that:

  • As the number of factory farms increases, the number of operations inspected by Maryland Department of the Environment’s two or three inspectors has declined by 40 percent since 2013.
  • 84 percent of Maryland’s inspected poultry factory farms failed their first state inspection; almost half (43 percent) also fail follow up inspections. Only four percent were penalized by the state.

In response, Lily Hawkins, Food & Water Watch Maryland Organizer, issued the following statement:

“Factory farm violations come at the direct expense of people and the environment. Over decades, Maryland’s poultry factory farm industry has tightened its stranglehold on the region, polluting air and water with abandon, and threatening the public health of those who work within the barns and those living near them. This report solidifies what advocates have known for years — factory farms are an unchecked threat to our health and environment.

For too long, factory farms have been given a pass. It’s time to double down on stopping the expansion of this polluting industry. At the federal level, that means passing the Farm System Reform Act. And in Maryland, that means keeping false solutions to the poultry industry’s excessive waste problem like factory farm biogas out of our state’s renewable energy portfolio.”

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]

How A California Climate Program Rewards Mega-Polluting Factory Farms Nationwide

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Food System

by Jessica Gable

As California Governor Gavin Newsom gets ready to join world leaders for the United Nations’ climate summit in Glasgow and trumpet his state’s bold climate action, transition to a just economy, and protection of frontline communities, one stark omission from the governor’s climate platform is troubling. California’s air pollution regulator is pinning many of its climate ambitions on a program it claims reduces emissions in the transportation sector. But what it actually does is facilitate the growth of an industry whose significant climate-wrecking emissions are on the rise in the U.S. — factory farms.

California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) incentivizes the production of biogas derived from animal manure and slaughterhouse waste.

Here’s how it works:

Waste is put into a digester either on or off the facility, where anaerobic bacteria break down the waste, producing methane and digestate that then must be disposed of. Once the biogas is treated to produce pipeline-quality methane chemically identical to fracked natural gas, factory farms sell and transport it via fossil fuel pipelines, ready for use in the transportation industry. Companies with fuels that are deemed higher “carbon intensity” can offset their emissions by buying the factory farm biogas credits, allowing them to continue polluting while Big Ag operations profit.

Promoting factory farm biogas means rewarding and entrenching the factory farm industry — hardly a solution for the climate crisis, and a disaster for environmental justice communities in California and across the country. That’s why Food & Water Watch has joined a coalition of organizations in petitioning the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to exclude factory farm-sourced biogas from its LCFS credit program. 

Factory Farms Accelerate Climate Change And Incentivizing Biogas Only Makes it Worse

Our petition makes it clear that the current LCFS credit system not only overstates the emission reduction benefits of factory farm-sourced biogas, it also allows for “double dipping” by factory farms as they use public dollars to subsidize digester construction while receiving millions for the credits they’ve sold. While gas industry reps sell this process to the public as a market-driven emission mitigation measure, it’s better described as a false climate solution that perpetuates air and groundwater pollution, and a financial shell game that enriches corporate shareholders at taxpayers’ expense. 

After the methane has been extracted from manure, factory farm operators are left with huge quantities of waste that must be disposed of. The usual method is to spread the manure over fields as fertilizer, where runoff and leaching frequently contaminate waterways and groundwater.  Land disposal of so-called digestate poses an even higher risk of groundwater contamination than undigested manure, as nitrates and phosphorus in digestate are more water-soluble and susceptible to contaminating water resources. In California, most communities living near these facilities are communities of color. They are the ones hit first and hardest by the pollution of factory farms. Our petition asserts that CARB’s current program violates state law and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibit the agency from adopting policies that cause disparate harms on the basis of race. 

We Need to Get Rid of Biogas in The LCFS And Stop Funding Climate-Wrecking Emissions

Communities in California and across the U.S. will continue to bear the public health burden of factory farms as long as factory farm biogas is included in the Low Carbon Fuel Standard. 

LCFS biogas credits spell disaster for our climate, water and communities — and everyone needs to know.

Spread the word to protect your community.

New Documents Reveal Dangerous Australian Meat Imports

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Food System

WASHINGTON, DC — Documents uncovered by the advocacy group Food & Water Watch show an alarming increase in safety violations of Australian meat imports, in particular mutton, lamb, and goat meat that was contaminated with fecal matter and digestive contents. 

The incidents raise serious questions about the public health risks of relying on Australia’s heavily privatized meat inspection system. 

The documents, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request and reported by Reuters this morning, detail the import refusals that were documented by the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). From 2019 through 2020 the agency’s Public Health Critical Refusals Report found over 19 “zero tolerance” violations in Australian meat shipments. Twelve of these identified fecal matter or digestive contents as the reason for the refusal.

This is especially concerning for several reasons: These imports had already been inspected in Australia. Further, even if the amount of meat found to be in violation is small when considering the size of the lots imported, FSIS only ‘re-inspects’ a small percentage of imports—which means that the documented incidents are likely a massive undercount of the amount of contaminated meat that ends up imported and likely onto consumers’ plates. And the rate of rejections is increasing—from four violations for fecal matter and digestive content in 2018 to close to three times that (11) in 2020. The documents show three violations in just two months of 2021.

Records obtained from the Community and Public Sector Union, which represents meat inspectors in Australia, indicates a “significant rise” in rejections over the past year, and indicates that the USDA has known about these problems. One shocking case includes the allegation that an establishment sought to use scrapers to remove fecal matter from the contaminated carcasses.

“It was outrageous to simply scrape off fecal matter on carcasses, as that would merely spread around the contamination,” said Zach Corrigan, Senior Staff Attorney at Food & Water Watch.  “The USDA needs to revoke its approval of Australia’s inspection system as equivalent.  American consumers simply don’t deserve this fecal matter.” 

In June of 2014, Food & Water Watch submitted a petition requesting that the FSIS revoke its equivalency determination for the Australian Export Meat Inspection System (AEMIS)—which essentially replaces government inspectors with far fewer plant employees—like the Trump administration’s swine slaughter system that is now subject of multiple court cases. Food & Water Watch submitted these documents to the agency to bolster its case against the equivalency determination. USDA has yet to answer the petition.

Legal Petition Challenges EPA Inaction on Factory Farm Air Pollution

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Food System

Washington, DC – As President Biden continues to promise that his administration will address the climate crisis and protect the air we breathe from industrial polluters, 24 advocacy organizations are demanding Biden’s EPA live up to that promise by doing more to protect communities from factory farms. Today, the groups filed a legal petition with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), urging it to enforce federal air pollution laws against these major polluters, something the agency has refused to do for nearly two decades. 

Over 16 years ago, the George W. Bush administration announced an Agreement and Final Order it had secretly negotiated with the National Pork Producers Council. EPA agreed to refrain from enforcing key air pollution control and public disclosure laws like the Clean Air Act against any animal feeding operation (AFO) that signed up for the deal. In exchange, participating AFOs agreed to pay a small penalty to fund a nationwide air monitoring program that was supposed to help EPA develop more accurate air emissions estimating methodologies (EEMs) for AFOs. The methodologies were intended to allow EPA and citizens to calculate factory farms’ pollution and begin enforcing clean air laws.

Nearly 14,000 AFOs signed up for this sweetheart deal, known as the Air Consent Agreement, which, by its own terms, should have been completed in 2010. Yet, due in part to the fundamentally flawed ways in which EPA designed, ran, and used the data collected from the air monitoring study, the agency has yet to finalize any methodologies or end the Air Consent Agreement. 

As a result of EPA’s protracted delay, thousands of the nation’s largest AFOs continue to enjoy protection from EPA enforcement actions, even if their air pollution emissions exceed legal limits or reporting thresholds. AFOs emit a number of deadly air pollutants like ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, and climate-altering methane. According to a recent study, the livestock industry’s air pollution is responsible for over 12,700 deaths per year — more deaths than are attributed to coal-fired power plants. 

In light of AFO air pollution’s serious and unregulated public health impacts, the advocacy groups are demanding EPA put a stop to its “unacceptable dereliction of duty” by terminating the Air Consent Agreement, and taking all actions consistent with President Biden’s executive orders to enforce applicable clean air laws against AFOs.  

The Petitioners include: Animal Legal Defense Fund, Buffalo River Watershed Alliance (Arkansas), Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Clean Water for North Carolina (North Carolina), Center on Race, Poverty, & the Environment (California), Earthjustice, Environmental Integrity Project, Farm Aid, Friends of the Earth, Friends of Family Farmers (Oregon), Friends of Toppenish Creek (Washington), Food Animal Concerns Trust, Food & Water Watch, Government Accountability Project, Humane Society of the United States, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa), Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, North Carolina Conservation Network (North Carolina), Public Justice, Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, Southern Environmental Law Center, and Waterkeeper Alliance.

“AFO air pollution not only harms human health and our environment, it also exacerbates the suffering faced by the animals living at these facilities, ” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “This free pass to pollute the air is another way our federal government subsidizes this cruel industry and helps it to thrive and expand.”

“Air pollution from factory farms kills almost 13,000 people a year, yet the EPA continues to sit on its keister as the meat industry emits more and more air pollution without consequences,” said Hannah Connor, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Multiplied out, the agency’s practice of ignoring these dangerous emissions for 16 years now makes it an accomplice in likely more than 200,000 deaths and countless harms to the environment and wildlife. Enough is enough.” 

“Communities surrounding the mega-dairies in Oregon have suffered long enough from their air pollution,” said Amy van Saun, senior attorney with Center for Food Safety’s Pacific Northwest office. “No one wants to live near these stinking and hazardous operations, yet EPA continues to sacrifice the most marginalized people to the benefit of industry profit.”

“We are simply asking the EPA to level the playing field and treat this industry the same way it treats every other industry,” said Abel Russ, Senior Attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project. “We strongly support the Agency’s efforts to update the science, but that process is always ongoing – it should never be used as an excuse to put critical environmental protections on hold. No other industry gets that kind of special treatment. It’s unfair, and it has important consequences to overburdened communities across the country.”   

“The EPA has given factory farms a free pass to pollute since 2005, when it negotiated a backroom amnesty deal with the industry essentially exempting it from federal air pollution laws,” said Emily Miller, Staff Attorney at Food & Water Watch. “Since then, factory farms have been freely spewing dangerous air contaminants into the environment, not only threatening the health of nearby communities, but also contributing to climate change. This needs to stop.”

“For decades, the factory farm industry has insulated itself from the necessary enforcement critical to a just food system and healthy climate,” said Brent Newell, Senior Attorney at the Public Justice Food Project. “The Air Consent Agreement, now more than 16 years old, has given factory farms a free pass to pollute and reflects past administrations’ failure to take urgent action and prioritize human health over the profit-driven interests of Big Ag. We urge the EPA to grant this petition and to finally abandon an agreement that not only undermines the law, but also entrenches the factory farm system in a way that harms Black, Latino, Indigenous, Asian and white rural communities.”

Community Ombudsman Ignores DE Advocate Concerns About Factory Farm Biogas Proposals

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Food System

For Immediate Release

More than a month after having cancelled a meeting to discuss frontline constituent concerns, the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) Community Ombudsman has repeatedly ignored advocate requests for a rescheduled meeting to resolve environmental justice complaints about factory farm biogas proposals. Constituents representing the Sussex Health and Environmental Network, Delaware Civil Rights Commission, Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice and Food & Water Watch have conducted repeated outreach to the office by phone and email, to no avail. This silence comes ahead of a survey currently being conducted by Delaware State University on DNREC’s responsiveness to community concerns.

The community surrounding the Bioenergy Devco proposed biogas site is home to people of color and people living in poverty at about twice the rate of Sussex County as a whole, and advocate outreach has demonstrated a lack of DNREC communication with these community members, many of whom are Spanish speakers, about the details and dangers of the proposed facility. The office of the Community Ombudsman exists to serve as an advocate for communities such as these that are affected by DNREC projects and environmental injustices.

Advocates are requesting a meeting with the Community Ombudsman to present a number of complaints regarding the injustice that the proposed Bioenergy DevCo factory farm biogas facility poses. Advocate demands include that:

  • DNREC conduct outreach to the Spanish-speaking population near the proposed biogas facility to provide them with information about the industrial activity possibly coming to their neighborhood — and to help them participate meaningfully in the public decision-making process.
  • DNREC hold all upcoming permit public hearings for the project in both Spanish and English.

