Factory Farming Ban Proposed by Senators Booker, Warren
The dangers of working shoulder-to-shoulder in a meat processing plant have come to the forefront as the novel coronavirus has exposed the fragility of the meat industry's supply chain. Factory farming is also resource intensive, leading to deforestation and fueling the climate crisis. It also accounts for 99 percent of the meat that Americans consume.
Last week, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) joined Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) to co-sponsor a bill to put an end to factory farming, as The Hill reported.
The Farm System Reform Act was first proposed by Booker in December. It aims to put a stop to any new factory farms and the monopolistic practices in the industry. It would hold concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) responsible for their environmental impact. Warren agreed to co-sponsor the bill after several incidents of unsafe working conditions and outbreaks of COVID-19 in the meatpacking industry, according to Newsweek. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) is also co-sponsoring the effort and has introduced companion legislation to the House.
"For years, regulators looked the other way while giant multinational corporations crushed competition in the agriculture sector and seized control over key markets," Warren said in a statement, as Newsweek reported. "The COVID-19 crisis will make it easier for Big Ag to get even bigger, gobble up smaller farms, and lead to fewer choices for consumers."
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the tight control that a handful of companies have on the entire meat supply chain. As Booker's office noted in a statement, "four companies control nearly 85 percent of the US beef market. Pork and chicken supply are similarly consolidated. Such concentration makes the food chain extremely fragile."
As The Hill reported, the legislation directly targets multinational meat producing giants, like Smithfield Foods, Tyson Foods and JBS, all of which had severe coronavirus outbreaks among workers in the last month. Those outbreaks have led to fears of a meat shortage in the U.S., as Costco and Kroger have limited how much beef customers can buy, and some Wendy's chains ran out of hamburger patties.
In response to the shuttered meat processing facilities, President Trump used the Defense Production Act to keep plants with outbreaks open despite the risks for employees, who often work side-by-side.
However, Booker noted that the problems in the meat industry existed well before the coronavirus pandemic.
"Our food system was not broken by the pandemic and it was not broken by independent family farmers. It was broken by large, multinational corporations like Tyson, Smithfield, and JBS that, because of their buying power and size, have undue influence over the marketplace and over public policy," Booker said in a statement. "That undue influence was on full display with President Trump's recent executive order prioritizing meatpacker profits over the health and safety of workers."
Under the Farm System Reform Act, the largest CAFOs would be phased out entirely by 2040. Medium and small-sized operations would not be prohibited, although voluntary buyouts would be offered for farmers who want to cease factory farming, as Newsweek reported. The bill would also invest $100 billion over ten years to help CAFO owners transition to more sustainable forms of agriculture.
"Giant meatpackers cannot be permitted to continue to profit off of the labor of family farmers, consolidating the food industry to the point that our supply chain is threatened," said Khanna, as The Hill reported. "Congress must step in to ensure an honest market, or risk losing another historic industry to the hands of big corporations."
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
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