Environment

Trump Just Gave Factory Farms a Huge Break

This harmful industry doesn't deserve support from the federal government.

Nearly all dairy cows live in factory farms, which make up 99 percent of farms.
Photo Credit: Official/Shutterstock

Factory farms just got a big break with a rider attached to the recently passed $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill. With a pen stroke, the president gave a pass to some of our nation’s biggest polluters. This spending bill was rushed through to meet a deadline, and as so often happens in Washington, it reflects how powerful industries get their way at the expense of taxpayers and the public good.

Behind the scenes, the factory farming industry exploited this timely legislation to add self-serving provisions (under the radar and under the wire), and lawmakers whose political campaigns are funded by agribusiness were happy to oblige. Farm industry lobbyists successfully attached a provision to the spending bill to exempt factory farms from reporting the toxic emissions they generate.

Industrial animal agriculture generates more greenhouse gas emissions than all forms of transportation combined. Concentrated animal feeding operations (often called CAFOs) aren’t just notorious for polluting the environment; they’re also undermining the health and well-being of citizens in rural communities. When communities have sought to make factory farms accountable, agribusiness lawyers and lobbyists have fought back, both in court and in legislative bodies. The industry’s influence is vast and touches politicians at every level, from local officials all the way to the White House, and their operatives permeate the halls of Congress.

Factory farms should be required to follow basic environmental laws, and should not be exempted and allowed to threaten the health and well-being of their rural neighbors. Industrial animal farms should not be allowed to spray animal waste into the air we breathe and onto people’s homes, as was reported last year in North Carolina, where neighbors are fighting corporate hog farms in federal court with evidence of pig feces on and in their houses. Last spring, lawmakers in North Carolina passed legislation seeking to thwart lawsuits like one now pending in federal court. It is not acceptable to force citizens to breathe noxious fumes and to suffer health risks and diminishing property values. Lawmakers should not protect the factory farming industry and allow it to act with such blatant disregard for the lives and livelihoods of others.

Industry trade groups, including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Pork Producers Council, National Turkey Federation, National Chicken Council, U.S. Poultry and Egg Association, and United Egg Producers, have expressed their satisfaction with the newly passed federal environmental exemption. The National Milk Producers Federation also praised Congress for shielding its industry from environmental regulations, and it inserted additional self-serving language about milk labeling into the omnibus bill. The measure directs the FDA to prevent companies that sell plant- and nut-based milks from using the term “milk.”

The demand for soy milk, almond milk, cashew milk, and many other alternatives to cows’ milk has grown substantially, and the dairy industry is losing market share. Entrenched dairy interests are trying to slow down this burgeoning market, arguing that the term “milk” should only be allowed to describe mammary secretions from animals. Dairy lobbyists absurdly contend that labels such as “soy milk” and “almond milk” are somehow confusing to customers. In reality, if the dairy industry really wants consumers to know exactly what they are consuming, all milks should be accurately labeled, including milk from cows, which should be labeled “cows’ milk.” The best way for consumers to know what kind of milk they are buying is to require all milk, whether plant or animal, coconut or cow, to be consistently and accurately labeled.

The dairy industry is among the most entrenched and influential interests in Washington, D.C., and for decades it has exploited government programs to line its pockets. Tax dollars are used to purchase and market surplus cheese and other dairy products to consumers, including through the school lunch program, despite widespread instances of lactose intolerance, allergies, and other problems associated with consuming dairy. Dairy operatives also exploited an earlier emergency spending bill in February of this year, when they and their cohorts made backroom deals to secure billions of dollars in federal subsidies that can be used in the upcoming farm bill.

Factory farms will show up to push their agenda when the farm bill comes up for debate later this year. Thankfully, a growing number of voices from across the political spectrum are also beginning to speak out against this misuse of federal dollars to support agribusiness. The conservative Heritage Foundation points out, “The agriculture-related parts of the farm bill, which mostly consist of subsidies that benefit farmers, cost taxpayers about $20 billion a year. This includes a massive transfer of wealth from taxpayers to mostly large agribusinesses that are (or should be) fully capable of managing their business operations without this special treatment.” Congress needs to do a better job of protecting citizens, and it needs to stop supporting an industry that causes so much harm.

 

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Gene Baur is president and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary, America’s leading farm animal protection organization. He is author of two national bestselling books: Farm Sanctuary: Changing Hearts and Minds about Animals and Food, and Living the Farm Sanctuary Life: The Ultimate Guide to Eating Mindfully, Living Longer, and Feeling Better Every Day.