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

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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.

Court cases like these cost money. Can you help power our work?

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.

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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.”