“Latinos, due to language isolation and modest socio-economic resources, deserve special accommodation in having their voices heard. Instead, DNREC has ignored requests of their representatives for weeks to discuss their concerns related to the proposed biogas plant near Seaford,” said Charito Calvachi-Matetyko, of the Delaware Civil Rights Commission. “DNREC’s silence shouts out: Brown lives don’t matter. They are insulting the people they have been employed to safeguard, and putting their health and safety at risk.”

“Inasmuch as community engagement is a part of DNREC’s operation, one can only wonder why the agency has not responded to requests to meet with the community and interested parties to discuss their concerns about health and safety risks associated with the proposed biogas plant in Sussex County,” said Marlene Saunders of the Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice. “In this case, the community is attempting to do its part as a partner with an agency charged with ensuring a healthy environment for all Delawareans.”

“Those charged with protecting communities from environmental injustice are ignoring the very communities on the frontlines of the fight against factory farm biogas,” said Food & Water Watch Delaware Organizer Greg Layton. “Biogas facilities are industrial, polluting operations that threaten the health and safety of those who live nearby, making it imperative that frontline communities are a part of the conversation. To shut neighbors out of the process and ignore constituent requests for inclusive public education is unjust. We demand a meeting with the DNREC Ombudsman to right this wrong.”

“This is a total dereliction of duty that has been the norm for years within DNREC and it must change,” said Maria Payan, Senior Regional Representative of Socially Responsible Agriculture Project and co-founder of Sussex Health & Environmental Network. “The duty of the Community Ombudsman, according to DNREC’s website, is to increase the flow of information between communities and the department, increase community participation, and facilitate dialogue among all stakeholders during the decision-making process. That has not happened. We will no longer stand silent.”

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]

Food & Water Watch Files Legal Challenge to Factory Farm Biogas Facility in Georgetown

Categories

Food System

For Immediate Release

Today, Food & Water Watch, alongside and on behalf of local residents, filed a legal challenge to a recent zoning decision in Sussex County, regarding CleanBay Renewables’ planned factory farm biogas facility in Georgetown. The appellants argue that the  Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission’s decision to sustain the company’s conditional use permit, which gives CleanBay permission to build its heavy industrial facility in an agricultural and residential area, was made unlawfully. Specifically, appellants allege that the Commission not only exceeded its authority by making the decision in the first place, but it also acted without proof of “substantially underway” construction as defined in Sussex County Code.

Appellants are asking the Sussex County Board of Adjustment to reverse the Commission’s decision and declare the company’s permit null and void. The CleanBay Renewables project is one of two factory farm biogas facilities vying for environmental permits in Delaware, along with the nearby Bioenergy Devco facility proposed near Seaford. These factory farm biogas projects are part of a growing trend in agribusiness companies’ exploitation of clean energy mandates, while not actually reducing emissions or agricultural pollution. Given the public health, safety and environmental threats of factory farm biogas, a voided permit would be a victory for nearby residents, who staunchly opposed the facility when it was first proposed in 2018.

With the filing, Food & Water Watch Delaware Organizer Greg Layton issued the following statement:

“Factory farm biogas has no place in our communities. We already bear the brunt of agricultural pollution from factory farms taking over our rural areas. Factory farm biogas operations like CleanBay’s will only further pollute our air, our water and make dangerous truck traffic the norm on our roads. Stopping factory farm biogas from taking root in our region begins by holding our local government accountable to the people — not industry. The Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission noted that this company did not do what they needed to do to maintain their conditional use permit and chose to look the other way. The Board must reverse their unlawful decision and declare CleanBay Renewables’ permit null and void.”

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]

We Just Scored A Big Win Against Factory Farm Water Pollution

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Food System

PHOTO CC-BY-USDA, Bob Nichols / Flickr.com

by Tarah Heinzen

Food & Water Watch just won a major court victory against factory farm pollution: the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) statewide Clean Water Act permit for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Idaho illegally let these factory farms off the hook for water pollution monitoring.

EPA Loopholes Have Shielded Factory Farm Pollution From The Public

The federal Clean Water Act is supposed to protect our waterways, keeping them safe for recreation and wildlife. One of the most important ways it does that is by requiring polluters – including CAFOs — to follow strict discharge permits that limit pollution. And those permits do not work on an honor system; permitted dischargers are required to show their work through testing their discharges and generating publicly available monitoring reports that demonstrate whether they are meeting permit limits. If a facility violates its permit, citizens and regulators can use the self-reported monitoring information to enforce the law. Monitoring is essential to holding polluters accountable and cleaning up our rivers and streams. 

Despite this, EPA and states have carved out an exception for factory farms, issuing permits that leave monitoring out entirely. These permits simply assume that if a factory farm adopts certain practices to manage its waste, it will meet permit requirements. That approach wouldn’t pass the laugh test with wastewater treatment plants and factories, and we have known for years that it is just as illegal for livestock operations responsible for discharging pharmaceuticals, pathogens, heavy metals, and nutrients that cause harmful algal blooms into our waterways.

Striking a Blow Against EPA’s Special Treatment For The Factory Farm Industry

When EPA issued a permit for Idaho CAFOs that again left out monitoring, Food & Water Watch, along with our allies Snake River Waterkeeper and Earthrise Law Center, took it to court. This was a unique and strategic opportunity to bring our case in federal court because most Clean Water Act permits are issued by states, not EPA, and challenges go to less favorable state forums.

And our strategy paid off. The three-judge Ninth Circuit panel recognized that Idaho CAFOs are a significant source of water pollution and that they threaten water quality through the risk of discharges off of land application fields and from leaching of manure lagoons into waterways. And it agreed that the Idaho permit didn’t contain the monitoring needed to know if a factory farm is complying with the Clean Water Act, or if this unauthorized pollution was taking place, striking down EPA’s permit as unlawful.

This Win Against Factory Farm Pollution Doesn’t Stop In Idaho

Going forward, this means that polluting factory farms in Idaho will now be required to comprehensively monitor and report on their waste discharges and water pollution for the first time. But even more importantly, the Ninth Circuit’s precedent is relevant everywhere factory farm permits take the same illegal approach as in Idaho – which is, essentially, everywhere. We will be working across the country to ensure this win will have broad implications for how pollution from the factory farm industry is regulated going forward.

Factory farms are a large and growing source of water pollution in Idaho and across the country, but without pollution monitoring, they have been able to pollute at will and hide this pollution from citizens and regulators. This victory is a critical first step towards holding factory farms accountable for illegal pollution and stands to provide the information needed not only to enforce the law and advocate for stronger pollution regulation, but to make the case to ban factory farms altogether. The decision also struck a major blow against EPA’s practice of granting illegal exceptions and special treatment to the factory farm industry — and we’ll work to make sure it’s the first of many.

Smart legal work like this is a part of our strategy to save our planet. Will you chip in?

Ag Committee Offsets Hearing Dominated by Big Ag Voices

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Food System

Washington, DC — Today, the House Agriculture Committee is holding a hearing on voluntary offset markets, without hearing from Black, Indigenous and environmental justice communities and smaller-scale sustainable farmers that would be most impacted by carbon offset markets.

Several organizations are raising concerns about this glaring omission of impacted communities from the Committee Witness list, which mostly reads like a who’s who of chemical companies and large agricultural interests that will profit from such a move at the expense of sustainable farmers and environmental justice communities. 

Earlier this year, a broad coalition of organizations sent a letter to Congress raising significant concerns with the Growing Climate Solutions Act, legislation that would create the voluntary offset markets the hearing is discussing. 

“The Growing Climate Solutions Act (GCSA) under the USDA will pay Big Ag to provide moral cover for Big Oil,” stated Casey Camp-Horinek of the Ponca Nation. “My Ponca People continue to live in the violence of the toxic fossil fuel industries creating nothing less than environmental genocide. These polluting corporations have long been buying carbon credits and they have not reduced pollution. In fact, they have expanded their operations and called themselves ‘carbon neutral’ or ‘net-zero.’ A carbon market for soils and agriculture, as proposed in the GCSA, privatizes Mother Earth, the air and waters, commodifying the Sacred. This program will further the destruction of biodiversity by paying for farming techniques that prop up large pharma-monoculture-GMO multinational corporations at the expense of sacred seeds and life on this planet. Climate change threatens every aspect of life. We do not have time for these soil and agricultural offset schemes. We must keep fossil fuels in the ground and we must respect and uphold Indigenous Traditional Knowledge-based farming methods.” 

Smaller sustainable farmers, who were not heard by the committee, are concerned that these voluntary offset programs will prop up big agricultural interests, which will likely increase consolidation and undermine those farmers already engaging in sustainable practices.

“Carbon markets do not adequately account for the ecosystem services provided by smaller-scale farms using organic practices. These farms sequester carbon and build organic matter through soil health practices that are fundamental to their operations but they are unlikely to benefit from carbon market programs that pay per acre for individual practices, disproportionately benefiting large farms and financial intermediaries,” said Katie Baildon, Policy Coordinator of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York.

“The House Agriculture Committee does a dis-service to its members when it refuses to hear critical perspectives on carbon markets,” said Ben Lilliston, Director of Climate Strategies at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. “After more than a decade of experience, it’s clear these markets are largely for polluters, agribusiness project developers and Wall Street traders — not farmers or the planet.” 

EPA Must Force Idaho Factory Farms to Monitor and Report Water Pollution: Ninth Circuit

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Food System

Boise, Idaho — Today the national advocacy group Food & Water Watch, along with Snake River Waterkeeper, won a Ninth Circuit challenge to EPA’s statewide water pollution permit for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs, or factory farms) in Idaho. The three-judge panel unanimously held that the permit arbitrarily let factory farms off the hook for monitoring their pollution discharges into waterways.

Simply put, CAFOs in Idaho will now be required to comprehensively monitor and report on their waste discharge and water pollution for the first time. This case may have broad implications for how pollution from the factory farm industry is regulated across the country in the future.

“Today’s decision strikes a major blow against EPA’s practice of granting illegal exceptions and special treatment to the factory farm industry,” said Tarah Heinzen, Legal Director at Food & Water Watch. “Factory farms are a huge source of water pollution in Idaho and across the country, but without pollution monitoring, they have been able to pollute at will and hide this pollution from citizens and regulators. Monitoring is a critical first step towards holding factory farms accountable for illegal pollution.

“We are confident that this is the first domino to fall on the path to comprehensive pollution monitoring and accountability for America’s corporate factory farm industry,” Heinzen added.

CAFOs confine hundreds or thousands of animals and their waste, which they store in impoundments prone to leaching and ultimately dispose of on fields where it can run off into waterways. These facilities are a significant source of water pollution, including nitrates, pathogens, and pharmaceuticals, and have contributed to pollution impairments in waterways across Idaho. Because of this pollution risk, CAFOs are supposed to be regulated as “point sources” under the federal Clean Water Act, which requires polluters to follow permits that limit discharges and require monitoring to demonstrate if a facility is in compliance. 

EPA’s Idaho Permit did not require factory farms to monitor for discharges through waste impoundments or from land application fields, instead assuming that facilities would satisfy the permit’s “zero discharge” limits. Food & Water Watch and Snake River Waterkeeper argued that this violated the Clean Water Act’s requirement that permits contain “representative” monitoring capable of showing if a facility is meeting or violating its permit. 

The Court agreed with the petitioners, holding that EPA’s Idaho Permit is unlawful because without such monitoring, “there is no way to ensure that a CAFO is complying with the Permit’s … no-discharge requirement.” 

“This victory changes the face of permitting and accountability for an industry that has avoided the requirements of the Clean Water Act’s pollution safeguards for far too long,” said Buck Ryan, Executive Director of Snake River Waterkeeper. “The public deserves to know what is being put into waterways by the State’s worst polluters, and with this decision we can begin to understand the actual levels of factory farm effluent being discharged into the Snake River in order to address their sources and ecological impact.”

The Court vacated EPA’s Idaho Permit, requiring the agency to draft a new permit with the monitoring provisions required by federal law. Because EPA and state agencies routinely omit monitoring in CAFO permits with similar pollution risks, today’s decision will pave the way for similar requirements in CAFO permits across the country. 

