Iowa Legislature Sends Dangerous Factory Farm Biogas Bill to Governor’s Desk

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Food SystemClimate and Energy

Des Moines, IA — Today, the Iowa state legislature passed (38-7) HF 522, sending the dangerous piece of biogas legislation to Gov. Reynolds’ desk for signature. The bill incentivizes the development of factory farm biogas operations at factory farms across Iowa. Factory farm biogas is a costly scheme which relies on public funding to operate at industrial scale. The public funding props up what would otherwise be an entirely unprofitable prospect — using waste from massive factory farms to generate methane gas to deploy into regional pipeline infrastructure.

With the passage of HF 522 and accompanying legislation (HF 694 and HF 789) to support the buildout of biogas in Iowa, taxpayers can expect more factory farms, more pipelines and gas infrastructure, and more dirty energy entrenchment in the state. 

As natural gas companies fight to remain relevant amidst a changing energy landscape, leaders are turning to “renewable natural gas” or factory farm biogas as the way to “save the business.” Iowa’s excessive concentration of factory farms makes the buildout of factory farm biogas particularly appealing to companies seeking to cash in on the new greenwashed energy source.

“When Big Energy and Big Ag team up to sell us a climate-friendly solution, all alarm bells should go off,” said Emma Schmit, Food & Water Watch Iowa Organizer. “Biogas in Iowa is a terrible idea set to bolster out-of-state investor profits at the expense of our climate, rural communities and independent agricultural economy. HF 522 is a dangerous bill that signals what is to come as more and more industries take advantage of Iowa’s lax legislature to push their agendas through, leaving taxpayers footing the bill.”

“In yet another gift to the factory farm industry, the Iowa Legislature has passed HF 522 encouraging more and even larger factory farms in our state.” said Adam Mason, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement State Policy Organizing Director. “After a legislative session in which legislative leadership showed just how out of touch they are, it is shameful that they would open the door to even more factory farms and put our communities, our air and water, and our health at greater risk.”

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

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.

