Despite the abundant choices we see on grocery store shelves, the truth is that only a handful of corporations dominate the American food system. In the livestock industry specifically, these firms are vertically integrated, controlling successive stages of the food production process. This makes it so that the largest firms will have a disproportionate influence not just on the price of animal products but also on the quantity, quality, and location of its production.
Small family farms as we once knew them have since been displaced by industrial mega-operations that now corner the market on meat, poultry, dairy, and egg products. While this highly corporatized model lines the pockets of the biggest players in the agricultural industry, it puts all of us at great risk. Expanding factory farm operations lead to more pollution in the environment, worse conditions for workers, and more needless animal suffering. It also enables a handful of ultra-powerful firms to engage in unfair practices like evading environmental law regulations and controlling the market price on cattle without competition.
The Farm System Reform Act intends to phase out large factory farms by 2040 and includes a plan to assist farmers transitioning away from the system.
Among those demanding change for a better food system is New Jersey's junior Senator, Cory Booker. Sen. Booker ran for the democratic presidential nomination earlier this year and is running for re-election to the US Senate in New Jersey this November. At the end of 2019, he introduced a bill that would place a moratorium on large factory farms and rein in monopolistic practices within the industry.
Co-sponsored by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the Farm System Reform Act intends to phase out large factory farms by 2040 and includes a plan to assist farmers transitioning away from the system.
Last month nearly 300 organizations, including environmental groups, workers’ rights initiatives, animal welfare societies, and public health organizations, sent a letter to Congress urging passage of the bill. Their hope is that banning new factory farms will counter the many policy failures that brought the US food system to this point, and in the process help create a better future for everyone.
But if the stakes are so high, then why has such an important piece of legislation as the Farm System Reform Act not been pushed for sooner? In a recent interview with The Guardian, Sen. Booker admits that part of the problem with getting the bill passed is that many people simply lack awareness about the abuses of the factory farming industry. According to Sen. Booker, “When most Americans sit down and have their dinner they [don’t] realize that the food that they’re eating … is part of a system that’s hurting their environment, their health, the wellbeing of workers, and the wellbeing of animals.”
As it stands today, industrial animal agriculture operates on a scale that prioritizes the interests of multinational meatpacking corporations over the health and stability of our food system. Ultimately, the passage of a bill like the Farm System Reform Act could be a massive step in the direction of curbing the power of meatpackers with unprecedented control over the agricultural sector, like Tyson, Smithfield, and JBS.
Cassandra Zimon is an FFAC fellow and an undergraduate sociology student at Reed College.