Consumer, environmental and animal-welfare activists are converging in Virginia this week, with a mission to end so-called “factory farming.”

The food industry has changed dramatically in the past few decades. Thousands of family farms that once dotted the landscape in North Dakota are no longer there, and most of our food is produced by a handful of multinational corporations. A number of reports and experts say human and animal health and the environment are suffering as a result. The reasons and solutions will be discussed at the first National Conference to End Factory Farming, which continues through Saturday in Arlington, Va.

Gene Bauer, president and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, helped organize the event and hopes lawmakers will attend.

“Unfortunately, Washington, D.C., has supported industrialized animal farming, and that’s what the problem stems from – where we have billions of dollars that are spent to support and allow these industrial factory farms to profit.”

Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch and one of the conference presenters, says most food isn’t as safe as it once was because of factory farming. She describes it as animals crammed by the thousands into small, filthy environments and fed antibiotics indiscriminately so they don’t get sick. The meat industry, Hauter says, is so powerful that it is able to influence regulations.

“When you have these large companies in charge, there’s just more economic and political power to not have our federal agencies be as protective as they should be. We need to hold our elected officials accountable for their role in making sure that we have a safe food system.”

It’s critical, Bauer says, that federal farm policy start promoting different kinds of agriculture, such as family farms and community-based agriculture.

More than 30 experts from around the nation – including Whole Foods chief executive officer John Mackey, authors and environmental and animal-welfare advocates – are to speak at the conference. More information is online here

John Michaelson is a reporter in North Dakota for the Public News Service.

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