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Connecting Factory Farming and the Prison Industrial Complex

October 7, 2020

Both factory farming industry and the prison industrial complex are built upon models of captivity that turn large profits for corporations.

Today when we hear the term “abolitionist,” it often refers to prison abolition. However, it can also refer to abolitionist veganism. Although the factory farming industry and prison systems may seem removed from one another, both of these movements seek to liberate beings from cages, whether humans or non-human.

Both factory farming industry and the prison industrial complex are built upon models of captivity that turn large profits for corporations. In the United States, modern industrial agriculture’s violence dates back to its early colonial roots, when Africans were captured and shipped across the Atlantic to labor as slaves on colonists’ farms. After Emancipation, southern economies were in jeopardy and used a loophole in the 13th Amendment that excludes prisoners from slavery. Farms and other industries turned to convict leasing, where states could sell prison labor to them. Profiting off of this, the meat industry employs prisoners to work on the kill line, where they can earn a meager 94 cents per hour after fees and deductions. Slaughterhouses are so desperate for workers that they end up being some of the only places that will hire ex-prisoners.

These massive industrial powers both hold significant capital in today’s United States. For the factory farming industry, this capital comes in the form of land. Forty-one percent of US land is devoted to animal agriculture (livestock feed, pastures, farms). For comparison, only 4.1% of US land is used to grow the food US residents directly eat. As the factory farming capitalizes on US land, the prison industrial complex relies on human capital to sustain itself. The United States is home to 25% of the world's incarcerated population, even though only five percent of the world population lives in the country.

Like factory farms, prisons also have deleterious effects on the land they are on. Typically owning thousands of acres of farmland, they have historically transformed the rural communities they infringe upon. Despite these large presences, both industries remain mostly hidden from the public eye. Both are large, windowless facilities often located in rural areas, inaccessible to the general public. Diseases such as COVID-19 have been able to take advantage of these dirty, confined spaces, as evidenced by the skyrocketing COVID-19 cases among both slaughterhouse workers and prisoners. These industries have successfully normalized and legitimized violence towards domesticated animals as well as humans, many of whom are Black, Latino, and Native American.

There is huge potential for solidarity for the fight against the caging and exploitation of animals and humans.

The prison industrial complex helps protect industries by targeting animal liberation activists among other activists. For animal activism in particular, “Ag-gag” laws criminalize whistleblowers of factory farms and slaughterhouses, which allows companies to hide reality from the general public. Corporate interests were instrumental in passing The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act of 2006, which criminalizes anyone who damages or interferes with the operations of an animal enterprise. Individuals who do face the system may face long sentences if imprisoned.

There is huge potential for solidarity for the fight against the caging and exploitation of animals and humans. Anti-prison and animal liberation activist Sue Brown suggests a change in our rhetoric so as not to criminalize those who cause harm to animals, and adopt a broader analysis that focuses on the systemic problems and root causes of violence. For example, working in a slaughterhouse has been found to increase violence, sexual assault, and drug use due to the social and psychological consequences of the work.

How can one get involved and start work against these systemic and institutionalized issues? One tactic is divestment, “the action or process of selling off subsidiary business interests or investments.” Prison divestment has been a tactic for a long time, but recently gained popularity under the phrase “defund the police.” Factory farm divestment campaigns also exist, although to a much smaller extent. The idea behind these demands is to take our money out of unjust systems and re-allocate them to other areas where it’s better suited, such as for rehabilitation, education, health care, and other social services. These campaigns illuminate undemocratic power structures and suggest that we must change how money flows through our institutions, advocate for community control, and a democratic process of allocating funds.

Another method is to target the companies reaping profits from the prison industry. The “Big Three” food providers in the United States, Aramark, Sodexo, and Compass Group, all have deep ties to both the prison and factory farm industries. Aramark and Compass Group are one of the largest providers of food services to prisons in the U.S and abroad, while Sodexo runs private prisons and detention centers abroad. If you are a college student, we recommend checking out the organization Uprooted and Rising. They are “building a movement committed to ending higher education’s support for Big Food corporations and white supremacy in the food system by directing the energy of our generation towards food sovereignty.”

In response to the injustices exposed by the current pandemic, people are beginning to reevaluate our current systems of oppression that exploit both the environment and its inhabitants. Matthew Kelly of Collectively Free believes, “Reform can be helpful, but only if those concerned with the wellbeing of the caged recognize that the cage is the problem and see reform as a means to eventually end it.” In the same way that animal activists reject “humane” and “cage-free” labeling, prison abolitionists renounce calls to expand and increase funding for policing and prisons.

To learn more, check out more sources on these topics:

Empty the Cages! And Fill the Prisons?

Emptying the Cages: For the Abolition of Prisons and Animal Agriculture

Vegan Angela Davis Connects Human and Animal Liberation

Barbara DeSilva and Elly Ren were both summer college interns for FFAC. Elly is studying Environmental Science & International Studies. Barbara is studying French & Francophone Studies and Environmental Science.

Sharing this article helps raise awareness about the impact of factory farming on humans, animals, and the environment.

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