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Factory Farming Ban Proposed by Senators Booker, Warren

Politics
Factory Farming Ban Proposed by Senators Booker, Warren
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) take part in the first night of the Democratic presidential debate on June 26, 2019 in Miami, Florida. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

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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The tiny island nation of Mauritius, known for its turquoise waters, vibrant corals and diverse ecosystem, is in the midst of an environmental catastrophe after a Japanese cargo ship struck a reef off the country's coast two weeks ago. That ship, which is still intact, has since leaked more than 1,000 metric tons of oil into the Indian Ocean. Now, a greater threat looms, as a growing crack in the ship's hull might cause the ship to split in two and release the rest of the ship's oil into the water, NPR reported.

On Friday, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a state of environmental emergency.

France has sent a military aircraft carrying pollution control equipment from the nearby island of Reunion to help mitigate the disaster. Additionally, Japan has sent a six-member team to assist as well, the BBC reported.

The teams are working to pump out the remaining oil from the ship, which was believed to be carrying 4,000 metric tons of fuel.

"We are expecting the worst," Mauritian Wildlife Foundation manager Jean Hugues Gardenne said on Monday, The Weather Channel reported. "The ship is showing really big, big cracks. We believe it will break into two at any time, at the maximum within two days. So much oil remains in the ship, so the disaster could become much worse. It's important to remove as much oil as possible. Helicopters are taking out the fuel little by little, ton by ton."

Sunil Dowarkasing, a former strategist for Greenpeace International and former member of parliament in Mauritius, told CNN that the ship contains three oil tanks. The one that ruptured has stopped leaking oil, giving disaster crews time to use a tanker and salvage teams to remove oil from the other two tanks before the ship splits.

By the end of Tuesday, the crew had removed over 1,000 metric tons of oil from the ship, NPR reported, leaving about 1,800 metric tons of oil and diesel, according to the company that owns the ship. So far the frantic efforts are paying off. Earlier today, a local police chief told BBC that there were still 700 metric tons aboard the ship.

The oil spill has already killed marine animals and turned the turquoise water black. It's also threatening the long-term viability of the country's coral reefs, lagoons and shoreline, NBC News reported.

"We are starting to see dead fish. We are starting to see animals like crabs covered in oil, we are starting to see seabirds covered in oil, including some which could not be rescued," said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, according to The Weather Channel.

While the Mauritian authorities have asked residents to leave the clean-up to officials, locals have organized to help.

"People have realized that they need to take things into their hands. We are here to protect our fauna and flora," environmental activist Ashok Subron said in an AFP story.

Reuters reported that sugar cane leaves, plastic bottles and human hair donated by locals are being sewn into makeshift booms.

Human hair absorbs oil, but not water, so scientists have long suggested it as a material to contain oil spills, Gizmodo reported. Mauritians are currently collecting as much human hair as possible to contribute to the booms, which consist of tubes and nets that float on the water to trap the oil.

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