Last week, Senator Elizabeth Warren announced that she would co-sponsor a bill with Senator Cory Booker to phase out so-called factory farming by 2040, a decision that is both misguided and irresponsible. In support of the bill, National Review ran a long article by philosopher Spencer Case wherein he grossly mischaracterizes American farming through inaccuracies and misleading statistics.
The bill would effectively destroy the Dairy Industry in California. According to Progressive Dairy, the average size of a Californian dairy farm is 1726 head of cattle, over Booker’s proposed limit. Think about the repercussions this would have. Dairy farming is one of the leading agricultural commodities in California. How can you effectively replace the largest commodity in the state? What would replace those jobs? And this is not to mention the countless other products and exports created across the nation that this bill would demolish.
When you stand at the supermarket and buy tomatoes from your local retailer you buy a product that’s possibly traveled thousands of miles, changed hands multiple times, and been through more to get to you than you will ever know. A nation’s farms are a deciding factor for their imports and exports, and a country with little to no farming will have to depend on other nations. America has always had a proud farming culture, as we provide food for many other nations, and lead the world in exports for many commodities. As an Agricultural Technology student, I have studied the complex agricultural economic system; I’ve stood in the fields that produce the commodities that feed the world and learned from the leading farmers of our day. This bill and Mr. Case’s article in particular near slander the Agricultural community and the farmers working to feed America.
So when Spenser Case wrote his article “Cory Booker is right about factory farming” for National Review, he slandered the farming community and grossly mischaracterized the history of farmers who have proudly fed the world through good and bad. The article is filled with inaccuracies, miss leading statistics, and blatant lies.
First of all, The Bill proposed by Cory Booker and endorsed by Spenser Case is not only dangerous but irresponsible. It would effectively destroy farming and the powerful economy of exports by curtailing “concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), so-called factory farms, in the U.S.” The plan would place a stop on new and expanding large CAFOs to phase out the largest CAFOs by 2040.
A Mischaracterization Of Farming
Mr. Case begins his mischaracterization with farming cultural practices, blaming past pandemics on farmers. In the article, he claims that the Spanish Pandemic in the early twentieth century was proven to have started on a pig farm. This is highly unlikely, as many leaders in this field say it is quite possible that it originated due to horrible conditions in World War One. Articles in LiveScience, National Geographic, The Times, and Slate all contest his theory. Unless Spenser Case knows something the experts do not, this shows his biases in his reporting and should not be taken seriously. He presents as factual what is actually a controversial reading of history.
After blaming farming for the death of millions, he continues to blame farming for the deaths of Americans. He quotes the CDC as saying that “each year in the U.S., at least 2.8 million people are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria or fungi, and more than 35,000 people die as a result.” However, this quote is in no way directly talking about antibiotic-resistant bacteria found in agriculture. The quote is taken out of context to blame agriculture for the misuse of antibiotics when it’s humans who are truly abusing them.
The article continues:
It’s common for farmers to feed them [animals] antibiotics at low levels to prevent outbreaks and spur growth. Over time this erodes the effectiveness of those antibiotics, including those useful for treating infections in humans, as pathogens adapt. This is what is meant by ‘antibiotic resistance.’ Since each use of an antibiotic potentially increases resistance, health experts advise doctors to prescribe antibiotics sparingly.
While concerning, farmers are continually researching how to use antibiotics better to combat this. Some companies are moving away from antibiotics as a whole. Sanders Farms Inc, one of the largest poultry farms in America, is one such example; they recently passed a resolution to move their company away from the use of antibiotics. All farms work hard to maintain effective biosecurity and use antibiotics to combat the diseases that are naturally occurring.
Expert guidance remains in support of the responsible usage of antibiotics. In a talk for the London Microbiome meeting Nicola Evans, a doctoral researcher in structural biology concluded with this insight: “Antibiotics are needed… to safeguard animal health and welfare, but should only be used when the animals are sick and not used for growth promoters or to prevent animals from getting sick in the first place.” In an even more direct rebuttal to Mr. Case’s point, she continued “animal use shouldn’t detract from the fact that the vast majority of antibiotic resistance in humans is caused by overuse in humans.” The use of antibiotics is a complex issue but it’s easier to just blame agriculture rather than taking responsibility to reform practices.
But surely if they are not abusing their animals with antibiotics, then they most certainly are abusing their animals physically, right? In the article, Spenser Case recommends viewing the documentaries Meet Your Meat and Face your food for a harrowing tale of abuse on farms. What he doesn’t tell you is that these two documentaries are produced by PETA, a known animal rights activist group that routinely lies about their values, stages videos, and engages in illegal activities.
