The Industrial Food System

Key Facts

The Industrial food system exerts a toll on:

  • Our environment, where farm runoff and animal waste deplete the quality of the air, water, and soil.
  • Our local economies, where consolidated models of agribusiness often contribute less than they extract.
  • Human health, where industrial farming byproducts and prevalence of low-nutrient food lead to widespread health issues.

Why It Matters

Industrial or “conventional” agriculture describes the farming practices and scale at which most food is grown in the United States right now. These farms employ the principles of industrialization to maximize production and reduce cost, and function much like factories. This is why we use the term “factory farm” to describe the huge operations focused on mass production of a singular product — beef or eggs, for example.

This method of producing food consumes finite resources without replenishing them, including the very resources on which food production depends: healthy soil, clean water and fresh air.

The industrial food system is built for scale and efficiency, and while it often results in food that is less expensive for the consumer, it also creates “externalized” costs — paying for environmental cleanup or public health fallout— that must be absorbed by governments and taxpayers. Farms under this system have become larger and larger, and food processing facilities have become increasingly more consolidated, with many industries controlled by just a few large companies.

Life on a family farm has become more challenging and less financially viable, which has been devastating for farmers who have lost their livelihoods. It has also been terrible for their rural communities, where the lion’s share of profits no longer remains local and instead goes to large conglomerates.

For a visual side-by-side view of factory farming and smaller, more sustainable farming, you can visit Farm Vs. Factory.

Issues in The Industrial Food System