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

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). Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). “Packers and Stockyards Division: Annual Report 2018.” August 2019 at 9.
  2. Vogel, Stefan. “The milling industry structure in key regions—Fragmented versus consolidated markets.” Rabo-bank. June 2017. Accessed July 2020. Available at https:// research.rabobank.com/far/en/sectors/grains-oilseeds/ The_Milling_Industry_Structure_in_Key_Regions.html.
  3. Nestlé. “Our brands.” Accessed July 2020. Available at https://www.nestle.com/aboutus/overview/ourbrands.
  4. USDA (2019) at 9.
  5. CBRE. “2019 U.S. Food in Demand Series: Grocery.” May 2019 at 16.
  6. Sage, Jeremy L. et al. Washington State University. “Bridging the Gap: Do Farmers’ Markets Help Alleviate Impacts of Food Deserts?” Submitted to the Research on Poverty, RIDGE Center for National Food and Nutrition Assistance Research. February 2012 at 5 to 6.
  7. CBRE (2019) at figure 4 at 16.
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  91. U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives (2015) at 1.
  92. Based on information taken from the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA) website, and reviewed by HAFA staff on August 18, 2020.
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  101. Brod, Andrew. University of North Carolina—Greensboro. “The Economic Impact of RAFI-USA’s Tobacco Communities Reinvestment Fund since 2008.” May 2011 at executive summary and 1.
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  103. Jackson & Perrett (2018) at 3.
  104. Ibid. at 2 to 3.
  105. Brod (2011) at executive summary.
  106. Jackson & Perrett (2018) at 24.
  107. Basinger Tuschak, Grace. University of North Carolina– Chapel Hill. “Food Hubs as Community Economic Development: Lessons from TRACTOR Food & Farms.” April 2018 at 6 to 7.
  108. Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture. “About.” Available at https://www.brwia.org/about.html. Accessed August 2020 and on file with Food & Water Watch; Ham, Nathan. “High Country Food Hub sees major increases in customers sales and in food supply from local farmers.” High Country Press (NC). May 13, 2020.
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  110. Schrama, M. et al. (2018) at 123, 124 and 129; Ponisio, Lau- ren C. et al. (2015) at 1, 2 and 5; USDA. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). “Cover Crops to Improve Soil in Prevented Planting Fields.” June 2013 at 1; Aktar, Md. Wasim. et al. “Impact of pesticides use in agriculture: Their benefits and hazards.” Interdisciplinary Toxicology. Vol. 2, Iss 1. 2009 at 1.
  111. Arneth, Almut et al. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). [Summary for policymakers]. “Climate Change and Land: An IPCC Special Report on Climate Change, Desertification, Land Degradation, Sustainable Land Management, Food Security, and Greenhouse Gas Fluxes in Terrestrial Ecosystems.” August 7, 2019 at 20 to 26 and 40 to 41.
  112. Martin, Allyson. “Seed savers v. Monsanto: Farmers need a victory for wilting diversity.” DePaul Journal of Art, Technology & Intellectual Property Law. Vol. 24, Iss. 1. Fall 2013 at 96; Andrews (2012) at 2 to 5.
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  114. Holt-Giménez, Eric et al. “We already grow enough food for 10 billion people…and still can’t end hunger.” Journal of Sustainable Agriculture. Vol. 36, No. 6. July 2012 at 595; FAO. “FAO’s Work on Agroecology: A Pathway to Achieving the SDGs.” 2018 at 6.
  115. FAO (2018) at 6 and 20.
  116. Hendrickson (2014) at 20.
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  118. Clark (ND) at 7 and 29.
  119. Şentürklü et al. (2016) at abstract.
  120. Popay, Ian and Roger Field. “Grazing animals as weed control agents.” Weed Technology. Vol. 10, No. 1. Jan.—Mar. 1996 at abstract and 219.
  121. Stanley et al. (2018) at 257; de Vries et al (2015) at 286 to 287; Hillenbrand, Mimi et al. “Impacts of holistic planned grazing with bison compared to continuous grazing with cattle in South Dakota shortgrass prairie.” Agriculture, Eco- systems and Environment. Vol. 279. July 2019 at 156 to 157.
  122. University of New Hampshire Sustainability Institute. “Field to fork farm: Resilience through diversification.” ND at 1 to 2.
  123. Egan, Franklin and Brooks Miller. “Scaling up pastured live- stock production: Benchmarks for getting the most out of feed & land.” Pasa Sustainable Agriculture. June 2020 at 6 to 7; Stampa, Ekaterina et al. “Consumer perceptions, pref- erences, and behavior regarding pasture-raised livestock products: A review.” Food Quality and Preference. Vol. 82. 2020 at abstract; Stanley et al. (2018) at 255.
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  125. Ranganathan, Janet et al. WRI. “Shifting Diets for a Sustain- able Food Future.” Installment 11 of “Creating a Sustainable Food Future.” April 2016 at 36 to 37.
  126. Ayazi & Elsheikh (2015) at 15; Mooney (2017) at 71 and 74 to 75.
  127. S. 3221. 116th Cong. (2019).
  128. S. 1596. 116th Cong. (2019).
  129. Gilbert, Jess et al. Land Tenure Center. “The Decline (and Revival?) of Black Farmers and Rural Landowners: A Review of the Research Literature.” Working Paper No. 44. May 2001 at 8 to 9; Reynolds, Bruce J. USDA. “Black Farmers in America, 1865-2000: The Pursuit of Independent Farming and the Role of Cooperatives.” RBS Research Report 194. October 2002 at 24.
  130. S. 4929. 116th Cong. (2019).
  131. Graddy-Lovelace, Garrett and Adam Diamond. “From supply management to agricultural subsidies – and back again? The U.S. Farm Bill & agrarian (in)viability.” Journal of Rural Studies. Vol. 50. February 2017 at 76.
  132. Graddy-Lovelace & Diamond (2017) at 76; Ayazi & Elsheikh (2015) at 23 to 24.
  133. Graddy-Lovelace & Diamond (2017) at 76.
  134. Ibid. at 76; McMinimy, Mark A. Congressional Research Ser- vice (CRS). “U.S. Sugar Program Fundamentals.” R43998. April 6, 2016 at summary.
  135. Shields, Dennis A. Congressional Research Service (CRS). “Federal Crop Insurance: Background.” R40532. August 13, 2015 at summary; Schnepf, Randy. Congressional Research Service (CRS). [Fact sheet.] “2018 Farm Bill primer: Marketing Assistance Loan program.” IF11162. April 3, 2019 at 2.
  136. Rosa, Isabel and Renée Johnson. Congressional Research Service (CRS). “Federal Crop Insurance: Specialty Crops.” R45459. Updated January 14, 2019 at 9; Smith, Trevor J. “Corn, cows, and climate change: How federal agricultural subsidies enable factory farming and exacerbate U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.” Washington Journal of Environmental Law & Policy. Vol. 9, Iss. 1. March 2019 at 43 to 44.
  137. Graddy-Lovelace & Diamond (2017) at 78.
  138. FWW analysis of EQIP payments, using data received from the Environmental Working Group; FWW. “Public Research, Private Gain: Corporate Influence over University Agricul- tural Research.” April 2012 at 1.
  139. Lehner, Peter and Nathan A. Rosenberg. “Legal pathways to carbon-neutral agriculture.” Environmental Law Reporter. Vol. 47. 2017 at 14; DeLonge, Marcia S., Albie Miles and Liz Carlisle. “Investing in the transition to sustainable agriculture.” Environmental Science & Policy. Vol. 55, Part 1. January 2016 at 267.
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  141. Ibid at 17.
  142. Fuglie, Keith O. and Paul W. Heisey. USDA ERS. “Economic returns to public agricultural research.” Economic Brief No.10. September 2007 at 3.
  143. FWW (2012) at 1 and 12.
  144. FWW analysis of EQIP payments, using data received from the Environmental Working Group; Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI). “Biogas: Converting Waste to Energy.” October 2017 at 1; U.S. EPA. “How does AD work?” Accessed July 2020. Available at https://www.epa.gov/ anaerobic-digestion/basic-information-about-anaerobic- digestion-ad.
  145. Kuo, Jeff. California State University, Fullerton. “Air Quality Issues Related to Using Biogas from Anaerobic Digestion of Food Waste.” Prepared for California Energy Commission. CEC-500-2015-037. March 2015 at 2, 9 and 10.
  146. FWW. “The truth about offsets.” May 2013 at 1; Ritter, Tara and Jordan Treakle. Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) and National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC). January 2020 at 1 to 2.
  147. Gonzalez (2011) at 755 to 759; Frison, Emile A. Interna- tional Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (iPES FOOD). “From Uniformity to Diversity: A Paradigm Shift from Industrial Agriculture to Diversified Agroecological Systems.” June 2016 at 24 to 26.