The Petitioners were represented in this case by Food & Water Watch and Earthrise Law Center at Lewis & Clark Law School.

Contact: Seth Gladstone – [email protected]

County Commission Unlawfully Allows Dirty Factory Farm Gas Facility to Proceed in Delaware

Categories

Food System

For Immediate Release

Today, Food & Water Watch and Sussex Health and Environmental Network issued a letter to the Sussex County Council and Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission, notifying them as to the unlawful actions of the Commission last week in allowing a clearly lapsed conditional use permit to remain in effect for CleanBay Renewables’ factory farm biogas facility in Georgetown. Citing photo and video evidence that demonstrate the company’s failure to construct at the site before the August 1, 2021 deadline established in Sussex County Code, the groups are requesting the Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission reconsider their unlawful approval of the company’s lapsed permit.

Factory farm biogas facilities are a growing trend in agribusiness companies’ taking advantage of clean energy mandates, while not actually reducing emissions or agricultural pollution. Until the CleanBay permit legally lapsed in August, the project was one of two poultry factory farm biogas digesters in motion in Delaware, along with the nearby Bioenergy DevCo project, moving forward near Seaford. Given the significant risks to public health, safety and the environment posed by these industrial facilities, it is imperative that Sussex County officials scrutinize these proposals seriously, not give corporate developers the “benefit of the doubt.”

Given the unlawful decision, Food & Water Watch and Sussex Health and Environmental Network request that the the Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission reconsider its determination, and inform CleanBay that their conditional use permit “is null and void as of August 1, 2021, and that therefore no construction or use of the site under that non-existent conditional use approval is permitted.”

Food & Water Watch Staff Attorney Emily Miller issued the following statement:

“Factory farm gas entrenches the dirtiest factory farming practices and keeps fossil fuel infrastructure on the grid. By creating a monetary incentive for factory farm waste production, projects like CleanBay’s that seek to produce gas for the regional energy grid, are a nightmare in the making. Sussex County has issued an unlawful determination that CleanBay’s clearly lapsed zoning approval was still in effect, paving the way for the polluting facility to endanger local residents’ health, safety and the environment, while handing the corporation a blank check. The Sussex County Planning & Zoning Commission must notify CleanBay Renewables of their lapsed permit, putting an end to this destructive project.”

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]

Iowa’s Waged A War To Silence Big Ag Critics. We’re Trying To Stop Them In Court.

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Food System

by Tyler Lobdell

Iowa legislators are determined to hide dirty factory farm practices from the public. Across the country, Big Ag has been pushing unconstitutional statutes known as “Ag-Gag” laws —  anti-transparency laws designed to silence journalists, activists, and impacted community members who dare to expose food safety violations, animal abuse, and environmental degradation at factory farms. They do so by criminalizing essential free speech activity like undercover investigations. 

Iowa enacted its first Ag-Gag law in 2012, and has since passed three more in response to court decisions striking down these laws for violating the First Amendment. Rather than protecting Iowans’ rights, Iowa’s industry-controlled legislators tweak their illegal approach in repeated attempts to skirt the Constitution. Which leads us to “Ag-Gag 4.0,” Iowa’s latest attempt to silence voices the factory farm industry doesn’t want the public to hear, in a way that legislators hope will survive legal challenge. 

Ag-Gag 4.0 takes a slightly different approach than previous attempts by making camera usage or data collection while trespassing an “aggravated” misdemeanor; this carries stiffer fines and jail time than a simple trespass. Legislators have brought absurd claims about the risk of “industrial espionage” to justify the law — the latest in a string of absurd reasons for infringing on Iowans’ constitutional rights. But we know their real goal is shielding Big Ag from public scrutiny. Which is why Food & Water Watch has joined a lawsuit to strike down Ag-Gag 4.0, just as so many other similar laws have been struck down in Iowa and across the country. 

We’re fighting this in court. Will you chip in to help power our work?

Unconstitutionally Infringing on Civil Liberties, Iowa Continues Pushing More Ag-Gag Laws

Given that the intent of Ag-Gag laws is to silence unwelcomed viewpoints protected by the First Amendment, it should come as no surprise that many Ag-Gag laws have been struck down or put on hold. The key provision of Iowa’s original 2012 Ag-Gag law, which criminalized false statements made by undercover investigators while seeking employment at factory farms, was just struck down by a court of appeals. Even more recently, another court of appeals struck down a core provision of Kansas’s Ag-Gag law. These losses follow in the footsteps of similar court decisions throwing out Ag-Gag laws in Idaho, Utah, North Carolina, and elsewhere. Despite the clear message from federal courts that Ag-Gag laws are unconstitutional, Iowa’s legislators have forged ahead undeterred.  

Ag-Gag Laws Protect The Financial Interests Of Iowa’s Corrupt Legislators And Their Donors 

If you are wondering why Iowa legislators would keep trying so hard to implement an Ag-Gag law that sticks, look no further than what comes to light whenever public interest advocates show what’s happening on factory farms. Undercover investigations consistently expose rampant food safety violations, environmental concerns, and disturbing animal abuse. So it’s no wonder the industry wants to put a stop to them!

And in Iowa, some legislators are the industry. One of the leading proponents of multiple Iowa Ag-Gag laws is state senator Ken Rozenboom. Senator Rozenboom owns multiple factory farms in Iowa, and has blocked proposals for a factory farm moratorium and stronger regulations of factory farm pollution. His factory farms were the subject of an undercover investigation showing appalling animal abuses — exactly the type of investigation his Ag-Gag laws seek to criminalize. This is a clear conflict of interest. 

That’s why Food & Water Action, FWW’s sister organization, filed an ethics complaint against Senator Rozenboom in August 2020 for violating the Iowa Senate’s Code of Ethics by pushing for legislation clearly designed to protect his personal financial interests. Senator Rozenboom tried to appear disturbed and upset by the abuse and deplorable conditions documented at his factory farms and tried to blame lower level management, but he knows that what was uncovered was business as usual. Factory farming’s only hope is to keep the public in the dark as long as possible.     

We Have a Right to Know How Our Food Is Produced

More than a century ago, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle exposed the horrors of early 20th century meatpacking. That transparency led to a sea change in U.S. food production, ushering in food safety laws still on the books today. But factory farms still operate largely in the dark, and shedding light on how animals are raised, slaughtered, and processed into food remains of great importance today. The factory farm industry understands that its business as usual practices would be shocking and unacceptable to their customers and the public at large, if exposed to the light of day. So, rather than clean up their act, they have lobbied hard to punish those who would expose the truth. As the Iowa Pork Producers Association explained, Ag-Gag laws protect factory farms “from various people [who] have hidden agendas and things like that.” 

But there is nothing hidden about our agenda. Food & Water Watch will continue fighting for transparency in Iowa and across the country. We will not rest so long as Iowa’s industry-bought legislators continue to abuse their power to silence dissent and keep factory farming in the shadows.

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Monsanto — Er, Bayer — Will End Consumer Glyphosate Sales. It’s Not Enough.

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Food System

Photo CC-BY © Mike Mozart / Flickr.com

Over 100,000 legal claims from consumers finally prompted Bayer to announce last month that it will remove glyphosate from its residential-use weed killers, including Roundup, beginning in 2023 (newsflash: still not soon enough). Bayer (which now owns Monsanto) said it will replace glyphosate with a different alternative.

In 2015, the World Health Organization classified glyphosate as a probable carcinogen but Monsanto — as the company was then known — initiated a PR blitz to contradict that finding. This included paying scientists to conduct an “independent” review of glyphosate to give the toxic chemical a bill of good health, and wooing officials from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tasked with reviewing the pesticide’s cancer effects. This interference heavily muddied the waters and likely influenced EPA to find that glyphosate didn’t pose a cancer risk to humans. 

But what a government agency that is supposed to protect us didn’t do, and what a corporation hellbent on protecting its profits wouldn’t proactively do, thousands of costly lawsuits finally accomplished. Still, this voluntary removal of glyphosate from residential-use products doesn’t go nearly far enough, and we won’t rest until the EPA bans glyphosate altogether. 

Here’s a brief history of how Monsanto/Bayer has manipulated science and government agencies in order to keep selling their deadly money-maker. 

Court Documents Revealed Monsanto’s Playbook To Obscure Roundup’s Cancer Link

In March of 2017, a federal judge unsealed court documents that detailed the lengths Monsanto went to twist the public narrative and EPA review in order to continue selling glyphosate under the claim that it was safe. 

For instance, an internal PowerPoint outlines Monsanto’s strategy for countering the damning classification as a probable carcinogen. One suggestion was to publish a paper analyzing the animal data that the WHO used in its cancer assessment, noting that the “majority of writing can be done by Monsanto, keeping OS$ [costs] down.” It suggested recruiting external scientists like Helmut Greim, who co-authored a Monsanto-funded analysis the following year that — unsurprisingly — concluded that glyphosate is not carcinogenic to laboratory animals.

They also ghost-wrote papers and paid “independent” scientists to put their names on them, and stopped working with scientists who wouldn’t present findings the way they instructed. 

EPA’s framework for assessing the public health risk posed by pesticides like Roundup relies heavily on industry-funded science, which makes the process vulnerable to this kind of predetermined conclusion-driven approach. It is also why advocates worry that glyphosate’s replacement could have its own health risks, but still be given the green light by EPA. 

Injured Users Of Roundup And Advocacy Groups Like Food & Water Watch Took Action When EPA Did Not

For years while we’ve been waiting for EPA to do the scientifically sound thing by banning glyphosate, we also sounded the alarm ourselves, publishing research and educating citizens about its danger. 

We compiled data that showed glyphosate: 

  • Is an endocrine disruptor, meaning it interferes with hormone levels, even when glyphosate residue on foods is present below allowable thresholds;
  • Is probably carcinogenic, linked strongly to non-Hodgkins lymphoma, according to  the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer — whose assessment has underpinned many of the lawsuits filed against Monsanto/Bayer;
  • May contribute to antibiotic resistance in certain bacteria;
  • May be linked to reproductive issues and birth defects; and
  • Is widely present in our food — meaning this voluntary suspension of consumer-level Roundup sales does not go far enough and we still need EPA to act. 

It’s Time For EPA To Do Its Job To Protect The Public And Ban Glyphosate

Bayer’s press release announcing the move to eventually pull glyphosate from their products confirms that they have no plans to stop selling it for large-scale agricultural uses — which is the path by which it ends up in so many of the foods in our grocery stores: 

This move is being made exclusively to manage litigation risk and not because of any safety concerns. As the vast majority of claims in the litigation come from Lawn & Garden market users, this action largely eliminates the primary source of future claims beyond an assumed latency period. There will be no change in the availability of the company’s glyphosate formulations in the U.S. professional and agricultural markets.

This statement implies that Bayer/Monsanto has no qualms about continuing to cause harm to consumers, as long as they feel adequately shielded from liability for that harm. 

This is why we can’t rely on corporations to do what’s right, and we must insist the EPA do its job and ban glyphosate everywhere, for good. 

Tell the EPA to ban Roundup everywhere!

1,400 Petitions Urge Gov. Brown to Deny Easterday’s Mega-Dairy Permit

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Food System

For Immediate Release

Salem, OR – At a virtual press conference hosted by the Stand Up to Factory Farms Coalition, experts and activists joined in urging Governor Brown to deny Cole Easterday’s application for a mega-dairy on the site of the former Lost Valley Farm. Earlier today, members of the coalition delivered more than 1,400 petitions to Governor Brown calling on her to deny the Easterday permit. 

“Eastern Oregon does not need another mega-polluting mega-dairy,” said Kristina Beggen, Organizer with the Stand Up to Factory Farms Coalition. “Governor Brown has an opportunity to listen to the voices of her constituents who don’t want mega-dairies in their communities. The transfer of ownership from Cody Easterday to Cole Easterday makes no difference. Mega-dairies produce climate disrupting methane emissions, no matter who operates them. Oregon can’t afford climate change accelerants, nor can its communities afford to have their scarce water resources hijacked or polluted by mega-dairies. Governor Brown must deny this application for the sake of Oregon’s climate and communities.”

