On December 12, 2019, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the “Farm System Reform Act,” a sweeping piece of legislation designed to address the worst ills of factory farms, also known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). The Food Integrity Campaign (FIC) is pleased to endorse this bill.
Meat and poultry companies profit from CAFO operations at the expense of rural communities, the environment, animal welfare, and the farmers themselves. Most poultry, pork, and beef producers in the U.S. operate under contracts with companies that dictate every input and step of the process—and that retaliate if a farmer speaks up about problems. FIC clients and allies have put their own livelihoods on the line to reveal these truths to the public.
The Farm System Reform Act takes important steps to overhaul this rigged system. The bill contains three major sections, all of which play an important role in the fight for food integrity.
CAFOs generate huge amounts of manure, typically more than can be reasonably used as fertilizer on local fields, leading to contamination of local streams, exposure to air pollution, and noxious smells for local residents. Meanwhile, producers don’t earn enough to pay for environmental improvements.
The bill places an immediate moratorium on expanding or building new large CAFOs, requiring all CAFOs of a certain size to be phased out by 2040 and offering a voluntary buyout program for farmers. The bill also puts liability for pollution and community harm squarely where it belongs, on the meat and poultry companies.
Starting five years ago with poultry grower and whistleblower Craig Watts, FIC has represented or advised several growers facing retaliation for speaking up about problems with contract agriculture. Contract growers Rudy Howell, Erick Hedrick, and Tony Grigsby have each worked with FIC and other partner organizations to collect tens of thousands of signatures asking Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to protect farmers like them.
The bill ends a number of practices companies use to manipulate payments to producers. The bill also prohibits retaliation against producers who talk to government officials about their contracts or who join producer associations to organize for better contracts.
FIC has long supported country of origin labeling, known as COOL. Passed by Congress in 2013, mandatory COOL required meat packages to identify in what country the animal was born, raised, and slaughtered. Congress repealed COOL for beef and pork in 2016. FIC has joined farm, consumer, and other organizations fighting to restore COOL, including a sign-on letter to Senators just this month.
The bill not only restores COOL for beef and pork, but also for the first time establishes COOL for dairy products. Clear and accurate COOL labels allow consumers to make informed choices about what they buy.
FIC appreciates Senator Booker’s continued leadership to protect farm families and limit corporate abuses of power in agriculture. The Farm System Reform Act serves as a wake-up call to the fact that factory farms and contract agriculture as we know it needs to end.