Raccoon River Named Among America’s Most Endangered Rivers

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Food System

For Immediate Release

Washington, D.C. – Today, American Rivers declared Iowa’s Raccoon River one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2021, citing the grave threat that factory farms and industrial agricultural pollution pose to drinking water supplies. American Rivers and its partners Food & Water Watch and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, call on the Region 7 administration of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to investigate, monitor and enforce Iowa’s factory farm pollution violations to safeguard public health in the state.

“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to action to save rivers facing urgent decisions,” said Olivia Dorothy with American Rivers. “We’re sounding the alarm because pollution in the Raccoon River is putting drinking water supplies and public health at risk.”

The Raccoon River is polluted by more than 700 factory farms that confine thousands of animals. Waste from these industrial operations is spread on fields, often at rates that exceed the soil’s ability to absorb it. The manure runs off into rivers and streams where it contributes to a clean water crisis impacting millions of people. Iowa’s legislature has given these polluting operations free rein, relying on an insufficient voluntary strategy to reduce agricultural pollution in rivers and lakes. This voluntary approach has failed to reduce dissolved nutrient levels and water pollution, while factory farms continue to expand unabated, with 300-600 new factory farms added to the state each year.

The Raccoon River suffers from this unhindered factory farm pollution. Des Moines Water Works, the largest water utility in Iowa, utilizes the Raccoon River to provide drinking water to more than half a million people. The utility was forced to invest in one of the world’s most expensive nitrate-removal systems as a result of consistently unsafe levels of agricultural pollutants in the waterway.

