Livestock production has changed significantly over the past several decades. Small and medium-sized farms raising food animals have been pushed out by factory farms housing thousands of animals in crowded spaces. These operations produce enormous volumes of waste, pollute the air and water, exploit workers, harm animal welfare, fuel antibiotic resistance and climate change, and harm the rural communities they are purported to benefit.
Since 1997, the total number of U.S. farms fell sharply while the number of livestock soared, as did the percentage of animals raised on factory farms. This transition was not an accident. It was fueled by bad farm policies that led to an overproduction of cheap feed that robbed crop farmers of their profits and benefited the largest players in the meat industry. It was aided by unrestricted access to antibiotics to keep disease at bay in overcrowded confinement buildings. It was further enabled by the U.S. Department of Justice giving its blessing to megamergers that resulted in the top meatpacking firms controlling the majority of the market, and by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and states failing to uphold our nation’s environmental laws.
Small and medium-sized farms face numerous obstacles, from federal programs that give preference to factory farms to slaughterhouses that refuse to do business with smaller operators. Meanwhile, more and more rural communities are becoming sacrifice zones for the factory farm industry, where toxic air and polluted water become a fact of life.
We cannot continue this failed experiment. It is time for a ban on factory farms. The health of our rural communities — and our planet — depends on it.
Recommendations to Reform Our Farming System
- The federal and state governments must enact aggressive policies to address climate change, including policies to limit the contribution of agriculture to climate change.
- Federal and state regulators should ban factory farms by not allowing new factory farm operations to be built or existing factory farms to expand.
- The federal, state and local governments should enforce environmental laws on existing factory farms, including restoring control over siting and practices to local governments, requiring permits for all factory farms and holding vertically integrated companies responsible for the pollution created by the animals they own.
- The federal and state governments should support the research and technical assistance needed to transition existing factory farm operations, contract growers and family farm grain producers to diversified operations that can serve regional markets.
- Public policy and government spending at all levels should prioritize rebuilding the infrastructure needed for diversified, smaller-scale livestock production using regenerative practices to supply regional markets.