The influx of mega-dairies has correlated with a dramatic decline in the number of family-scale dairy farms in operation in Oregon. In a span of 17 years, their numbers decreased by more than 85 percent from 1,900 to 228.

“Small farmers certainly won’t benefit from the introduction of another mega-dairy into Oregon’s agricultural landscape,” said Amy Wong, Policy Director at Friends of Family Farmers. “In just ten years, the number of cows in Oregon has grown 14-fold thanks to mega-dairies, making it harder for sustainable, smaller dairies to survive. Hundreds of Oregon’s small dairies were driven out of business in part by the market being flooded with cheap mega-dairy milk that doesn’t take environmental and other externalities into account. If Governor Brown denies Easterday’s permit, she can set an example of sustainable agriculture and climate leadership for other states to follow.”

The coalition also delivered a letter bearing the signatures of 21 organizations representing more than 120,000 Oregonians to the Governor, similarly urging her to deny Cole Easterday’s permit. The letter outlines concerns around the prospective facility’s methane emissions and impact on climate change as well as groundwater contamination from nitrates, already detected in the site’s soil and identified by ODA as a threat to groundwater sources.  

“The long-held narrative from Oregon officials that Lost Valley Farm and its hundreds of permit violations was simply ‘one bad actor’ is blatantly false,” said Mackenzie Aime, Oregon Organizer with Food & Water Watch. “All mega-dairies pose a threat to Oregon’s public health and environment. Governor Brown should learn from previous mistakes and deny this permit outright to protect our water and the health of frontline communities.”

“As the West continues to face drought conditions, only to worsen as a result of climate change, it’s unconscionable that officials are even considering providing permits to mega-dairies that will jeopardize the safety of Oregon’s critical groundwater supply,” said Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “We must say no to projects that will endanger the public and surrounding environment that have no justification other than to increase profits for industrial animal agriculture.”

According to a recent study, livestock production air pollution kills 12,700 people per year. Dairy operations are responsible for one third of those deaths. Mega-dairies emit ammonia, methane, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, and hydrogen sulfide, all compounds hazardous to human health. 

“Industrial dairies use and pollute massive amounts of water, and the leakage from their animal waste lagoons leeches into groundwater, endangering the drinking water supply for all Oregonians,” said Amy Van Saun, Senior Attorney for Center for Food Safety. “Denying the Easterday permit application would send a strong message to all Oregonians: people matter more than industry profits.”

Watch and download the press conference here.

###

Stand Up to Factory Farms is a coalition of local, state and national organizations concerned about the harmful impacts of mega-dairies on Oregon’s family farms, communities, the environment and animal welfare. We seek legislation or an executive order establishing a moratorium on new mega-dairies and the expansion of existing mega-dairies until policies are in place that meaningfully protect our air, water, and climate and ensure the humane treatment of animals and the economic viability of family farmers. 

Contact: Jessica Gable, (202) 683-2478, [email protected]

Lawsuit Challenges Constitutionality of Iowa’s Revamped Ag-Gag Law

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Food System

For Immediate Release

Des Moines, IA – Today the Animal Legal Defense Fund, together with a coalition of public interest groups represented by Public Justice, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, challenging the constitutionality of the recently-passed Iowa Recording Ban. The new Ag-Gag law — which creates a new crime of “trespassing” to engage in video and audio recording — again criminalizes the tools of undercover journalism and investigations in violation of the First Amendment, just as the state’s previous two Ag-Gag laws did that were challenged in the past.

Iowa’s Ag-Gag laws are designed to criminalize investigations at factory farms, slaughterhouses, and puppy mills. The first, passed in 2012, was struck down in 2019 and is now before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. After Iowa passed a second Ag-Gag law, the coalition brought another constitutional challenge and secured a preliminary injunction in 2019 barring the law’s enforcement while the lawsuit proceeds.

While the previous two Ag-Gag laws in Iowa targeted investigative deception and misrepresentation to gain access and employment at industrial agriculture facilities, the new law has created a unique crime to deter investigations and public advocacy. The law threatens increased penalties for recording even in public places and locations advocates have long used for public advocacy, such as in open areas of legislators’ offices and parts of businesses in which other members of the public regularly come and go.

“After repeated attempts by the state of Iowa to thwart animal advocates’ efforts to document the inhumane treatment of animals on factory farms, the legislature has enacted a new and broader law that deceptively impacts a broad range of industries while still maintaining its original — and unconstitutional — purpose of suppressing speech about industrial agriculture,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “The Animal Legal Defense Fund will continue to challenge the various incarnations of Ag-Gag laws that seek to hide animal abuse.”

“By passing yet another unconstitutional Ag-Gag law, Iowa’s state legislature has put on full display its willingness to trample the Constitution in an attempt to hide from the public what really goes on at factory farms,” says Tyler Lobdell, Staff Attorney at Food & Water Watch. “Food & Water Watch is dedicated to fighting back against the increasingly consolidated, polluting and inhumane factory farm industry taking over our rural communities — and making sure the public knows the truth with behind-the-scenes photo and video evidence is critical to that work. Like the many before it, Iowa’s latest attempt to silence inconvenient truths must be struck down.”

“Iowa’s elected officials have once again chosen to make industrial ag companies immune from public scrutiny in violation of the First Amendment,” says David Muraskin, Litigation Director of the Public Justice Food Project, who represents the plaintiff groups in the challenge. “We are confident that this wide-ranging, dangerous, and desperate Ag-Gag law yet will be struck down.”

For more than a century, the public has relied on undercover investigations to expose illegal and cruel practices on factory farms and in slaughterhouses. No federal laws govern the condition in which farmed animals are raised for food, and laws addressing slaughter and transport are laxly enforced. Undercover investigations are the primary avenue through which the public receives information about animal agriculture operations.

This is the ninth lawsuit challenging state Ag-Gag laws around the country including from Iowa. In addition to the challenges to the Iowa laws, earlier lawsuits have resulted in courts striking down similar laws in North Carolina, Kansas, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming. North Carolina and Kansas have appealed—with decisions pending. A challenge to the Arkansas Ag-Gag law is also awaiting a decision by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The coalition comprises plaintiffs Animal Legal Defense Fund, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Bailing Out Benji, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and Food & Water Watch, who are represented by Public Justice, in-house counsel, the Law Office of Matthew Strugar, and Roxanne Conlin & Associates.

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]

It’s Time For An Urgent Intervention In The Food System Ruining Our Climate

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Food System

by Mark Schlosberg

Wildfires, heatwaves, hurricanes and droughts: the deadly impacts of climate change are becoming more intense and devastating. While the transition to a real, renewable energy system is imperative to a livable climate future, it’s just as urgent to address the destructive impacts of our industrial food system. The current system is highly concentrated and exploitative, and it’s driving climate change and water shortages.

To address the climate crisis we must break up the big food monopolies and stop the practice of concentrating large numbers of animals on factory farms. The first step is passing the Farm System Reform Act. 

The Relationship Between Factory Farms and Climate Change

Factory farms drive climate change. Raising livestock on factory farms accounts for 14.5% of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, the largest contribution coming from producing corn and soy to feed factory-farmed animals. In fact, the top 20 meat and dairy corporations together contribute more greenhouse gases than the entire country of Germany, and together the top five contribute more than fossil fuel giants Exxon, Shell, or BP. These meat and dairy corporations are pushing factory farm expansion, further driving up greenhouse gas emissions, while family-scale livestock farms struggle to survive. 

Further, while factory farms drive water shortages through climate-induced droughts, they also directly poison vast quantities of freshwater across the country through the waste they produce. 

Agriculture is the leading known cause of pollution in U.S. rivers and streams and is the second-largest known contributor to the contamination of wetlands. Pollution from animal feeding operations threatens or impairs over 13,000 miles of U.S. rivers and streams and 60,000 acres of lakes and ponds. In one stark example, nearly 500,000 dairy cows on factory farms in Tulare County, California produce more manure waste than the human residents of the Los Angeles metropolitan area. 

We need to break this vicious cycle of factory farms polluting water and driving climate change, which causes water crises for people and the environment. 

An Even More Urgent Case For a Ban on Factory Farms 

Food & Water Watch called for a ban on factory farms in early 2018 because we knew the fragility of our food system. For years, our team has been educating and organizing against extensive corporate control and how it harms family farmers, rural communities, food chain workers and consumers. We knew that in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change we must address industrial agriculture. 

Less than two years later we were proud to work with lead sponsors Senator Cory Booker and Representative Ro Khanna to introduce the Farm System Reform Act in U.S. Congress, a visionary bill that includes a ban on new and expanding factory farms and a phaseout of existing facilities by 2040. Originally introduced in the Senate in December of 2019 and in the House in March of 2020, the Farm System Reform Act helped people to see that a better way is possible — and in fact critical — if we are to protect our water and climate as well as protect food chain workers, and ensure a safe and plentiful food supply. 

And now we’re doing it again — even bigger and bolder than last time.

Introducing the Farm System Reform Act in 2021

In July 2021, Senator Cory Booker and Representative Ro Khanna reintroduced the Farm System Reform Act in the new Congress with three original Senate co-sponsors and a number of new House co-sponsors. The bill is endorsed by a broad coalition of organizations including Food & Water Watch and Food & Water Action, the American Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Family Farm Action, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, and Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. Over 100 individual farmers have also already signed a letter in support of the bill, with more joining every day.

This groundbreaking bill has quickly become the north star of the movement to ban factory farms and end corporate control of our food system and should be a key pillar of national efforts to address climate change. In addition to an immediate ban on new and expanding large factory farms and a phase-out of existing facilities by 2040, the Farm System Reform Act would also: 

  • Create a transition program to allow farmers to escape the contract model and shift to more sustainable forms of agriculture
  • Enact a series of market reforms that would make it possible for small growers to compete
  • Hold corporations responsible for their pollution 

The Farm System Reform Act is a bold and yet commonsense approach that would move us toward a food and farm system that works for us — instead of wealthy corporations only concerned with their own bottom lines. It would help to build the kind of resilient, regionally-based food system that we advocate for in our new report, Well-Fed. It would level the playing field for family-scale farms and help rebuild rural America. And it would provide a real solution to addressing the climate impacts of industrial agriculture — instead of more false solutions like factory farm gas (biogas) or carbon markets.

Do you share our vision for a just food system? Send a message to your Senators and Representatives today.

Political leaders need to hear from you. Send a quick message!

Farm System Reform Act Reintroduced in Congress; Would Ban New Factory Farming

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Food System

Washington, D.C. – A diverse coalition of animal welfare, public health, environmental, and sustainable agriculture organizations commend U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) for introducing the Farm System Reform Act, federal legislation that will help create a more humane food system by moving away from destructive concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and supporting the transition toward higher welfare, certified farms, and alternative crop production. This legislation also includes provisions to address industry consolidation and unfair practices, which can hamper farmers’ independence and ability to improve animal welfare, as well as measures to ensure communities located near factory farms are able to hold these companies legally accountable for negative environmental and public health impacts, and to provide consumers with increased transparency on country-of-origin labelling.

Original cosponsors of the Farm System Reform Act include Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in the Senate, and Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), Mark Pocan (D.Wis.), Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), and Andy Levin (D-Mich.) in the House of Representatives.  

“The factory farm agricultural model, which dominates our country’s food system, fuels toxic air and water contamination, drives dangerous and unfair working conditions, wreaks havoc on independent farmers and rural communities and threatens food safety,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “The Farm System Reform Act is the bold approach we need to bring dangerous factory farming under control now—and begin the necessary transformation to a safe and equitable future for food consumers and workers alike.”

Almost 10 billion animals are raised on U.S. factory farms every year, crowded together in intensive confinement and unable to carry out even some of their most basic natural behaviors. The COVID-19 crisis further exposed the failings of our current food system as viral outbreaks among slaughterhouse employees and inspectors killed hundreds of workers and resulted in shutdowns and the mass killing of millions of farm animals who languished on farms with no place to go. The scale of this suffering has increased the immediacy with which the food, farming, and animal welfare movements advocate together for a shared vision of a better farming system.