Factory farm pollution, combined with drought conditions fueled by climate change, has also increased outbreaks of toxic algae in the river, which harm ecosystem health, limit the ability of people to safely enjoy river recreation and contribute to the growing dead zone downstream in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Iowa’s legislature has failed to protect us from corporate agriculture’s pillaging of our environment,” said Food & Water Watch Iowa Organizer Emma Schmit. “While our legislators write blank checks to industry executives and turn a blind eye to the dangerous pollution and public health crisis coming out of the tap, we call on the EPA to act where our elected officials will not. As one of the most endangered rivers in the country, the Raccoon River’s factory farm pollution crisis requires national intervention.”

”The state of Iowa has favored the profits of massive agribusinesses over the interests of Iowans for far too long. We cannot continue to disregard the serious harms of unrestricted agricultural pollution,” said Abigail Landhuis, a community organizer with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. “While the factory farm industry rakes in massive profits throughout Iowa, rural residents, independent family farmers and Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian and Pacific Islander communities are enduring disproportionate hardships as our water, our soil, and our climate are devastated by corporate polluters.”

American Rivers and its partners Food & Water Watch and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement call on the EPA to immediately ramp up its Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) inspections and enforcement actions in the Raccoon River watershed.

The annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates. Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.

Other rivers in the region listed as most endangered in recent years include the Lower Missouri River (2021 and 2020) and Upper Mississippi River (2019 and 2020).For photos and images of the Raccoon River, use this link.

Contacts:

Olivia Dorothy, American Rivers, [email protected]
Phoebe Galt, Food & Water Watch, [email protected]
Abigail Landhuis, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, [email protected]


AMERICA’S MOST ENDANGERED RIVERS® OF 2021

#1: Snake River (ID, WA, OR)

Threat: Four federal dams on the lower Snake River

#2: Lower Missouri River (MO, IA, NE, KS)

Threat: Outdated river management

#3: Boundary Waters (MN)

Threat: Sulfide-ore copper mining

#4: South River (GA)

Threat: Pollution due to lax enforcement

#5: Pecos River (NM)

Threat: Pollution from proposed hardrock mining

#6: Tar Creek (OK)

Threat: Pollution from Tar Creek Superfund Site

#7: McCloud River (CA)

Threat: Raising of Shasta Dam

#8: Ipswich River (MA)

Threat: Excessive water withdrawals

#9: Raccoon River (IA)

Threat: Pollution from industrial agriculture and factory farming

#10: Turkey Creek (MS)

Threat: Two major developments 

Iowans Want to Stop Factory Farms. Why Don’t Our Legislators?

Categories

Food System

by Emma Schmit

Over the past several years our campaign to stop factory farms has grown from a fledgling idea into a powerful movement. In 2021, legislation calling for a moratorium was introduced in the Iowa General Assembly for the fourth year in a row. What once felt like a long shot to address Iowa’s factory farm crisis has become a policy goal supported by the majority of Iowans. This urgent movement has also had implications far beyond Iowa and played an important role in introducing a national bill to ban factory farms. The progress we’ve made — from influencing the national conversation on factory farming to gaining support among Iowa’s legislators — has far exceeded what we once thought possible.

The movement against factory farming faced real challenges in 2020

Though we’ve come a long way, 2020 was a tough year. Growing a people-powered movement during a global pandemic is a difficult task anywhere, but in Iowa, Governor Reynold’s refusal to enact common-sense protections made it even more difficult. Nearly 350,000 Iowans, including one of our staff and several volunteers, contracted COVID-19. Many more were impacted by the illness or loss of a loved one, financial setbacks, the temporary closure of schools, and the day-to-day challenges of living in isolation. Building a transformative movement in an entirely virtual space presented a lot of obstacles that we had to overcome.

Help us fix our broken farm system by signing to stop factory farms.

