Fighting Factory Farms With Policy and Public Pressure

by Chris Hunt , Maggie Tauranac

Published: 7/13/18, Last updated: 9/15/20

Most people don’t realize how many factory farms exist or how few policies are in place to limit their expansion. Regulations preventing the harmful effects of industrialized farming are essential to a sustainable future. Yet, it’s not just on the shoulders of policymakers to improve our food system. Consumer pressure is extremely powerful, as is our involvement at the local level. It’s our job to stay informed about industrialized meat production and to elect politicians who are not in the pocket of the meat industry.

Food & Water Watch (FWW) recently released a report titled “The Urgent Case for a Ban on Factory Farms,” which argues for policy changes that would halt the growth of factory farms once and for all. Calling policymakers to action, the report provides legislative guidance that would enable federal and state governments to prohibit existing factory farms from expanding and prevent new factory farms from being built.

In addition to proposing an outright ban on new factory farms, FWW also includes other actions that governments can take to curtail the harm caused by factory farms. It calls on governments to enforce and expand current environmental laws that address agriculture’s contribution to climate change and directs officials to prioritize small livestock production when allocating government spending. The combination of these policies would support the diversification of how animals are raised and encourage sales in local markets.

Staying informed and taking action at the local level might be the ticket to limiting the expansion of factory farms. Take North Carolina, for example, a state infamous for the number of pork Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. This year, North Carolinians used lawsuits to apply direct pressure on hog operations via multiple nuisance cases. The cases were brought against pork producer Murphy-Brown, a Smithfield subsidiary, regarding the damages community members suffered because of their proximity to factory farm operations. This type of local pressure sets a precedent for other communities in other states while diminishing the power of powerful companies.

One way we can stay informed on both the local and national level is with FWW’s Factory Farm Map, which shows how much factory farming has dominated livestock production in the US. For sustainable food advocates, the data is perpetually disheartening. Despite the increasing consumer demand for local, sustainable food, the factory farm model continues to monopolize our food system. According to FWW, between 2002 and 2012, the total number of animals raised on the largest factory farms increased by 20 percent. Between 1997 and 2012, the number of dairy cows on factory farms doubled, the number of hogs on factory farms increased by more than a third, the number of egg laying hens on factory farms increased by nearly a quarter and factory farmed broilers increased by 80 percent.

On the upside, the map provides a striking visual representation of the scope of the factory farm problem which advocates can use to direct their efforts. Users can drill down for more detail and find data at the national, state and county level. There is information on livestock totals for cattle, dairy, hogs, broilers and layers. The map is updated every five years when the USDA publishes its Census of Agriculture data, which keeps it current and reliable. FWW also included a ranking feature, so advocates can find how livestock totals in their state and county compare to those in the rest of the country.

Those interested in digging into the scope of industrial livestock production can also read Factory Farm Nation: 2015 Edition, which FWW released in conjunction with the 2015 version of the map. In addition to describing the political and economic forces that have allowed factory farming to continue expanding, the report is full of galvanizing statistics. Like this favorite: the 165,623 dairy cows raised on factory farms in Kings County, CA generate as much waste as the combined human populations of the New York, Los Angeles and San Diego metropolitan areas. That is some great ammunition to get people riled up!

By so effectively depicting the scope of factory farm production in the US, FWW and other advocates will hopefully succeed in convincing the public and policymakers of the importance of stopping factory farms. Here’s to less red on the 2020 Factory Farm Map. And in the meantime, we hereby declare factory farms canceled.

A version of this post was originally published in June 2015.

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