In reality, farmers have to get training on how to deal with trespassers, threats, drones, and violent activists. Farmers work hard to treat their animals humanely and actually have financial incentive to treat their animals the best they can. Well cared for animals have lower levels of stress, and have a higher yield, and produce better meat. While farmers can make mistakes, their livelihood rests on healthy animals.
The article also fails to mention the countless laws, regulations, and state requirements to combat animal cruelty. For example, chickens have to be able to move freely and turn wings out in a full 360 without touching another chicken. The USDA regulates everything from the birth of the animal to how it should be killed. Why would a farmer risk the wrath of the federal government and activists to make less money?
To prove the extent of abuse on farms, Mr. Case quotes a professor of philosophy. If the philosophy professor had been quoted about whether animals have souls or if it’s ethical to kill them, that would be one thing, but he was quoted as if he had a unique insight into the conditions of factory farms. He doesn’t. Growing up in the heart of farming in California, I’ve seen the conditions of dairies, toured cattle ranches, and grown-up next to some of the largest farms in California. When you walk around these farms you see the pride these farmers have in being caretakers for the land, the pride they have when their product feeds the world. Perhaps there are outliers, sure, but the vast majority of American farmers care deeply for their livestock and treat them accordingly.
The Benefits of Large-Scale Farming
Throughout his article, Mr. Case showcases the evils of factory farming with false claims of human health violations, animal abuse, and the immorality of large scale farming. His arguments are misguided and misrepresent everything the farming community holds dear. Whereas he claims large scale farming is an evil this is in direct contradiction with basic economic principles. Large-scale farming is a net-positive for the American economy and the individuals within it.
In any other industry, the economics of scale is a good thing. Larger ventures allow for lower costs. As such, larger farms are able to buy expensive technology such as Methane digesters which help convert animal byproducts into fossil fuels. Through large-scale farms, California is the first dairy region in the world to set a goal to reduce methane emissions by 40%. This is a massive step to clean energy. According to Dairy Cares, “Through the development of dairy digesters alone, California dairy farms will soon be reducing a total of 1.9 million metric tons of greenhouse gases (CO2e) per year.” A smaller operation would simply not be able to afford this groundbreaking technology until years down the road and the price drops dramatically.
Economies of scale also reduce the costs of the final products. Americans spend roughly 6.5% on food and that number grows to 11% if you include eating out. Because of the American farming system, we actually spend less on food than other countries. According to Vox, “there are also dozens of forces making food in the United States cheap — from farm subsidies to advancements in industrial agriculture that have pushed down the price of food.” If Vox supports Factory Farming, so can you.
If we were to get rid of the farming system that is implemented now millions of people would have to choose between feeding their kids and other necessities of life. At a local farmers market, you might pay anywhere from $2.50 to $5.50 per pound of tomatoes, depending on if they are even in season. At Walmart, you can expect to pay roughly two dollars for over a pound of tomatoes. It’s elitist and out of touch to act like this increase in cost wouldn’t drastically affect families who live on a tight budget. Roughly 78% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck.
Growing up in a tight budget family, we could not afford to buy all our products at the local farmers market, and neither could most families in our economic class. We had a steady diet of beans, rice, and produce grown in our backyard. When we couldn’t grow the produce, we bought it from the store, or local fruit stands. We were able to buy local because we live in California where there is produce year-round. Such availability and cost do not exist across the country. The question is this: is it more moral to maintain factory farms and so produce affordable products or do we force farmers to become small operations and increase the cost of food which would be detrimental to lower-income families?
Contrary to popular thought, farming is actually beneficial to the soil as an ecosystem and to the land in general. There are no tomatoes or avocadoes if the farmer has unhealthy soil. Do you know where there is unhealthy soil? Under parking lot asphalt. Soil is a living system. Once it’s dead, it’s dead forever. Farmers understand the need for healthy soil and spend lots of money and time to make it so. From fertilizers to organic matter, entire industries were built to keep soil healthy. No farmer benefits from destroying the soil, they benefit from keeping it in peak conditions.
Jake Wenger, a Californian farmer, summarized the defense of “Factory Farming” well:
The truth is factories are an integral part of everyday life. Factories exist to be able to produce the largest amount of product in the most efficient way possible. Factories allow for economies of scale which allow the business to invest in sustainable, but expensive, practices. If “factory farms” are simply places where food is grown efficiently, sustainably and produce a high amount of volume to feed a hungry world, then what’s the problem?
Without farming America would face a drastic increase in the cost of living, forcing families to choose between eating and paying the electricity bill; thousands and thousands of people would lose their jobs. Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the cornfield.” The farming community is not without its faults but they should be addressed alongside the truth, no matter what field—crop or otherwise—that you find yourself in.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.