cory booker
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., speaks during the Iowa Farmers Union Presidential Forum, Friday, Dec. 6, 2019, in Grinnell, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

A new Senate bill introduced by Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker (D-NJ) would reform the livestock industry and phase out the largest confined animal feeding operations by 2040.

The Farm System Reform Act would make livestock markets fairer while decreasing water and air pollution from industrial livestock facilities, supporters say.

“We’re excited overall that this bill was introduced, and it makes numerous steps in the right direction to support independent family farmers versus corporate agriculture,” said Ava Auen-Ryan, an organizer for Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI). “Iowa has a factory farm crisis. We have more than 10,000 factory farms in our state.”

Iowa is the leading hog producer in the nation, with 26 million hogs that create 22 billion gallons of “toxic liquid manure that is dumped untreated onto farm fields across the state,” according to Iowa CCI. Those hogs generate as much waste as 68 million people would, in a state with only 3.2 million residents, the organization said.

Most of those hogs are raised in CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), indoor facilities with liquid manure lagoons nearby to store waste. That liquid manure is then spread on farm fields and pastures.

Iowa CCI members have long supported state and federal regulations to limit water and air pollution from CAFOs. “We’re especially glad to see the CAFO moratorium in the bill,” Auen-Ryan said. “We believe that this bill expresses what we see as grassroots support, given that more than 6,000 Iowans have signed petitions in the last two year calling for a moratorium on the state level and 26 counties have passed resolutions calling for moratoriums or for stronger protections from the factory farm industry.”

The Farm System Reform Act also includes numerous provisions that would reform livestock markets, including mandatory country-of-origin labelling (COOL) and multiple change to antitrust policies and contract livestock production rules.

“I have seen first-hand how hard it is to challenge the multinational corporations who control the meat industry,” said Mike Callicrate, a Kansas rancher and advocate for curtailing corporate control of livestock farmers. “Farmers and ranchers need a marketplace that compensates them fairly and Senator Booker’s Farm System Reform Act is a big step in the right direction. Things like country of origin labeling on meat, updates to the Packers and Stockyards Act, and resources to get folks out of a system that is bankrupting them will make a big difference.”

Specifically, the legislation would:

  • Place an immediate moratorium on new and expanding large CAFOs, and phase out by 2040 the largest CAFOs as definedby the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Hold corporate integrators (who control or influence production from raising livestock through meatpacking and distribution) responsible for pollution and other harm caused by CAFOs.
  • Provide a voluntary buyout for farmers who want to transition out of operating a CAFO.
  • Strengthen the federal Packers and Stockyards Act to protect family farmers and ranchers, including:
    • Prohibit the use of unfair tournament or ranking systems for paying contract growers.
    • Protect livestock and poultry farmers from retaliation.
    • Create market transparency and protect farmers and ranchers from predatory purchasing practices.
  • Restore mandatory country-of-origin labeling requirements for beef and pork and expand to dairy products.
  • Prohibit the United States Department of Agriculture from labeling foreign imported meat products as “Product of USA.”

Senator Booker has a record of supporting antitrust and pro-competition reforms to agricultural markets.

Two other Democratic candidates, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sander (I-VT) have released similar comprehensive plans on livestock competition issues, and nearly all the Democratic candidates have expressed support for similar plans. Booker’s bill is unique for its focus on phasing out CAFOs and in providing specific capital for helping CAFO producers under contract to move away from the industrial model.

The Farm System Reform Act is also supported by a number of family farm and environmental organizations, including Family Farm Action, the Indiana and Pennsylvania Farmers Unions, American Grassfed Association, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and other groups.

Last month, the American Public Health Association called for federal, state and local governments and public health agencies to impose a moratorium on all new and expanding CAFOs. The group’s provision noted “that large amounts of manure and other untreated waste created by concentrated animal feeding operations pose a threat to air quality, drinking water and human health. The group passed a resolution calling “policymakers to enforce the Clean Water Act as it relates to such operations, as well as strengthen regulations on the monitoring of air emissions so that researchers can study the potential risks to health.”

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