With Factory Farms, There is No Middle Ground

We are slowly winning the war against factory farms, even though we are obviously not winning every battle. The recent exposé of factory farming in The Chicago Tribune[i] is but the latest in a continuing barrage of negative publicity, reflecting growing public concerns about how America’s meat, milk, and eggs are produced.[ii],[iii] The inhumane treatment of animals in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) tends to capture much of the public attention. However, Americans are becoming increasingly aware of the multitude of environmental, social, and rural economic problems that invariably arise from the industrial approach to animal production – commonly called factory farming. In reality, factory farms have far more in common with factories than real farms.


A 2016 study by a highly-distinguished International Panel of Experts in Sustainability described the evidence found in 350 studies documenting the failures of industrial agriculture and supporting fundamental change as “overwhelming.”[iv]Factory farms are the epitome of industrial agriculture. The study concluded: “Today’s food and farming systems have succeeded in supplying large volumes of foods to global markets, but are generating negative outcomes on multiple fronts: widespread degradation of land, water, and ecosystems; high GHG emissions; biodiversity losses; persistent hunger and micro-nutrient deficiencies alongside the rapid rise of obesity and diet-related diseases; and livelihood stresses for farmers around the world.”[v]


The report also provides extensive documentation of a new sustainable food system emerging in the U.S. and around the world. They state: “What is required is a fundamentally different model of agriculture based on diversify­ing farms and farming landscapes, replacing chemical inputs, optimizing biodiversity and stimulating interactions between different species, as part of holistic strategies to build long-term fertility, healthy agro-ecosystems, and secure livelihoods. Data shows that these systems can compete with industrial agriculture in terms of total outputs, performing particularly strongly under environmental stress, and delivering production increases in places where additional food is desperately needed. Diversified agroecological systems can also pave the way for diverse diets and improved health.”


The challenge of the future for farmers in the U.S. is not to increase agricultural productivity but instead to achieve agricultural sustainability. Our current food system isn’t meeting the needs of all in the present and it certainly is not leaving equal or better opportunities for the future. American farmers produce far more than enough to provide adequate food for everyone. We simply need to focus on producing food rather than feed and fuel, reducing food waste, and making sure everyone has enough good food, regardless of his or her ability to earn enough money. The rest of the world doesn’t need or want our agricultural commodities; the world is perfectly capable of feeding itself without factory farms or industrial agriculture. The only real question remaining is whether the economic rights of corporations and factory farmers to make money will continue to take priority over the basic human rights of all people to clean air, clean water, safe food, and the peaceful enjoyment of their homes.

The only thing that keeps me traveling the country and speaking out about the inevitable negative environmental, social, economic, and public health impacts of factory farms is the people I meet whose lives have been literally destroyed by being forced to live downwind or downstream from a factory farm. The stories of real people who have been deprived of their rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness always linger in the back of my mind. The CAFO controversy is not a disagreement about data or the weight to give to conflicting scientific evidence. It ultimately is a matter of people – intelligent, informed, thoughtful, caring, people – being deprived of their basic human rights. I’m originally from Missouri, the Show Me State, and when I see people whose lives are being destroyed by factory farms, I believe it.


The battles over factory farming ultimately are battles over conflicting ethical and moral values. The economic rights of factory farmers are being given priority over the basic human rights of their neighbors and society in general. Some are still searching for a middle ground upon which to develop and implement a mutually acceptable set of regulations. However, the agricultural establishment is firmly committed to preventing effective regulation of factory farming. There is no middle ground. To compromise is to lose. It’s time to choose sides. As for me, I stand firmly on the side of the people – the rights of all people to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness: to clean air, clean water, safe food, and our right to decide for ourselves when we have good reason to feel our rights are threatened.


We need to act boldly by advocating a nationwide factory farm moratorium on CAFOs, to give people time to inform themselves about the nature of the threats and of their rights of self-defense. We need to replace current government policies that support factory farms and industrial agriculture with a farm bill that supports independent family farms and sustainable animal agriculture. Farm policy, not free markets, created today’s industrial agriculture, and new farm policies can create a new sustainable agriculture.


Our federal and state governments have failed to use their power to protect our basic constitutional rights in the case of factory farming. So it is up to us, “the American people,” to find a means of using the power granted to “the people” by the U.S. Constitution to claim our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. There is no middle ground. It’s time to take a stand. As for me, for as long as I am able to stand, I will stand against factory farms – on the side of the people.


John Ikerd


[i] Chicago Tribune, “Price of Pork – Special Report,” http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/watchdog/pork/

[ii] The Huffington Post, “Factory Farming,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/factory-farming/ .

[iii] New York Times, “Factory Farming,” http://www.nytimes.com/topic/subject/factory-farming .

[iv] Andrea Germanos, “’Overwhelming’ Evidence Shows Path is Clear: It’s Time to Ditch Industrial Agriculture for GoodCommon Dreams, Thursday, June 02, 2016, http://www.commondreams.org/news/2016/06/02/overwhelming-evidence-shows-path-clear-its-time-ditch-industrial-agriculture-good?utm_campaign=shareaholic&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=socialnetwork

[v]  IPES – Food, International Panel of Experts on Sustainability, From Uniformity to Diversity: A paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems, June 2016, http://www.ipes-food.org/images/Reports/UniformityToDiversity_FullReport.pdf