“Large, multinational meatpackers, because of their buying power and size, are putting our food system at risk and harming everyone along the supply chain. We need to fix the broken system – that means giving family farmers and ranchers a fair shot and holding corporate integrators responsible for the harm they are causing,” said Sen. Booker. “We must immediately begin to transition to a more sustainable and humane system. An important first step is ending our reliance on huge factory farms and investing in a system that focuses on resilient and regenerative production.”

“If Congress doesn’t act soon, we risk losing an entire generation of family farms to multinational farming corporations,” said Rep. Khanna. “The Farm System Reform Act is the clear way to ensure the American food system maintains fair competition, high animal welfare standards, and a dependable food chain. We must fix this broken system. I’m proud to reintroduce this critical legislation with Senator Booker to level the playing field for family farmers, ranchers, and agricultural workers in the 21st century.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic exposed animal agriculture’s deceptive façade, revealing a broken factory farm system that is failing both people and animals. The Farm System Reform Act will help repair and bring compassion to our food system, protecting countless animals from unconscionable cruelty,” said Matt Bershadker, ASPCA President and CEO. “We thank Senator Booker and Representative Khanna for championing this necessary legislation to build a food system that values animals, people, and our planet—not just profit.”

Factory farms directly threaten animal welfare, often making use of cruel confinement methods that prevent animals from carrying out even the most basic natural behaviors like perching or rooting. Besides harming animals, factory farming also wreaks havoc on rural communities, public health, farmers, farm workers, and the environment. The COVID-19 crisis has strengthened the public’s understanding of these linked impacts with demand for change growing. A 2020 survey found that the vast majority (89 percent) of Americans are concerned about animal welfare, worker safety or public health issues that go hand-in-hand with factory farming—including 85 percent of farmers and their families who support a complete ban on new CAFOs, almost twice the level of support expressed by the general public. 

The Farm System Reform Act is supported by more than 300 diverse groups, including the ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®), Food & Water Watch, and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. Additionally, more than 100 farmers across the country have signed onto a letter endorsing the bill as a critical solution that would revitalize independent agriculture and uplift farmers and rural communities. The coalition is asking the public to contact their U.S. senators and representatives to urge them to cosponsor and pass the Farm System Reform Act.

Contact: Seth Gladstone – [email protected]

Biden Executive Order Gives Farmers New Protections from Corporate Abuse

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Food System

Today, President Biden signed an Executive Order to address the rampant concentration across the U.S. economy, with several directives aimed squarely at the food and farming sector.

The order calls on the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to enforce our nation’s antitrust laws and challenge previous mega-mergers that have left many segments of our economy in the hands of a small number of powerful companies. It also directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to take specific measures to protect American farmers, including replacing the Trump Administration’s weak rules under the Packers and Stockyards Act with ones that make it easier for farmers to bring forth cases of abuse suffered by the hands of powerful meat processors.

“Farmers have waited far too long for reforms to the Packers and Stockyards rules,” says Food & Water Watch Senior Food Researcher and Policy Analyst Amanda Starbuck. ”While serving in the Obama administration, Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack delayed implementation of crucial rules that would have protected farmers, which opened the door for those rules to be gutted by the Trump Administration. We urge Vilsack to seize this second chance to set things right.”

The order calls for additional actions to aid farmers and consumers. This includes redefining the “Product of USA” label rules so consumers are not deceived into thinking they are buying American beef when in fact it was imported from abroad. It also urges FTC to limit the ability of farm equipment manufacturers to prevent farmers or independent repair shops from repairing their products. 

Starbuck added: “These are important first steps in addressing the stranglehold that corporations have on our farmers, food workers and eaters. The Biden Administration is making moves to address the growing corporate consolidation in the food system that farmers and advocates have pointed to for years.”

Wisconsin Supreme Court Factory Farm Decision a Victory for Clean Water

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Food System

Today, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that the state’s regulatory agencies are explicitly empowered to protect public health and welfare, regardless of whether the state legislature  specifically outlined such measures.

The case before the court, Clean Wisconsin v. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (“DNR”), involved a challenge to permit conditions that authorized the expansion of a large factory farm in Kewaunee County. Residents and local groups had successfully pressed for a stronger permit that would monitor groundwater quality and limit the number of animals at the facility.  The factory farm owner and the Wisconsin Legislature opposed these efforts, arguing in part that Wisconsin’s Act 21 dramatically limited the authority of state agencies to only those standards or conditions specifically considered and enumerated by the legislature.

Today’s ruling supports the position of the local groups (see this release from the Midwest Environmental Advocates), and finds that Act 21 does not inhibit the Department of Natural Resources from enacting policies that protect natural resources and communities from the effects of pollution. A ruling otherwise would have severely hamstrung state agencies in their abilities to protect public health and welfare.

In April, the Supreme Court accepted an amicus brief filed by Food & Water Watch on behalf of environmental, public health, and sustainable farming advocates, who argued that Wisconsin law and common sense empower state agencies to protect the public health and welfare from pollution caused by factory farms (otherwise known as CAFOs, or concentrated animal feeding operations). 

“The court’s decision affirms a simple fact: state agencies have the authority to protect the public from factory farm pollution,” said Tyler Lobdell, staff attorney with Food & Water Watch. “Kinnard Farms and members of the state legislature sought to rewrite the law to prohibit common sense protections, despite ongoing pollution of the environment and people’s drinking water. Today’s decision will have far reaching effects for a range of environmental protection measures across Wisconsin.”

Iowa CCI and Food & Water Watch File Petition for Rehearing with Iowa Supreme Court

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Food System

For Immediate Release

DES MOINES, IA — Two weeks ago, the Iowa Supreme Court issued a split 4-3 ruling against the plaintiffs in Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch v. State of Iowa. Today, the plaintiffs filed a petition for rehearing asking the Court to reconsider its decision. Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch believe that Iowans have a right to clean water, that it is the duty of the legislature to protect that right, and that it is the courts’ role to always protect the constitutional rights of Iowans.

The lawsuit and petition were filed by Food & Water Watch and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, who are represented in the action by Food & Water Watch, Public Justice, Roxanne Conlin & Associates, and Channing Dutton, of Lawyer, Lawyer, Dutton & Drake LLP.

The case responds to decades of state inaction as thousands of factory farms and fertilizer runoff pollute Iowa waterways, particularly impacting the Raccoon River, which is essential for drinking water and recreation. For years, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch have built a grassroots movement in Iowa around legislative reform to pass a statewide factory farm moratorium. Given legislative inaction, the groups sued the State of Iowa in 2019, seeking a legal remedy for the water pollution in the Raccoon River caused by unabated factory farm expansion and industrial agricultural pollution in the watershed.

After the District Court denied the State’s motion to dismiss the case, the State appealed and two weeks ago the Iowa Supreme Court reversed, with a four-justice majority concluding that the groups lack legal standing and the case presents a “political question” best left to the legislature. The groups are committed to exhausting all possible remedies to Iowa’s compounding water and agricultural pollution crises, and are filing the petition to ask the Court to reconsider its decision not only because of the urgency of the water quality crises, but also to ask the Court to revisit the factual and legal analysis in the decision, as the three dissenting justices argued. 

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch v. State of Iowa will set  precedent that will affect the constitutional rights of Iowans, access to the courts to protect those rights, and the courts’ role to hold the legislature accountable to Iowans, including to ensure the public’s right to use and enjoy navigable waters. In their petition for rehearing, the plaintiffs argue the need for a closer review of the narrowly divided court’s opinion, warning that the new legal barriers the Supreme Court relied on are inconsistent with Iowa law and the courts’ constitutional role to protect Iowans’ constitutional rights. Specifically, because the State never contested the constitutional basis for the right to clean water, the Court should have allowed the case to proceed. The Supreme Court applied a federal limit on access to judicial relief never before applied in Iowa courts. Applying that new limit, the Court concluded that a court could not provide a remedy for water pollution, leaving Iowans a right to clean water without a remedy. 

“As our state flag says, ‘our liberties we prize, and our rights we will maintain,’” said Emma Schmit, Food & Water Watch Iowa Organizer. “On behalf of our 18,400 members and supporters in the state of Iowa, we are committed to the fight for safe, clean drinking water. We respectfully invite our Supreme Court to reconsider the precedent this case sets and the effects their decision will have on the health, safety and recreational enjoyment of Iowans across the Raccoon River watershed. But whatever the Court decides, we will not rest until we have gained relief from the factory farms and agricultural pollution endangering our drinking water.”

“We maintain that all Iowans have a right to clean water — and that the state has a duty to protect that right. The legislature, Governor, and Iowa’s state agencies have failed to protect Iowans’ right to clean water as provided by the Iowa Constitution. These facts are clear,” said Adam Mason, State Policy Director at Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. “With this action today, we pledge that the fight for clean water in Iowa is far from over.”

“The Court has effectively decided that the right to clean water is a right without a remedy,” said Brent Newell, Public Justice Food Project Senior Attorney. “We are all too familiar with the ways in which Big Ag contributes to Iowa’s water pollution and makes Iowans pay for it. As we continue our fight in defending Iowans’ right to clean water, we believe the Court has the opportunity to honor its duty to protect Iowans’ constitutional and property rights. The Court can affirm these constitutional protections by granting this petition and allowing this case to proceed to trial.”

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]

Gov. Hogan to Lift MD State of Emergency, Despite Lack of Food and Farm Worker Protections

Categories

Food System

For Immediate Release

Annapolis, MD — Tomorrow, July 1, Governor Hogan will lift the COVID-19 state of emergency in Maryland, opening up the economy without ever having put mandatory safety guidelines for the essential workers who keep Maryland running. Food and farm workers — who have labored throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to keep grocery stores stocked and put food on the table for families across the state — still have not been afforded the protections needed in the face of the highly contagious COVID-19 Delta variant and risk of future outbreaks.

“Food and farm workers in Maryland may seem invisible, because many live in rural areas and in employer-provided housing,” said Leila Borrero-Krouse, organizer and immigration Specialist for CATA Farmworker Support Committee. “But they are essential! Sadly, our state government has been treating them as expendable during this pandemic. These workers still lack basic protections, and face difficulties accessing vaccinations and transportation to COVID-19 testing. They are often afraid to speak up about these conditions for fear of losing their jobs or immigration status. It is shameful that the Hogan administration is lifting the state of emergency having done nothing for them.”

Maryland’s eastern shore counties, home to the state’s extensive agricultural and fishing industries, have some of the state’s lowest vaccination rates. The workplace struggles facing frontline food and farm workers have been extensively detailed, with everything from lack of medical leave to whistleblower retaliation limiting the ability for these workers to receive the protections they need to stay safe.

“These workers, largely excluded from basic workplace safety protections, will be laboring in fields and factories in communities with low vaccination rates while the incredibly infectious Delta variant spreads,” said Dr. Gwen DuBois, President of Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility. “Without protective standards in place, their employers will be required to provide nothing to protect them. For food and farm workers, this pandemic is far from over. They will be exposed to this deadly virus, hot weather conditions, and pesticides – further weakening their ability to be safe. Since Maryland is collecting no data on their rate of infection, hospitalization and death, this injustice will be hidden from the public.”

Despite consistent advocate pressure, Governor Hogan has failed to enact a comprehensive plan to protect frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. After nearly a year of inaction that put thousands of workers at risk, the legislature passed the Maryland Essential Workers’ Protection Act to safeguard workers during the state of emergency. With the lifting of the state of emergency, the bill’s most critical protections will not be enacted.

“We should not reopen Maryland without a comprehensive plan to safeguard food and farm workers,” said Lily Hawkins, Food & Water Watch Maryland Organizer. “If we want to return to business as usual, we need to double down on ensuring that our most essential workers are kept safe. As Governor Hogan continues to fail workers, the General Assembly should prioritize passing legislation to establish permanent workplace protection standards for airborne disease transmission.” 

“Maryland’s food and farm workers deserve and need protection in order to keep themselves, their families, and our communities safe,” said Amy Liebman, Director of the Environmental and Occupational Health Programs for the Migrant Clinicians Network. “And our state needs to step in to ensure that the workers who put food on our tables are protected and provided a safe place to work.” 

“Governor Hogan has once again abdicated his duty to essential workers in Maryland,” said Chloe Waterman, senior program manager at Friends of the Earth. “By ending the state of emergency and unemployment benefits without any mandatory workplace safety standards, Governor Hogan is putting essential workers and our economy at risk.” 

