U.S. senator Cory Booker of New Jersey just unveiled the Farm System Reform Act of 2019. This proposed legislation would help break up factory farm monopolies, whose business practices harm both animals and humans. Among other things, the bill aims to end concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) by 2040, hold factory farms accountable for their pollution, and provide voluntary buyouts for farmers looking to transition out of factory farming. Senator Booker stated:
Large factory farms are harmful to rural communities, public health, and the environment and we must immediately begin to transition to a more sustainable and humane system.
Currently, just a handful of companies control the business of livestock and poultry processing. For example, most farmers who raise chickens do so on a contract basis for major meat companies, such as Tyson Foods. While these companies own the animals, the contract farmers are forced to take much of the financial risk. Many farmers are akin to “indentured servants” in these relationships. They take on massive debt, often struggle to pay it off, and have little to no control over their operations.
This is what happened to Mike Weaver, a former contract chicken farmer for Pilgrim’s Pride in West Virginia who went public with his concerns over the treatment of the animals in his care. Weaver said in a statement: “This legislation by Senator Booker has been a long time coming. … Huge multi-national meatpackers and corporate integrators care about making money, period.”
Weaver quit raising chickens and now uses his old chicken barns to grow industrial hemp, a business venture that he is confident will earn him more income than chicken farming did and employ four times as many people in his region, which is desperate for new jobs.
Huge factory farms also produce massive amounts of animal waste and other pollution. Runoff from factory farms contaminates rivers and groundwater, threatening ecosystems and endangering people and wildlife. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, large factory farms may produce up to 1.37 billion tons of animal waste each year and are not required to maintain treatment facilities. The proposed legislation supports the American Public Health Association’s recommendation to halt all new or expanding factory farms.
Senator Booker’s bill aligns with Mercy For Animals’ own mission to empower farmers to help construct a compassionate food system. Addressing many of society’s greatest problems—from hunger and pollution to deforestation and the chronic disease epidemic—requires changing the way our world eats. Our current food system is fragile and unsustainable. As it turns out, it’s bad for farmers as well.
We believe farmers can and should be part of the change. They know the food and farming system better than anyone, and many of them are as eager as entrepreneurs, activists, and other changemakers to build a better food system. The Transfarmation Project offers an avenue for farmers to participate, to become part of the solution and leave the problem behind.
Mercy For Animals is committed to supporting farmers like Mike Weaver who want to transition out of animal agriculture and into growing crops for plant-based products. The result will be a better future for farmers and their families, consumers, animals, and the planet.