And the pandemic wasn’t the only challenge we faced over the past year in Iowa. The derecho — a prolonged wind storm —that ripped through the state in August left more than half a million people without power and caused an estimated $11 billion in damages across the Midwest. Over 8,000 homes were destroyed or extensively damaged, nearly 12 million acres of cropland were destroyed in Iowa alone, and then-President Donald Trump provided only a portion of the requested disaster relief funding. 

As they say, bad things come in threes and in 2020 the third hit for Iowa came on election day when the state voted for Donald Trump with a 53% majority. Across the state, folks had high hopes that the Iowa House would flip to Democratic control in 2020. And by all rights it should have. Instead, we woke up on November 4th to see the Republican party had gained an even greater hold over our state.

Republican leaders in the General Assembly have long refused to consider any legislation that bucks the status quo — hyper-consolidation of Iowa’s agricultural economy — and the 2021 legislative session proved no different. Despite 63% of Iowans supporting a factory farm moratorium, Republican officials refused to assign the moratorium bills to subcommittee for debate. They’re clearly not feeling accountable to their constituents — instead they are carrying water for corporate farming giants like Iowa Select whose owners, Jeff and Deb Hansen, poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into their campaigns. 

The push to enact a factory farm moratorium has stayed strong

Despite these hardships, our members and the movement have persevered. A year like 2020 could have easily destroyed the momentum behind a factory farm moratorium. Instead, as we abruptly halted in-person organizing for COVID-19 safety and navigated one calamity after another, the power behind a moratorium continued to grow. Iowans’ unyielding determination for a moratorium on new and expanding factory farms can’t be derailed by a pandemic, natural disaster, or unfavorable leadership. And it certainly won’t be thwarted by the money or might of Big Ag.

While detractors can point out both moratorium bills dying in committee in an attempt to undermine the movement, we know that isn’t a legitimate metric at this juncture. Not when Iowa is ruled by a destructive, self-serving trifecta. Not when the House Speaker refused to even discuss the legislation because he profits from our dysfunctional system of agriculture. In spite of these obstacles the moratorium campaign still encountered unprecedented success. We recruited a record number of co-sponsors, received a record amount of media attention, and engaged record numbers of people in pressuring their legislators to support a moratorium on factory farms. That’s a better metric to measure this movement by than the actions of a couple industry-backed elected officials blocking the bills.

The ripple effects of our campaign are felt nationally

This movement has implications far beyond Iowa. The 2020 caucus provided us with an unprecedented opportunity to highlight the impacts of industrial agriculture — contaminated drinking water, hollowed out rural communities, the number of family-scale farms in freefall. Eight Democratic presidential candidates publicly supported a factory farm moratorium after seeing firsthand what corporate agriculture has done to Iowa and after hearing from people who live in factory farm-impacted communities across the state. Following the caucus, Senator Cory Booker introduced the Farm System Reform Act which was later introduced by Rep. Ro Khanna in the House of Representatives. This visionary legislation proposes to completely overhaul our farm system and ban new large factory farms after 2040. In addition to building the national movement to rein in factory farms, the FSRA has also ignited a series of state and local efforts, with moratoria bills now introduced in several states and local officials considering what they can do to stop the spread of factory farms. Without this work in Iowa, the national call to stop factory farming would still be a whisper.

In 2018, when factory farm moratorium legislation was first introduced at the Capitol, 10 Representatives and 1 Senator co-sponsored the bills. Most legislators wouldn’t even dare discuss a moratorium at that time. Our opponents didn’t even bother to comment on the bills because they thought the idea was too outlandish to ever get off the ground. But things have changed. The number of co-sponsors has now more than doubled with several members of the Democratic leadership co-sponsoring or expressing support for the legislation, and even some Republicans have been interested in meeting with us and with constituents to discuss the bills.  And in response to this rising power, House Speaker Grassley and powerful industry groups like the Iowa Pork Producers are promoting their false narratives about a moratorium in the media  — we’ve clearly caught their attention. ButIowans aren’t falling for it. Not when we can see the increasing number — now 774 — of water impairments across our state or the 40% of farm workers who have lost their jobs over the past two decades. Not as our rural communities are struggling to survive and the impacts of the climate crisis continue to compound. People are increasingly aware that our state, our communities, and our people cannot thrive alongside this system of corporate agriculture.