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]

We Can’t Eat Without Bees And Other Pollinators. Protecting Them Is Key.

Categories

Food System

by Amanda Starbuck

Last week, a startup made headlines by claiming it is developing a vaccine that provides domestic honeybees with immunity towards a group of pesticides called organophosphates. The company wants to market the product as a solution to honeybee colony collapse.

Was this an early gift for National Pollinator Week? Hardly. At Food & Water Watch, we know that to truly protect bees from lethal pesticides, the duty falls on our legislators and regulators — not our beekeepers. Moreover, we need to systematically reform our food and farming systems, if we have any hope of saving our precious pollinators. This is why we support legislation like the Saving America’s Pollinators Act. It is also why we are fighting for a just transition to regional, sustainable food systems.

The Humble Honeybee Isn’t The Only Threatened Pollinator  

Honeybees often come to mind when we think of pollinators. But did you know there are more than 100,000 species of animals across the globe that pollinate flowering plants? In fact, the vast majority of crops we eat are not pollinated by domesticated honeybees but by other wildlife, ranging from wild bees and moths to hummingbirds and fruit bats. We need to safeguard all of these unsung heroes that make it possible for us to eat.

Pesticides are just one threat facing pollinators. Climate change is another. Extreme weather destroys plants that pollinators depend on. It also disrupts the timing of plant flowering and the migration patterns of pollinators. Last year, the number of monarch butterflies that over-wintered in Mexico fell by a quarter from the previous year. Our government’s refusal to take bold action on climate change is threatening the survival of monarchs and other pollinators.

Our farming systems are also destroying vital pollinator habitat. Industrial practices like monocropping and chemical pesticide spraying reduce biodiversity. Over the past few decades, the U.S. significantly expanded its corn and soy acreage, mostly for non-food uses like ethanol and livestock feed. This took more land out of conservation reserve, reducing pollinator habitat. And nearly all of these corn and soybean acres are GMO varieties resistant to glyphosate (Roundup) herbicides. Glyphosate use is linked to steep declines in milkweed and other plant species crucial to pollinator survival.

Only a System-Wide Approach Will Save Our Pollinators

First, we can pass the Saving America’s Pollinators Act, reintroduced this week. The bill would immediately cancel the registration of neonicotinoids, a group of pesticides that are lethal to bees. It would also direct the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to create a Pollinator Protection Board. The Board would independently review pesticides for their threats to pollinators and their habitats, and monitor pollinator populations. That way, we can ensure that no harmful pesticides make it into the field in the first place.

Second, we need bold solutions to the climate crisis, including ending fossil fuel subsidies and transitioning to 100 percent clean and renewable energy by 2030. We cannot hope to protect pollinators if we do not address this imminent threat to all species’ survival.

Finally, Food & Water Watch is advocating for a radical transformation of our food and farming systems, to reduce climate emissions and promote biodiversity. We need to reestablish supply management for commodity crops, to stop the overproduction of corn and soy and end the glut of cheap grain that props up factory farms. We need to realign our farm safety net so that it encourages the adoption of regenerative practices that return biodiversity to the farm. Diverse, integrated crop-and-livestock operations will eliminate the need for pesticides while providing vital habitat for pollinators and other wildlife.We have the blueprints for making this transition happen. Help us celebrate National Pollinator Week by joining with us in demanding bold action to save our bees and other pollinators.

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Our Smithfield Lawsuit Exposes Lies About Meat Shortages And Worker Safety

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Food System

by Emily Miller

Of all the dark truths the pandemic has exposed about our society and food system, meatpacking companies’ greed and shocking disregard for workers’ health and safety makes our blood boil the most. And one corporation, in particular, has repeatedly and egregiously lied to the public throughout the crisis to protect its bottom line: Smithfield Foods. 

Food & Water Watch Sues Smithfield For Misleading Claims

At the height of the pandemic, slaughterhouses became ground zero for massive COVID-19 outbreaks. Thousands of meatpacking workers across the country contracted the virus — in some cases, even forcing plants to temporarily shut down. The crisis not only exposed the vulnerability of a food system controlled by a few powerful and highly consolidated corporations, but also accelerated nationwide transmission of the virus.  

Enough is enough. Last week, Food & Water Watch brought suit against the multinational meat processing company on behalf of the general public for its violations of the District of Columbia’s consumer protection law, which prohibits corporate bad actors from lying to consumers for profit. Our Executive Director Wenonah Hauter explains why:

“Corporations like Smithfield routinely choose profit over people. The company utterly failed to protect its workers as the coronavirus spread like wildfire throughout its meat processing facilities, and its fear mongering about meat shortages was designed to exploit consumer panic and boost sales. Smithfield put workers’ lives at risk all in the name of corporate greed and turned already notoriously dangerous workplaces into deadly ones.” 

Smithfield’s False Advertising Campaign Duped Consumers

Our complaint lists in detail the numerous and specific false claims Smithfield has peddled to consumers and the general public about its pandemic response. Here’s a summary of what our lawsuit alleges:

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Smithfield has mounted a distinctly aggressive public relations campaign geared toward leveraging the pandemic to increase its profits. Through advertisements, social media statements, and website representations, Smithfield has adopted a two-step press offensive to mislead consumers and salvage its image — and its bottom line.

First, Smithfield has misrepresented to consumers that a countrywide meat shortage was imminent. This fear-mongering is designed to create a revenue-generating feedback loop; It stokes and exploits consumer panic, in turn causing demand for Smithfield’s meat products to surge.

Second, Smithfield has misrepresented working conditions in its plants in an effort to allay heightened consumer concerns for worker safety. Line-level meatpacking workers, in part due to false fears of a meat shortage, have been required to work in person throughout the pandemic — often in cramped conditions on crowded production lines. Smithfield has repeatedly assured consumers through advertisements and a comprehensive social media campaign that the company is keeping its workers safe. Indeed, the company has prominently featured workplace safety as an integral part of its marketing and branding efforts during the pandemic. 

Here are two facts that are important to understand so that Smithfield is held accountable. 

FACT: OUR MEAT SUPPLY WAS NEVER IN DANGER

However, Smithfield’s messaging could not be further from the truth. To stoke fears of a meat shortage, Smithfield gravely warned American consumers in April 2020 that the nation was “perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply.” But at the same time, Smithfield’s foreign exports were surging — with multiple studies showing the company’s pork exports to China hitting record highs that same month. Government data further refute Smithfield’s doom-and-gloom warnings, showing that pork inventory held in “cold storage” warehouses was well into the hundreds of millions of pounds, which analysts have estimated could have kept grocery stores stocked with pork for months, even without any additional production. 

FACT: THE LIVES OF SMITHFIELD WORKERS WERE AT RISK

Smithfield’s reassurances on workplace safety were equally deceptive. On this score, Smithfield’s track record speaks for itself, with company slaughterhouses repeatedly emerging as epicenters for COVID-19 outbreaks. Moreover, Smithfield’s representations to consumers regarding specific workplace safety protocols — depicted in detailed photographs, videos, and promotional copy amplified through Smithfield’s website and social media accounts — are consistently refuted by safety citations issued by government regulators and the accounts of actual Smithfield workers.

In all, Smithfield chose to leverage the pandemic to its advantage. Its PR team loudly beat the drum on issues of enormous significance, exploiting consumers’ fears about meat shortages and calming their concerns about workplace safety. And while the company’s campaign on these fronts has no doubt helped it profit, it is built on a series of egregious misrepresentations, deceptions, and falsehoods. 

What Happens If We Win?

If the court agrees that Smithfield’s repeated and frequent misrepresentations violated D.C.’s consumer protection law, it could not only order Smithfield to publicly retract its lies, but also pay a penalty for its deceit. 

Help our attorneys make Smithfield pay for its pandemic falsehoods!

Smithfield Lied to the Public at the Expense of Workers’ Lives, New Lawsuit Alleges

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Food System

Last week, the national advocacy group Food & Water Watch, represented by Public Justice, filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia against Smithfield Foods, alleging that the multinational meat processing company repeatedly lied to consumers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic so it could protect its bottom line—at the expense of its workers’ lives.

Throughout the pandemic, Smithfield mounted an aggressive public relations campaign based on two claims: that the company was protecting workers at its facilities from COVID-19, and that meat shortages were coming if processing plants were forced to close. Today’s lawsuit alleges that both claims were lies.

“Corporations like Smithfield routinely choose profit over people. The company utterly failed to protect its workers as the coronavirus spread like wildfire throughout its meat processing facilities, and its fearmongering about meat shortages was designed to exploit consumer panic and boost sales. Smithfield put workers’ lives at risk all in the name of corporate greed and turned already notoriously dangerous workplaces into deadly ones,” said Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, the advocacy organization bringing the case on behalf of consumers and the general public.

COVID-19 laid bare the industry’s chronic worker abuse. Throughout the crisis, meatpacking workers, who are mostly people of color, have been experiencing massive COVID-19 outbreaks in their communities. More than 58,000 meatpacking workers have contracted COVID-19, and 293 have died.

“Smithfield led a coordinated campaign to tell consumers it was protecting workers—but in reality, it wasn’t. Smithfield also scared consumers into thinking national meat shortages were near—but that wasn’t true either. District of Columbia consumers have a right to truthful information and they should hold companies accountable when they lie to protect their business and brand— especially when those lies come at the enormous expense of workers’ lives,” said Randy Chen, Staff Attorney at Public Justice, who is part of the legal team in this lawsuit.

To assuage consumer concerns about worker safety, Smithfield said that it was aggressively protecting meatpacking workers. Through advertisements, social media, and website disclosures, the company claimed it was implementing a host of measures to protect workers from COVID-19—including providing personal protective equipment, relaxing leave policies, and partnering with state and local health departments.

In reality, these statements were not true. Workers were in fact gravely endangered, and Smithfield slaughterhouses repeatedly emerged as epicenters for COVID-19 outbreaks. Over 3,200 Smithfield employees have contracted COVID-19. According to both workers and government safety regulators, Smithfield was not providing the safety measures it had promised. Smithfield even undermined the efforts of government officials to protect worker safety by failing to report COVID-19 cases among its workforce and stonewalling efforts to keep workers safe.

In addition, Smithfield stoked consumer fear about an impending national meat shortage. This had the effect of driving up demand for Smithfield’s products, as panicked consumers rushed grocery stores to stockpile meat.

But this too was misleading, because meat shortages were never on the horizon. Quite the opposite: while Smithfield was telling Americans that the sky was falling, it was dramatically increasing its foreign pork exports to record high levels. Billions of pounds of meat were held in freezer warehouses throughout the country – more than enough meat to keep grocery stores stocked for months even if production were to drop off.

A copy of the lawsuit is available here.

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The Public Justice Food Project is the only legal project in the country that is focused solely on dismantling the structures that enable the consolidation of corporate power and extractive practices in our food system and supporting a vision of animal agriculture that is regenerative, humane, and owned by independent farmers.

Food & Water Watch mobilizes people to build political power to move bold and uncompromised solutions to the most pressing food, water and climate problems of our time. We use grassroots organizing, public education, research, policy analysis, and litigation to protect people’s health, communities and democracy from the growing destructive power of powerful economic interests.

Iowa Supreme Court Rules Against Iowa Citizens in Right to Clean Water Lawsuit

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Food System

For Immediate Release

Des Moines, IA — Today, the Iowa Supreme Court split and ruled 4-3 against the plaintiffs in Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch v. State of Iowa regarding a lawsuit against the State of Iowa for failing to protect the public use of the Raccoon River. The lawsuit focuses on a well-known water crisis in Des Moines and Polk County: the polluted Raccoon River.

For years, industrial agriculture within the watershed has contaminated the Raccoon River with toxic levels of nitrates, landing it on this year’s Most Endangered Rivers list. And, this year is the third in a row where the Des Moines area has experienced algae blooms in its waterways due to that unabated runoff. Just this week, the Des Moines Water Works asked residents of the capital city to ration water consumption, given the water crisis.

The lawsuit was filed by Food & Water Watch and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, who are represented in the action by Food & Water Watch, Public Justice, Roxanne Conlin & Associates, and Channing Dutton, of Lawyer, Lawyer, Dutton & Drake LLP.

