Veil lifted on factory farms!

First Nationwide Study Reveals Widespread Opposition

touch guy piglet with straw in mouth

Not a factory farm piglet.
Photo credit: Christopher Carson, from unsplash

The PC(USA) General Assembly in 2016 passed the On Advocacy Against Factory Farming resolution. The opposition to factory farms (CAFOs), where hundreds, sometimes thousands of animals are raised, seems to be growing in the United States. [See bottom for explanation of CAFO]

chicken in the wild

Not a factory farm chicken.  Photo credit: Jesse Schoff, from unsplash

The first nationwide survey on the topic, released by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, finds that the majority of registered voters support greater oversight of industrial animal farms. Here are a few of the findings:

  • Nationally, more than 80 percent of respondents expressed concern about air and water pollution, worker safety and health problems caused by CAFOs.
  • Nearly 70 percent are troubled that these problems disproportionately impact low-income communities and communities of color.
  • 78 percent are concerned that CAFOs continue to receive billions in taxpayer subsidies.
  • In Iowa, 63 percent of respondents think it’s important for the state legislature to pass a proposal banning construction of new and expanded CAFOs.
  • In North Carolina, 57 percent of voters surveyed say they favor the state’s current ban on new CAFOs and only 27 percent

    Not a factory farm calf. Photo credit: Jed Owen, from unsplash

    oppose the ban.  [Full results are here]

Several presidential candidates have come out in favor of cracking down on large factory farms or CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations – definition at bottom) and U.S. Senator Cory Booker has sponsored legislation, which includes a moratorium on new CAFOs.

The Farm System Reform Act of 2019 would, among other things, strengthen the Packers & Stockyards Act to crack down on the monopolistic practices of multi-national meatpackers and corporate integrators, place a moratorium on large industrial animal operations, sometimes referred to as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), and restore mandatory country-of-origin labeling requirements (from press release). The bill also attempts to protect the farmers who contract with large agribusiness.

piglet bathing in beautiful water

Not a factory farm pig. Photo credit: Forest Simon, from unsplash

As Kansas rancher Mike Callicrate said in a statement issued by Booker’s office:

“Farmers and ranchers need a marketplace that compensates them fairly and Senator Booker’s Farm System Reform Act is a big step in the right direction. Things like country of origin labeling on meat, updates to the Packers and Stockyards Act, and resources to get folks out of a system that is bankrupting them will make a big difference.”

Graphic for Right to Harm film

Right to Harm tells the stories of five rural communities, to expose the public health impact factory farming has on many citizens in the United States. Filmed across the country, the documentary chronicles the failures of state agencies to regulate industrial animal agriculture.

 What is a CAFO?

Thousands of chickens in cages

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO)

According to the EPA, an Animal Feeding Operation (AFO) is an operation that confines animals for over 45 days in a vegetation-free area. These animals are packed into warehouses and lots with slatted floors, not wandering around in the grass.

Here’s the EPA’s website: “AFOs congregate animals, feed, manure and urine, dead animals, and production operations on a small land area. Feed is brought to the animals rather than the animals grazing or otherwise seeking feed in pastures, fields, or on rangeland.”

CAFOs are essentially big AFOs. The EPA breaks CAFOs down [PDF] into large, medium, or small varieties, depending on the number of animals involved, how wastewater and/or manure are managed, and whether the operation is “a significant contributor of pollutants.” Large CAFOs, which have at least 1,000 cows, 2,500 swine or 30,000 hens, are automatically subject to government oversight.

Related articles:

The Rise of Big Meat

Choosing a Sustainable Future: Agroecology at COP24

Factory Farms: Treatment of Animals, People & the Environment

3 Responses to “Veil lifted on factory farms!”

  1. Grant Lowe

    It would help our interpretation of this message if the theological rationale were mentioned. We often get the question “Why is this a church concern?”. The GA action was clear about why this is important to people of faith.

  2. Andrew Kang Bartlett

    Great point, Grant. Thanks. Here is some of that theological rationale from the resolution:

    Web of Creation

    We can talk about the web of creation that binds us to all living things and to the earth through lifting up common biblical themes from our Judeo-Christian tradition. And in so doing, we can speak of sin, as Barbara Brown Taylor has, as “wrecked relationships” within that web. During the past half-century, as industrialized farming of food animals has developed, we have broken relationships with the earth, with other living things, with other human beings, and with food itself as a gift from God (Taylor, Speaking of Sin, cited in “Just Eating?,” p. 43).

    Psalm 145:15–16: The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.

    Genesis 9:16–17: “‘When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.’ God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.’”

    Matthew 22:37–40: [Jesus] said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

    Romans 8:21–22: “that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.”

    “What role can the church play in shaping the future? We are called to participate in and influence this agricultural revolution by breathing fresh life into the values of sustainability, stewardship, compassion, and community” (Minutes, 2002, Part I, p. 549). The issues are so complex, however, that the directive of this overture is very broad. But as Keeve Nachman, PhD, of Johns Hopkins University has observed, we can identify certain populations that pay the price for the inexpensive animal protein in our food markets. Those vulnerable populations bear the brunt of many risks that are hard to measure because large corporations generally own impenetrable vertically integrated “farms.” Vertical integration means that one entity owns the animals, controls the inputs (food, chemicals, antibiotics, hormones), and owns the processing plants. Therefore that entity controls access to the market as well. These CAFO/IFAPS combinations are becoming legally impenetrable due to what are known as “Ag-Gag” laws. These laws make it a crime for undercover investigators or whistle-blowers to expose illegal activity on the grounds of one of these corporate properties. (In other words, it becomes illegal to expose illegal activity, and in some cases, not just a misdemeanor.)

    So, once we have identified the vulnerable populations, it will then be important to consider what areas of concern might offer potential for impacting the people, the land, and the humane treatment of the food animals (“We Are What We Eat,” PC(USA) Report, Minutes, 2002, Part I, pp. 13, 17, 533ff; Nachman lectures, Johns Hopkins “Introduction to U.S. Food Systems”).

  3. Carola

    Go vegan, and no one gets hurt! Go vegan: It addresses the issue of viruses transferring from nonhuman to human animals, and climate change–all at the same time. If we can eliminate dependence on fossil fuels, we can eliminate dependence on animal agriculture. Animal-based agriculture is a dying empire due to human overpopulation; competition over resources; environmental destruction; species extinction [ranchers’ war on wolves, coyotes, bears, any species that “competes” with ranching); sadistic and inherent animal abuse and violence; animal diseases (mad cow disease, avian and swine flu, COVID-19); and negative human health impacts (malnutrition, starvation, chronic disease, epidemics, etc).Humane farming is an oxymoron: Industrial farming is the traditional “family farm” of old on super-steroids. If we wonder where factory farming comes from – the mentality and brutality of it — think “traditional” farming. Animal farming, whether in the form of traditional methods or modern methods, is merciless. Contemporary live animal markets are living proof of how “food” animals have been treated for centuries by traditional cultures. Modern industrialized animal farming is not a departure from but an extension of raising and killing animals for food. With the global human overpopulation expected to reach 8 BILLION, how do you “humanely” force-breed, produce then remove the young from their mothers, and kill all the animals needed to supply meat, dairy and eggs for all these mouths?