Iowans want a food and farm system that works for us, not against us. While our current elected officials may kneel to the factory farm industry, the people of Iowa are fighting back — and fighting for our right to clean water, for a system of agriculture that empowers independent farmers and builds resiliency in our rural communities, and for our interests to be put before the profits of multi-billion dollar agribusinesses. Our bills may not have advanced during this legislative session, but it’s coming. Iowa is a critical policy forum in which to advance this work, and we’re building an incredibly powerful movement in Iowa and beyond. There is nothing the barons of Big Ag can do to stop us.

Add your name now to stop factory farms.

Maryland Essential Workers’ Protection Act Passes State Legislature, Safeguarding Food and Farm Workers During Enduring Pandemic

Categories

Food System

For Immediate Release

Annapolis, MD — Today, the Maryland legislature gave final approval to the Maryland Essential Workers’ Protection Act, which will now go to the Governor for his signature. The legislation is a victory for temporary emergency COVID-19 protections for essential workers, including food and farm workers who have been left out of Maryland workplace protections in the past. But the path to the bill’s passage, which removed many critical protections, underscored that there is more work to do.

The passage of the Maryland Essential Workers’ Protection Act establishes an important emergency temporary standard to safeguard workers during the current pandemic, but fell short in securing that standard’s applicability for future crises. Other critical protections the legislature failed to enact include:

  • Migrant worker housing standards, necessary to ensure adequate living conditions for the extensive migrant food and farm worker population in Maryland’s agricultural sector.
  • Guaranteed paid sick leave 
  • Bereavement leave and
  • Hazard pay 

Advocates celebrate the passage of an emergency temporary standard that includes food and farm workers, and look ahead to the opportunity to further safeguard the rights of essential food and farm workers under Maryland state law.

“The Maryland Essential Workers’ Protection Act is the first in a long line of protections that the Maryland legislature must afford food and farm workers, and its passage underscores the work we still have to do,” said Lily Hawkins, Maryland Organizer with Food & Water Watch. “We will not stop pushing for critical workplace protections that safeguard the vulnerable essential workers who feed us.”

“Food and farmworkers should never have to choose between their paychecks and their safety. The Maryland Essential Workers Protection Act will require Governor Hogan to finally issue an Emergency Temporary Standard to protect these and all essential workers,” said Chloe Waterman, program manager with Friends of the Earth. “Thank you to Delegate Kris Valderrama and our other legislative champions for ensuring food and farmworkers have the protection they deserve.”

“COVID-19 has ripped the thin veil that had previously and conveniently shielded most Americans from the sordid working conditions of so many these essential workers endure each day,” says Amy Liebman, Director of the Environmental and Occupational Health Programs for the Migrant Clinicians Network. “These workers need protection in order to keep themselves, their families, and our communities safe. And our state needs to step in to ensure that the workers who put food on our tables are provided with necessary health care.” 

Not enough has been focused on measures that protect poultry, seafood and agricultural workers from getting COVID-19, many of whom are at heightened risk of dying from the infection. Their working, housing and transportation conditions and lack of paid quarantine and sick leave make it more likely they will be exposed to, and expose others to, this highly infectious disease,” says GWEN DUBOIS, M.D, President of Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility and Board Member of the Maryland Pesticide Education Network. “We need to protect all members of our community, if we want to stay healthy.” 

“Thousands of migrant workers arrive in Maryland on temporary work visas and face trafficking and exploitation,” says Sulma Guzman, Policy Director & Legislative Counsel for Centro de los Derechos del Migrante. “We appreciate Delegate Vaughn Stewart for fighting for healthier employer provided housing and transportation for these workers, and look forward to working with the General Assembly to improve conditions for Maryland’s migrant workers next session.”

Contact:
Lily Hawkins, Food & Water Watch, [email protected]
Sulma Guzman, Policy Director & Legislative Counsel for Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, [email protected]
Gwen DuBois, M.D., President of Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility,  [email protected]

Meatpacking Plants and COVID: New Study Shows Devastating Link Between Outbreaks and Countywide Virus Transmission

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Food System

For Immediate Release

new study in Food Policy shows that COVID infections at large meatpacking facilities are associated with virus outbreaks in the county where those facilities are located. The study finds that almost 350,000 COVID-19 infections are “attributable to meatpacking plants in the U.S with associated mortality and morbidity costs totaling more than $11.2 billion.” 