Motivated by concern for the Raccoon River, whose watershed provides drinking water to 500,000 Iowans in the greater Des Moines area, the groups sued the State of Iowa in March of 2019 for failing to protect the public’s use of the river. In September 2019, Polk County District Court Judge Robert Hanson denied the State’s request to dismiss the case. The State appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court, and today the Court’s four-Justice majority decided that a favorable decision would not remedy the harm from pollution in the river and that the case raised political questions that the legislature, not the courts, should resolve. As a result, although the Court recognized that the case seeks to address “a real environmental problem,” the lawsuit will not proceed and unabated agricultural water pollution will continue to pollute the Raccoon River.

The groups’ suit relied on the Iowa Constitution and the Public Trust Doctrine, which require the state to protect Iowans’ right to use and enjoy Iowa’s lakes and rivers.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch issued a joint statement:

“Iowans have the right to clean water. According to the Public Trust Doctrine, which has been Iowa law since Iowa became a state, it is the State’s duty to protect that right. The legislature failed to protect Iowans’ right to clean water as provided by the Iowa Constitution. The Iowa Supreme Court has decided that a favorable decision in our case would not remedy the harm from pollution in the Raccoon River and that the lawsuit raised political questions that the legislature, not the courts, should resolve. Until further action is taken, industrial agricultural runoff will continue to pollute the river unimpeded, and Iowans’ right to clean water will remain a right without a remedy. We speak for many people across the state of Iowa when we say that we are deeply disappointed.”

Despite the Court’s split 4-3 decision, Iowa’s water is worth fighting for. Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Food & Water Watch, and partners across the state will continue harnessing the grassroots power that brought us here today to seek real, actionable solutions to Iowa’s water crisis.

We are considering all options moving forward, and absolutely believe that all Iowans have a right to clean water — and that the state has a duty to protect that right. The fight for clean water in Iowa is far from over.

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]

We’re Suing EPA (Again) For Being Too Soft on Factory Farm Polluters

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Food System

by Emily Miller

For years, EPA has maintained incredibly lax water pollution standards for factory farms, also known as concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFOs. It’s not because these operations don’t pollute — they generate millions upon millions of gallons of waste every year. Nor is it because this pollution isn’t finding its way into waterways — it is, where it poses a substantial threat to public health and ecosystems. Yet every year since 2008, EPA has decided to sit back and do next to nothing about it. 

Not only is that just plain wrong, but it’s also against the law. So we’re taking EPA to court. 

Why Food & Water Watch is Bringing This Suit Against EPA

Our lawsuit challenges EPA’s bogus review of its factory farm pollution standards, which led the agency to decide that all was well and that no revisions or updates were needed. The Clean Water Act requires EPA to annually review these standards, known as “effluent limitations guidelines,” and to strengthen the guidelines if EPA finds they are not effectively controlling the industry’s pollution. 

EPA’s current CAFO guidelines only apply to the very largest of operations, do not attempt in any way to address the antibiotics, hormones, or chemical cleaning solutions found in CAFO waste streams, and allow manure storage and disposal practices that simply worsen water quality problems. For instance, CAFO operators are allowed to store millions of gallons of liquid manure in structures that are designed to—and often do—leak. And once those manure pits are full, EPA allows operators to apply this waste to fields in ways, and at quantities, that are known to harm water quality. 

But here’s the overarching problem: EPA’s so-called “review” of these guidelines relied on pollution monitoring data that CAFO operators self-report to the agency, but EPA does not require CAFOs to monitor the pollutants they discharge into waterways at all. (By the way, EPA’s failure to require CAFO pollution monitoring is also illegal, and we’re suing them for that too). Needless to say, if EPA doesn’t require CAFOs to monitor their pollution, then the sparse pollution monitoring data that EPA reviewed is not an accurate representation of the industry’s polluting impacts. Not by a longshot. In essence, EPA has created a feedback loop that insulates the industry — and insulates itself from having to issue more protective regulations.

To add insult to injury, EPA’s cherry-picked review ignored a veritable mountain of evidence demonstrating the inadequacy of its current guidelines. Numerous studies, including an EPA-authored report, have established that agricultural activities, including CAFOs, are one of the “leading known sources” of surface water pollution in the United States, and that manure is responsible for a significant share of that pollution. 

If We Win, EPA Will be Forced to Reconsider Its Hands-off Approach to CAFO Pollution 

As it stands, there are thousands of factory farms across the country producing vast quantities of manure containing pollutants like E. coli, nitrogen, phosphorus, pharmaceuticals, and heavy metals, which are regularly discharged into waterways relied on for drinking water and recreation. 

If the court agrees that EPA failed to conduct an appropriate review of these ineffective guidelines, the agency will have to reconsider its untenable position that the standards are fine the way they are. The facts are clear — proper review will show that more stringent national standards are required to protect water quality. 

EPA has let factory farms off the hook for their water pollution for decades — join us in campaigning in the courts and in communities to finally hold EPA and this polluting industry accountable!

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How Much Do Food Labels Tell You?

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PDFFood System

Environmental Groups Sound the Alarm on Delmarva Factory Farm Biogas Threat

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Food System

For Immediate Release

Dover, DE — This afternoon, advocates, experts and impacted residents representing Food & Water Watch, Concerned Citizens Against Industrial CAFOs, the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project and the Sussex Health & Environmental Network held a virtual press conference to sound the alarm on Delmarva’s factory farm biogas threat. Today’s press conference marked the anniversary of the first factory farm biogas project in the region’s contract with Chesapeake Utilities to provide the “renewable natural gas” to the regional energy grid — a project advocates see as a harbinger of what is to come.

Factory farm biogas, termed “renewable natural gas” by the natural gas and industrial agriculture industries, is a false climate solution seeing increasing investment from industries posturing toward “greener” revenue sources. Approved by the Sussex County Council last month, Bioenergy DevCo’s facility in Delaware is set to be the first poultry factory farm biogas project in the region, should the state environmental agency issue the slew of pollution permits the facility would require. Recent investments and the market potential indicate that this project is only the start of a regional buildout threat on the densely concentrated poultry-producing peninsula.

Advocates highlighted the criticality of proactive state policy in preventing biogas, fossil fuel and factory farm entrenchment in the region, citing public health, environmental justice and climate concerns with the dirty practice. Greg Layton, Delaware Organizer with Food & Water Watch said:

“By creating a market for waste and monetizing its production, factory farm biogas incentivizes the buildout of more factory farms and processing plants, deepening our economic reliance on the destructive and deadly form of agriculture that is daily spurring on the climate crisis. The project moving forward in Delaware is a canary in the coal mine for what is to come should biogas buildout continue unchecked in Delmarva — Governor Carney must pursue proactive state policy to check the buildout of this dirty industry before it’s too late.”

“Where does it stop? When will the voices of a community be heard? Residents are saying no to diseases, hydrogen sulfide and the potential for explosions in their community,” said Monica Brooks, an organizer and local leader with Concerned Citizens Against Industrial CAFOs. “This is not about green energy — it is about justifying the overproduction of poultry on the peninsula. This is about forcing residents to endure and pay for the consequences of a choice that they never made. The voices of frontline, disenfranchised communities of color matter.”

“Factory farm biogas is just another assault on the public health of Black and brown communities and the right to breathe clean air and drink pure water,” said Maria Payan, Senior Regional Representative for Socially Responsible Agriculture Project and co-founder of Sussex Health and Environmental Network. “To bring other states’ factory farm processing waste into Sussex County’s poor minority communities is reprehensible. This isn’t ‘clean energy’ — it’s an ugly scheme to benefit industrial poultry polluters despite opposition from hundreds of local residents.”

A press packet to accompany the event, including relevant research is available at the following link. For a recording of the event, please reach out to Phoebe Galt.

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]

Biden Budget Promotes Trump’s Dangerous Hog Slaughter Rules

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Food System

The White House budget proposal released late last week praised Trump-era rules that allow hog slaughter plants to primarily put their own company employees — instead of federal government inspectors — in charge of finding and removing fecal matter and digestive contents on hog carcasses. 

The announcement suggests that there are no immediate plans to alter this program under the Biden administration.

A Food & Water Watch analysis released in February found that plants operating under a pilot program for the new rules (the so-called “Modernization” of Swine Slaughter Inspection) had nearly double the violations than comparably-sized plants outside the program and were almost twice as likely to be cited for contamination. 

While the administration recently notified plants that had switched to the new system that they would have to reduce their line speeds after the USDA lost a lawsuit challenging parts of the new rules, other provisions pertaining to inspection responsibilities are unaffected by this litigation. Due to the reduction in government inspections under the new rules, federal inspectors under the new rules are still getting half the time to inspect hog heads, viscera, and carcasses compared to in traditional plants.  

Food & Water Watch Senior Staff Attorney Zach Corrigan issued the following statement in response: 

“Meat companies should not be left to police themselves to protect consumers from dirty and dangerous pork products. Instead of undoing yet another dangerous legacy of the Trump administration, the Biden White House is ostensibly embracing them as its own, exposing consumers to more pork contaminated with potentially pathogenic fecal matter. If the Biden administration really seeks to promote this threat to safe food, Congress must step in and eliminate funding for this program.”

Groups Invite EPA Admin. Regan Back to Iowa for Community Tour

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Food System

For Immediate Release

Des Moines, IA — Today, Food & Water Watch and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI) sent a letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan demanding that he return to Iowa to participate in a tour of factory farm-impacted communities and to meet with people who have been harmed by the buildout of industrial agriculture across the state. The letter is in response to Administrator Regan’s visit to the state earlier this month, which he spent cozying up to industrial agricultural interests rather than meeting with people harmed by Iowa’s 13,000 factory farms.

The Raccoon River, which provides drinking water to half a million Iowans, was recently named one of the ten most endangered rivers in the country, citing the grave threat that factory farms and other industrial agricultural pollution pose to drinking water. As Iowans face another summer of drought and water scarcity, algae blooms from this pollution are already threatening the remaining water supply. Iowa needs urgent action to address this growing water crisis, and Administrator Regan’s recent visit with the Farm Bureau sends a troubling message about his commitment to protecting the state’s water and holding polluters accountable under environmental laws.

“In his visit to the state earlier this month, Administrator Regan followed the well-trodden path of DC officials currying favor with industrial agriculture corporations and their legislative enablers. But with warnings about water quality, toxic algal blooms and drinking water shortages already issued for summer 2021, it’s time for our leaders to get serious about solving Iowa’s water and factory farm crises,” said Emma Schmit, Food & Water Watch Iowa Organizer. “That should start at the top — Regan must commit to returning to Iowa to hear from some of the thousands of people who have been harmed by the buildout of factory farms across Iowa.”

“Iowa’s well-documented water crisis is a result of years of deregulation and failed voluntary efforts to reign in the impacts of industrialized ag across the state. We know that like the back of our hand,” said Adam Mason, State Policy Director at Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. “If the Biden Administration is truly interested in ‘building back better,’ it will start with Administrator Regan hearing from folks on the ground, across the state, who know what it will take to clean up our water and reset our food and farm system, as opposed from those profiting off the current industrialized model.”

Contact: Phoebe Galt, [email protected]

Alarming Lead, Arsenic Levels Found in Popular Vinegar Brands

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Food System

Citing new test results that show alarming levels of lead and arsenic in vinegar products sold at national chain supermarkets, the national advocacy group Food & Water Watch and Rochester-based Empire State Consumer Project (ESCP) issued a letter to the Food & Drug Administration to take action on the issue. 

ESCP tested 24 major brands of vinegars or vinegar reductions and glazes for contaminants, and found that nearly half (11) were contaminated with arsenic or lead. Seven brands tested positive for both. All but one of the samples testing positive were balsamics, and all were imported from Italy, Greece, or Spain.

The tests found high levels of arsenic and lead in brands like Great Value (Walmart) Balsamic Vinegar, Rachel Ray Balsamic Reduction, Colavita Balsamic Vinegar, Wegmans Aged Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and Alessi Balsamic Reduction. All tested products found to be contaminated are sold through retailers like Walmart, Target and Wegmans. 

