What’s been done already?
It’s so overwhelming to think about our current food system, yet alone try to change anything! But it’s not all gloom and doom when it comes to animal welfare and factory farming. There have, in fact, been some important improvements. So, before I dive into the “not so pleasant” realities of the current U.S. food system, I’m going to start by mentioning a few of the achievements:
- Last month, the Nebraska Farmers Union and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) agreed to work together to develop new standards, practices, and marketing efforts for humanely raised animal products.
- So far, the European Union and eight U.S. states have outlawed the use of gestation crates for sows. Several retailers have also agreed to ban pork products coming from facilities that use gestation crates to confine breeding sows. Recently, HSUS submitted a shareholder resolution requesting that Dominoes report to shareholders on the feasibility of using pepperoni and ham that comes only from “gestation-free” facilities.
- In the United States, at least 92 percent of egg-laying hens are confined to battery cages. In July 2011, the Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers reached an agreement to support federal legislation to improve conditions for caged hens and eventually phase out the use of battery cages. The European Union has already passed legislation to phase out battery cages by 2012.
- At the end of October, Harvard University Dining Services announced that it would only be purchasing cage-free eggs from this point on.
- As HSUS senior director Paul Shapiro writes in “Advancements for Farm Animals Become Reality”, the food movement is going mainstream. Just one example is the lengthy article exposing the realities of factory farming in the November 2011 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine: One Woman Takes a Brave Stand Against Factroy Farming.
The BIG Problem
Although these are all steps in the right direction, there is still a ton of work to do. In my opinion, it’s all just getting way too big! Our current food system seems to encourage industrial agriculture over small-scale farming.
Right now, four companies control 84 percent of beef packing, 66 percent of pork production, and one company, Monsanto, controls patents on more than 93 percent of soybeans and 80 percent of corn grown in the U.S. According to the Food and Water Watch report Factory Farm Nation: How America Turned Its Livestock Farms into Factories:
The decline in buyers and processing plants has left fewer selling options for livestock producers, which puts them under increased pressure to take whatever price they can get, even if it does not cover their costs. Over time, this forces small operations to grow in order to recoup low prices with higher volume (more animals) or leave the business entirely. In farm circles, this phenomenon is described as “get big or get out.”
Agribusiness continues to gain influence, while the farmers, consumers, animals, and the environment suffer.
Ways to take action!
The food movement is gaining traction. Enough traction, in fact, that the newly formed U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) has launched a new multi-million dollar public relations campaign as an effort to “reshape the dialogue” about the American food supply. Influential writer Michael Pollan and documentaries such as Food, Inc. are bringing the issues surrounding farm and food policy to the masses, and it appears that big agriculture is beginning to feel the heat.
Here are a few ideas on actions you can take to help drive the food movement forward.
Occupy Wall Street: If you’re concerned about the current food system, consider joining forces with the OWS movement.
To change the food system, we need systemic change in financial institutions, regulation, corporate influence; we need a shift in power. For a movement that has long been waiting for its moment, uniting in common cause with Occupy Wall Street may be the way to finally build enough power to create the change we need.
– Siena Chrisman, Why the food movement should occupy Wall Street
Farm Bill 2012: The biggest piece of legislation influencing our farm and food system is up for review in 2012. There is talk that the Agriculture Committees are trying to write the farm bill this week, behind closed doors.
- Contact your Senator and/or Representative
- Sign the Food Democracy Now! Petition against the “Secret Farm Bill”
- Sign the Food and Water Watch Fair Farm Bill Petition
Be a Smart Consumer:
- Buy meat from a local farmer
- Go meatless on Mondays! Pledge to go meatless for just one day out of the week. Watch this great video on Meatless Mondays by the Humane Society of the United States.