Further, the study found that the presence of large beef packing facilities increased the per capita infection rates by 110%, compared to counties without meatpacking plants. Large pork and chicken processing facilities increased transmission rates by 160% and 20%, respectively.

In response to these findings, Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter released the following statement:

“We have seen from the start of the COVID crisis that unsafe conditions in meatpacking plants have been exacerbating the spread of the disease.  Indeed, the working conditions that have hastened COVID transmission are precisely those that worker advocates have long cited as deadly and dangerous, even without a pandemic.

“These conditions are in no small part due to the push to increase line speeds at these plants. In 2014, the USDA promulgated rules allowing most poultry plants to increase their slaughter-line speeds so that plant employees must process carcasses at faster than two birds per second. In 2019, the Trump administration also issued illegal rules that would lift line speed limits altogether in swine slaughter plants. As recently as April of last year, the USDA granted new regulatory waivers to allow poultry operations to increase their line speeds even further.  The agency has already granted one line-speed waiver for a cattle slaughter plant, is poised to grant another, and intends to issue rules that would allow these plants to permanently increase their line speeds.

“To address this crisis and to protect these workers, Congress must ensure that meat and poultry companies are not allowed to put profits before worker safety and public health.”

Peter Hart, [email protected]

Will Big Ag Keep Getting a Pass Under the Biden Administration?

Categories

Food System

by Tarah Heinzen

The Biden Administration is off to a strong start reviewing and — all signs indicate — preparing to rescind scores of devastating Trump administration rollbacks to environmental, consumer, and public health protections. Michael Regan has been confirmed to lead the EPA, and advocates hope he will tackle undoing the damage of the past four years and implementing bold new policies to address pollution, climate change, and environmental injustice with unprecedented urgency. But, at least so far, this administration is already echoing prior ones on both sides of the political aisle in one critical way – special treatment of agribusiness. Two key Trump handouts to Big Ag have been left off of the Biden administration’s priority list for terrible rules to get rid of. 

Two rules being left in place allow de-regulation of factory farms and meat companies

Factory farms get a pass from reporting emissions

In 2017, environmental groups won a critical fight for factory farm transparency when a federal court struck down a rule exempting factory farms from having to report the toxic air emissions they spew into rural communities. This illegal rule – a holdover from the last days of the George W. Bush administration – had been left on the books throughout the entire Obama administration despite promises that the Obama EPA would consider changing course. 

But the win was fleeting because the Trump EPA quickly acted at the behest of Big Ag to initiate yet another exemption rule with a new (but also unlawful) justification. Food & Water Watch and allies are now in court challenging the rule in an effort to at long last force factory farms to disclose their dangerous air pollution. 

Slaughterhouses get to inspect themselves — at a dangerous speed

The Trump administration also continued prior administrations’ efforts to deregulate slaughterhouses. They enacted a rule that allowed meat companies to speed up hog slaughter lines and allow companies to police themselves with fewer USDA inspectors on the line, despite obvious risks to workers, food safety, and animal welfare. Food & Water Watch is leading one of the legal challenges to the rule, which is moving forward despite government efforts to kick us out of court.  

It’s past time to regulate Big Ag like other polluting industries

We will continue these fights – but we shouldn’t have to. President Biden’s day one Executive Order required agencies to consider reviewing and rescinding all Trump environmental and public health actions. Indeed, the Department of Justice has sought to pause many ongoing legal challenges to Trump’s rollbacks while Biden’s agencies consider new rules that would make much of these ongoing court fights unnecessary. In these two lawsuits seeking accountability for Big Ag, however, DOJ has been conspicuously silent. 