ESCP’s tests sought to determine if levels of contaminants had changed since they were originally identified in 2002 by the Environmental Law Foundation. The original tests had led to labeling requirements in California, but no other measures were taken to protect consumers. The updated test results clearly show that lead and arsenic levels continue to be unacceptably high, highlighting the need for greater consumer protections at the federal level.  

“It should go without saying that  consumer rights groups should not be the ones doing testing to make sure that our food is safe to eat. This is absolutely the responsibility of government agencies, and they need to take this seriously,” said Food & Water Watch Senior Staff Attorney Zach Corrigan.

“We think it’s time all U.S. consumers were protected with the same product and shelf labeling California requires while we wait for the FDA to set federal limits,” said ESCP President Judy Braiman.

Lead and arsenic both pose distinct and serious health risks, particularly for pregnant women. Exposure to arsenic in utero is associated with DNA damage and micronuclei in newborns, and elevated levels of lead can increase the risk of miscarriage and cause premature birth. Lead exposure poses risks to a baby’s brain and kidneys, and is linked to other learning and behavioral problems. Arsenic is also a cardiotoxin, making it particularly dangerous for the elderly, African Americans and many other people with a range of chronic illnesses.

In 2011, the same groups partnered with Consumer Reports to test arsenic levels in apple juice. As a result of that work, the FDA agreed to set arsenic limits for those products; those rules are still being finalized. The groups hope to spur the same response from the FDA in ensuring limits for arsenic and lead in vinegars.

Food & Water Watch Sues EPA to Protect Waterways from Factory Farm Pollution

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Food System

Portland, OR— Today, Food & Water Watch filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals over the agency’s failure to update factory farm wastewater guidelines as required by the Clean Water Act.

Under the Clean Water Act, EPA is required to annually review, and if necessary, strengthen, industry-wide pollution standards—called effluent limitation guidelines—for factory farms, or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). These guidelines are supposed to ensure that CAFOs are implementing the technology and management practices necessary to reduce the amount of pollution these operations discharge into the nation’s waterways.

For years, EPA has maintained incredibly lax pollution standards for factory farms, despite mounting evidence that the current guidelines, last updated in 2008, are ineffective. This case challenges EPA’s decision to once again maintain the status quo letting CAFOs off the hook.

“We have over fifteen industrial dairies in our community, and the massive amount of waste they produce is wreaking havoc on our water resources,” said Food & Water Watch member Lynn Utesch. “All three rivers running through Kewuanee County, Wisconsin are impaired with high levels of pollutants associated with CAFOs, and the burden of monitoring and responding to the problem falls on residents like us instead of the CAFO operators. EPA’s CAFO standards just don’t do enough to protect our water quality, and our community is suffering for it.”

Across the country, thousands of CAFOs produce vast quantities of manure containing pollutants like E. coli, nitrogen, phosphorous, pharmaceuticals, and heavy metals, which are discharged into waterways. But EPA’s current CAFO guidelines only apply to the largest of operations, do not regulate many of the pollutants of concern coming out of these industrial facilities, and sanction manure storage and disposal practices that are known to harm water quality. Having been left largely unregulated, the agriculture sector, including factory farms, is one of the biggest sources of water pollution in the country.

“Food & Water Watch has been trying to get EPA to do its job and regulate factory farm polluters for years,” said Emily Miller, Staff Attorney for Food & Water Watch.“In 2017, we filed a petition asking EPA to update these guidelines, which are based on outdated information and fail to adequately control the myriad ways in which CAFOs pollute. EPA has not even responded to that petition, but it will have to respond to this lawsuit.” 

If successful, the case could have wide-reaching impact, forcing EPA to re-consider its nationally applicable CAFO guidelines. A proper review of the current, lax guidelines would likely result in a determination that more stringent national standards are required to protect water quality.

Food & Water Watch and Earthrise Law Center represent the plaintiff.

Iowa Legislature Introduces Dangerous Resolution Targeting Community Efforts to Reform Factory Farming Industry

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Food System

Des Moines, IA — Today, on the likely final day of the Iowa legislative session, the Iowa House introduced HR 18, a dangerous resolution targeting community efforts to reform the state’s factory farming industry. The resolution asserts the House Republicans’ “commitment to … the Iowans employed in the livestock industry, and the threat that socialism poses to the rights of Iowans to make their own choices free from government coercion regarding the production of livestock and the consumption of food, including meat.” 

In response, Food & Water Watch Iowa Organizer Emma Schmit issued the following statement:

“Iowa legislators are continuing their long-held tradition of carrying water for corporate agriculture interests. While the resolution abounds with hypocrisy and hollow fear-mongering, it sets a clear tone for their future legislative prospects. This resolution is shameful and ridiculous. If our representatives truly support consumers’ right to know where their food is produced, they wouldn’t push ag-gag legislation. If they support small towns and raising wages, they would protect the independent family farmers that were once the economic bedrock of many rural communities.

“If they really hold the values they claim, Iowa’s elected officials would support community-led efforts to reform our consolidated, corporate-owned livestock industry by supporting a factory farm moratorium. Instead, the sponsors of the resolution are the same individuals that have helped to manufacture a system of agriculture where multi-billion dollar corporations, not farmers, ranchers, or everyday Iowans, dictate the policies and production of our livestock industry.”

Federal Legislation for a Just Food System

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PDFFood System

Is Oregon Environmentally Friendly? Governor Brown’s Inaction Casts Doubt.

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Food System

by Mark Schlosberg

Oregon has a reputation as a progressive and environmentally friendly state. In reality, however, it has a dirty factory farming problem that is polluting its rivers, streams, and groundwater, threatening public health in rural communities and contributing to climate chaos. This legislative session we made progress towards stopping an expansion of these mega-dairies, but bold action is needed from Governor Kate Brown to combat this growing problem.

The Transition Away From Family Farms In Oregon Has Been Disastrous

Oregon has long been a dairy state, and small and mid-sized farms have been a lifeblood of rural Oregon. But while the number of dairy cows in the state increased fourteen fold between 2007 and 2017, those cows are largely concentrated in enormous operations with thousands or even tens of thousands of cows. The resulting flood of cheap milk has made it difficult for small and mid-sized family farmers to compete, forcing them out of business. This rapid transition from family farms to mega-dairies has been a disaster for Oregon’s communities and environment.

In 2019 alone, large dairies in Oregon produced almost 6.5 billion pounds of manure — twice the waste produced by the entire Portland metropolitan area’s more than 2 million residents. But while waste from Portland residents is treated, mega-dairies dump their waste into large “lagoons,” where it can leach into drinking water aquifers. They then dispose of it — untreated — on cropland, often in far greater quantities than can be absorbed by crops. This results in runoff into local waterways that threatens aquatic ecosystems and recreation with pathogens, pharmaceuticals, and algae-causing nutrients. 

Oregon’s Mega-Dairies Are A Significant Contributor To Climate Change

Mega-dairies also drive climate change by emitting huge amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years it’s in the atmosphere. Corresponding with an explosion of factory farming across the country, U.S. methane emissions from manure management increased 60% between 1990 and 2018. Just as we cannot afford to keep expanding fossil fuel production, we cannot afford to keep building new factory farms.  

That’s why Food & Water Watch is working with the Stand Up to Factory Farms (SUFF) coalition, a diverse range of organizations committed to stopping the spread of mega-dairies across Oregon. 

Governor Kate Brown Fails The Leadership Test On Our Mega-Dairy Moratorium Bill 

In 2019 SUFF first introduced legislation to place a moratorium on mega-dairy expansion in the Oregon Senate. In the two years since, our campaign’s momentum has grown, and in the 2021 session we got our bill introduced in both houses with an increased number of sponsors. Our bill was scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Committee on Energy and Environment, and we organized to pressure chair Lee Beyer to move the bill out of committee. Despite hundreds of calls and emails to Beyer’s office and over 130 people submitting testimony in favor of the bill (with only 16 against), Beyer refused to schedule the bill for the required work session in order to pass it out of committee.

Governor Kate Brown, who has the authority to unilaterally put a pause on approval of mega-dairies, was silent on the bill, despite her call for bold actions to combat climate change “in all policy decisions.” She clearly continues to look the other way when it comes to factory farms.

Kate Brown’s Pattern Of Inaction When It Comes To Mega-Dairy Scandals 

Take for instance the specific permit application currently pending before her Department of Agriculture by Easterday Dairy. Easterday is an entity with no dairy experience, yet seeks to operate a 30,000 head mega-dairy on the site of the disastrous Lost Valley Farm. Lost Valley was cited with over 200 environmental violations including overflowing lagoons that threatened water supplies. Only after pressure by Food & Water Watch and our allies in SUFF, the state finally revoked its permit in 2018. 

Oregon regulators and elected officials have claimed that Lost Valley was simply one bad actor, but recent events have proven that to be false: the Easterday family and its companies were recently caught up in a modern day cattle rustling scandal, and Cody Easterday recently pled guilty to federal fraud charges for ripping off Tyson Foods for the feed and care of cattle that didn’t actually exist — to the tune of $244 million. Two of Easterday’s companies have declared bankruptcy, and Cody Easterday could face up to 20 years in prison. Was Lost Valley Farm a lone bad actor? Clearly not.  

Brown’s response to these huge red flags? Her administration has “paused” processing the Easterday permit, but has remarkably refused to deny it outright despite clear authority — and good reason — to do so.

Help Motivate Governor Brown To Do Right When It Comes To Easterday And More

Oregonians need real leadership from Governor Brown. Between now and the next legislative session, we’ll be working with our allies across the state to continue to build an even more powerful movement to stop mega-dairies in the state — demanding both the Governor and legislative leaders stop giving this polluting industry a free pass. If Governor Brown is serious about addressing the climate crisis, she must use the power of her office to stop the expansion of these dirty factory farms and support our small and mid-sized farmers. And she must order the Oregon Department of Agriculture to deny the Easterday Farms mega-dairy permit outright to prevent another disaster like Lost Valley. 

Urge Governor Kate Brown to deny permitting to Easterday Farms.

New Report Outlines Country’s Food System Crisis, Calls for Major Policy Reform

Categories

Food System

For Immediate Release

Washington, D.C. – A comprehensive report released today by the national advocacy organization Food & Water Watch outlines the crisis state of the country’s food system, including detailed analysis on the severe damage levied on society by unchecked corporate monopolies dominating the system. 

The report, “Well-Fed: A Roadmap to a Sustainable Food System that Works For All,” offers a corrective policy blueprint that includes sweeping federal legislation and an overhaul of the country’s farm safety net. It also features a number of case studies from across the country featuring family farmers, ranchers and food hubs that have enacted safe, healthy, sustainable and profitable business models.

The report outlines the alarming degree of corporate consolidation in the food industry and its impact on consumers and small farms. For example: 

  • 83 percent of all beef is produced by just four processing companies;
  • 65 percent of consumer grocery market share is held by just four retailers; and 
  • 67 percent of crop seed market share is held by just four corporations. 

These and other conditions have had a devastating effect on consumer choice and costs, and small farm income and stability.

“The COVID pandemic laid bare many of the systemic crises in our food system today, all of which are exacerbated by unchecked corporate consolidation,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “But there is a clear path forward. Small, diversified family farms are already raising healthy, sustainable food for their local communities. We need bold action from the federal government to help rebuild our regional food infrastructure — our small slaughterhouses, grain mills and grocery cooperatives — to support the growth of more independent, sustainable farms.” 

The report recommends a number of robust policy prescriptions that would help to move the country to a safer, healthier and more sustainable food future by addressing the unchecked power of mega-corporations and creating systems to adequately sustain small farms and ranches. Among these prescriptions are: 

  • Federal legislation like the Farm System Reform Act, which would ban new factory farms and the expansion of existing ones, and phase out the most egregious factory farm operations by 2040; 
  • Reinstating federal supply management programs for commodities, including price floors;
  • Enacting through legislation a moratorium on corporate mergers in the food system; and
  • Redirecting public agriculture funding to encourage and support organic and regenerative farming practices. 

Contact: Seth Gladstone – [email protected]

Food & Water Watch mobilizes people to build political power to move bold and uncompromised solutions to the most pressing food, water and climate problems of our time. We work to protect people’s health, communities and democracy from the growing destructive power of the most powerful economic interests.

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?”

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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
  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)