The Pure Farms, Pure Waters Campaign addresses the failure to regulate pollution from industrialized swine, poultry and dairy facilities that is devastating rivers, lakes and estuaries and lowering quality of life in our communities. We educate the public and decision makers about the impacts of industrialized livestock operations, support communities and local farmers, and advocate for sustainable food systems. We lobby state and federal authorities to strengthen and enforce existing prohibitions on the discharge of animal waste into our waterways, seek to hold corporations that dictate facility operations accountable for waste management practices, promote sound policies that protect our waterways and support independent farmers, and take legal action against the most egregious violators.
The meat production industry was fundamentally transformed in the last half of the 20th century. Rapid industry expansion and vertical integration, led by multinational corporations, nearly destroyed the independent family farm. To maximize profits, these companies engineered a shift away from traditional production methods that involved small herds of grazing animals and on-farm feed production. Animals are now raised in enormous, confined facilities — referred to as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) — that can confine tens of thousands of animals indoors throughout their short life cycle. Thus, although national meat production has more than doubled since the 1950s, the number of farms in the United States has decreased by 80%.
The key to this industry transformation was the growth of contract farming. In the past, an independent family farmer could raise his own animals based on his professional judgment and experience. Now, by entering into contracts with growers, companies own the livestock and dictate nearly every facet of production, from the type of animals to the size of confinement facilities, right down to the sort of feed and medical treatment provided to the animals. These contracts, drafted by corporate lawyers, are often unfair to the contract grower. This is particularly true with respect to waste management. By contracting with formerly independent farmers, the controlling corporations have attempted to shift liability for the pollution caused by their unsustainable, industrial scale production methods to these farmers.
Naturally, the increased concentration of animal production led to the concentration of high volumes of waste. CAFOs can produce as much waste as a small city, but without the most basic waste treatment system to process it. And, while corporations rake in the profit generated by industry concentration, they contractually disavow responsibility for managing the waste generated by their animals. So the companies benefitting the most from industrial transformation have effectively hidden behind farmers to avoid liability for the negative externalities stemming from the new company-dictated means of production.
CAFOs frequently dispose of untreated animal sewage on adjacent croplands. Significant problems arise because growers often apply waste far in excess of the amounts needed for crop production and allow that waste to flow into local waterways, contaminating water resources and damaging the health of downstream communities. In the United States, state and federal regulators unfortunately too often turn a blind eye to this pollution. A 2017 EPA report shows that only 30% of the largest industrialized livestock facilities have permits as required by the Clean Water Act to control this pollution and many of the states with the highest density of facilities have the lowest level of Clean Water Act compliance.