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Cory Booker Proposes to Shut Down New Factory Farms

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Cory Booker Proposes to Shut Down New Factory Farms
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker speaking with attendees at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention at the George R. Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, California on June 1. Gage Skidmore / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

New Jersey senator and presidential hopeful Cory Booker put forth the Farm System Reform Act of 2019, in recognition of the environmental impact of industrial agriculture, which would put a stop to any new factory farms, as The Hill reported.


The bill will reform the agriculture system by breaking up monopolistic practices in the industry and holding large corporate farms accountable for the environmental impacts of their practices, according to The Hill.

The proposal takes particular aim at factory farms, or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), which are notorious for their detrimental environmental impacts, as well as the inhumane treatment of animals. Not only would the bill ban any new CAFOs, but it requires phasing existing ones out by 2040, according to the Government Accountability Project. The bill will allocate $100 billion over a decade to entice farmers who want to transition out of running CAFOs.

CAFOs are known to generate an enormous amount of manure and waste, which frequently contaminates nearby groundwater. They are also known to give farmers little freedom to change since farmers are often handcuffed by binding contracts with large corporations. The Department of Agriculture defines a CAFO as having 1,000 cattle, 700 dairy cows, 2,500 pigs, 125,000 chickens or 82,000 laying hens, as Modern Farmer reported.

Sen. Cory Booker's proposal aims to hold corporations responsible for pollution and other harm caused by their factory farm suppliers, even though the factory farms are independently owned and in a contract with the large corporations, according to The Hill.

"Our independent family farmers and ranchers are continuing to be squeezed by large, multinational corporations that, because of their buying power and size, run roughshod over the marketplace. We need to fix the broken system – that means protecting family farmers and ranchers and holding corporate integrators responsible for the harm they are causing," said Booker, in a statement put out by his office. "Large factory farms are harmful to rural communities, public health, and the environment and we must immediately begin to transition to a more sustainable and humane system."

Booker's statement cited data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention that found large CAFOs produce as much as 1.4 billion tons of waste each year, but don't need to maintain a waste treatment facility. Their steady dramatic increase in numbers recently put rural communities at risk of severe environmental hazards and threatens the viability of family farms.

Furthermore, the crowded conditions of livestock means antibiotics have been overused, leading to the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria. That phenomenon pushed the American Public Health Association to urge federal, state and local governments as well as public health agencies to impose a moratorium on all new and expanding CAFOs last month, according to Booker's statement.

"Senator Booker's Farm System Reform Act pushes back on the concentration of animal production and the devastating impact that has had on our rural communities," said Randy Dugger, Indiana Farmers Union Vice President, in a statement. "Independent family farmers deserve an opportunity to be prosperous again. By providing fairness and transparency in the market, along with a significant investment to help those trapped in a broken system to get out, this bill can make a huge difference."

The bill also calls for restoring country-of-origin labeling for beef and pork and expand to dairy products. It would tighten labeling regulations so consumers know where meat was grown, slaughtered and processed, which would stop the Department of Agriculture from labeling imported meat as "Product of USA." Currently, meat grown, slaughtered and processed in Brazil, but packaged in the USA can be labeled as Product of USA, as Modern Farmer reported.

"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 in a press release. "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."

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declares victory during the Labor Party Election Night Function at Auckland Town Hall on Oct. 17, 2020 in Auckland, New Zealand. Hannah Peters / Getty Images

Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand Prime Minister who has emerged as a leader on the climate crisis and the coronavirus pandemic, has won a second term in office.

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A woman holds a handful of vitamin C. VO IMAGES / Getty Images

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Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Sir David Attenborough look at a piece of ice core from the Antarctic during a naming ceremony for the polar research ship the RSS Sir David Attenborough on Sept. 26, 2019 in Birkenhead, England. Asadour Guzelian - WPA Pool / Getty Images

By Elliot Douglas

In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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The 1.4-gigawatt coal-fired Kingston Steam Plant, just outside Kingston, Tennessee on the shore of Watts Bar Lake on March 31, 2019. In 2008, a coal ash pond at the plant collapsed, leading to the largest industrial spill in modern U.S. history and subsequent industry regulations in 2015. Paul Harris / Getty Images

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