Senator Cory Booker, New Jersey’s junior senator and a Democratic presidential hopeful, has unveiled a bill aimed at reducing the impact of factory farms.
The bill, titled the Farm System Reform Act of 2019, specifically focuses on concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, which is a definition used by the USDA that’s roughly similar to the general concept of factory farms. The bill would place a moratorium on the creation of any new CAFOs and also seek to protect the farmers that work in them.
A CAFO is defined by the USDA as having a particular number of confined animals per year. It comes out to a thousand cattle, 700 dairy cows, 2,500 hogs, 125,000 chickens, or 82,000 egg-laying hens. CAFOs have become synonymous with the worst of American agriculture: they generate obscene amounts of manure and waste, which is frequently linked to damage in nearby environments; they are often connected with disastrous animal welfare records; and farmers locked into CAFOs have little control over their operations thanks to opaque binding contracts with the largest livestock producers.
The new bill would create a block on the creation of any new CAFOs, and would create a program of $100 billion over ten years to entice farmers to leave the CAFO system. According to Booker’s press release, it would also “hold corporate integrators responsible for pollution and other harm caused by CAFOs,” which would be a complicated mess to untangle, as there are many laws on the books designed to protect these corporations.
Photo by Henadzi Pechan on Shutterstock.
There are also some protections for the actual farmers who work at CAFOs; largely, these are theoretically independent operations that contract with one of a very small handful of giant corporations. These corporations have all the power to dictate exactly how the animals will be raised and how much the farmer will be paid, and have the ability to essentially shut down any farm simply by not renewing a contract. Booker’s bill would prohibit ranking systems used by poultry corporations in which any raise for one farmer results in a pay decrease for the others.
The bill also, in what’s only really tangentially related, would bring back country-of-origin labeling, which was repealed in late 2015. These labels would require meat processors to label where the product was raised, slaughtered, and packaged. Currently, beef that was raised and slaughtered in Brazil, but packaged in the United States, can be labeled as “Made in the USA,” a loophole that has been lambasted by many. The big producers love that loophole, but it’s certainly anything but transparent.
The bill has endorsements from largely progressive public health, food safety, and farm union groups, including the Center for Food Safety, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Family Farm Action.