Special treatment for Big Ag is nothing new – under President Obama, EPA not only left Bush’s illegal factory farm air pollution reporting rule in place but also capitulated to industry demands in scrapping a rule for factory farm water pollution transparency and abandoning a process to measure and begin regulating factory farm emissions. Meanwhile, Obama’s USDA – led by Tom Vilsack – failed to address industry consolidation squeezing farmers and consumers, advanced the poultry slaughter de-regulation rules that wrote the playbook for Trump’s hog slaughter rule, and oversaw a massive expansion of factory farming.

President Biden can do better than business as usual with Big Ag

We knew when Vilsack was appointed yet again that it would be an uphill battle to make any progress at USDA, given his terrible legacy during the Obama administration. And Michael Regan’s history of compromise with the factory farm industry in North Carolina – which, along with industry support, is largely credited for his bipartisan confirmation – is cause for concern that agribusiness interests will continue to take priority at EPA over the environment and justice for rural communities. 

But we won’t let the Biden administration continue business as usual. Big Ag’s devastating impacts on the environment, public health, and worker safety demand that we act. We won’t regain the ground we lost under Trump, much less finally rein in Big Ag, if we do not begin by holding President Biden’s EPA and USDA accountable.

Your friends should know about this.

Dangerous Act 21 Interpretation a Key Issue in Factory Farm Supreme Court Case

Categories

Food System

For Immediate Release

In Supreme Court Briefs, Groups Take Aim at Dangerous Act 21 Interpretation

The Supreme Court accepted briefs from environmental, public health, and sustainable farming advocates in a major water pollution case before the Wisconsin State Supreme Court. Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for April 12.

The two amicus, or “friend of the court,” briefs — one submitted by the national environmental nonprofit Food & Water Watch, alongside Family Farm Defenders and Sustain Rural Wisconsin Network, the other submitted by the Wisconsin Environmental Health Network (WEHN) — argue that Wisconsin law and common sense empower state agencies to protect the public health and welfare from pollution caused by large concentrated animal feeding operations (“CAFO”), or factory farms.  

The case, Clean Wisconsin v. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (“DNR”) and Kinnard Farms, involves a challenge to a state permit authorizing the expansion of a large factory farm in Kewaunee County. Local groups and residents successfully argued for a stronger permit that includes groundwater monitoring and a limit on the number of animals the facility may keep in order to protect the environment and community health. 

The primary source of pollution from factory farms in Wisconsin is the enormous amount of manure they dispose of by spreading or spraying it onto fields. Monitoring these areas and limiting the number of animals making more manure are obvious ways to limit this pollution.

But the factory farm and the Wisconsin Legislature are asking the Supreme Court to prohibit DNR from including these, or most any other, common sense controls on factory farm pollution.

The briefs from Food & Water Watch and WEHN highlight the necessity of Wisconsin agencies like DNR being able to condition pollution permits according to the agency’s unique expertise and real-world facts on the ground. The briefs take aim at arguments advanced by Kinnard Farms and the Wisconsin Legislature that Act 21 dramatically limits the authority of state agencies to only those standards or conditions specifically considered and enumerated by the legislature. This would essentially repeal many important and longstanding Wisconsin laws enacted to protect Wisconsinites from pollution and other public health threats. In their briefs, the groups argue this is “an attempt to rewrite the law in an extreme and untenable way.”

This case is the latest to reach the Supreme Court in a string of battles between the state’s legislative and executive branches. This case, which pits the Wisconsin legislature against the governor’s environmental agency, is another front in that broader confrontation.

“Kinnard Farms and the Legislature want to rewrite the law to prohibit common sense protections despite ongoing pollution of the environment and people’s drinking water, with potentially far reaching effects to environmental protection across Wisconsin,” said Tyler Lobdell, staff attorney with Food & Water Watch. “DNR and other public health agencies must retain the authority to protect against these sources of pollution.”

The Wisconsin Environmental Health Network released the following statement: “As healthcare professionals, Wisconsin Environmental Health Network relies on the State of Wisconsin to protect public health. This interpretation of Act 21 would drastically weaken those health protections that are firmly in place in our legal system and should not be sacrificed in favor of unsustainable industrial farming methods.”

The Wisconsin Supreme Court will hold oral argument in the case on April 12.

Contact: Tyler Lobdell, [email protected]