Washington, D.C. – As the country’s meat and poultry industries increasingly fail consumers and workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, new research from the advocacy group Food & Water Watch highlights an alarming deepening of corporate dominance in Maryland’s poultry industry. With the perils of consolidation now becoming apparent as plants become pandemic hotspots, farmers euthanize cattle and dump product, and store shelves across the country sit bare, the new report points to the Eastern Shore’s high density of broiler chicken operations.
The new report, “Factory Farm Nation: 2020,” reveals stark evidence and impacts of corporate agriculture in Maryland and America, including:
- The number of broiler chickens on factory farms in Maryland at any given time nearly tripled over the past twenty years, from 13.7 million in 1997 to 39 million in 2017. In 2017, Maryland’s 307 million broiler chickens raised under contract generated a whopping 400,000 tons of litter.
- A 14 percent increase - representing more than 190 million animals - in U.S. factory farm stock from 2012 to 2017.
- An 82 billion-pound increase of annual factory farm manure waste - three times the weight in human sewage produced by New York City - from 2012 to 2017
- A 70 percent increase in the real consumer cost of ground beef over 20 years, while farmer income continues to decline.
- The loss of tens of thousands of family-scale farm operations, including a sharp decline in dairies with fewer than 500 head, between 2012 and 2017.
“This research clearly shows what residents of Maryland’s Eastern Shore have been telling us for some time now,” says Lily Hawkins, Maryland organizer for Food & Water Action. “The concentration of factory farms raising chickens for meat is unacceptably high. Folks are dealing with unmonitored air pollution, water contamination and now a coronavirus hotspot because of the poultry industry. It’s time to enact a moratorium and stop these huge corporations from exploiting rural communities and wreaking havoc with the environment.”
“These factories disguised as farms have long been a plague on rural and low income communities,” says Monica Brooks, co-founder of the Maryland-based group Concerned Citizens Against Industrial CAFOs. “However, COVID-19 has highlighted the system’s ineffectiveness at distributing food to families in need, so even as we are forced to live with more and more factory farms we are seeing this industrialized food system fail us entirely. Enough is enough: we need a moratorium on factory farms.”
Legislation in Congress introduced by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) is intended to correct many of the existing problems in the agriculture system and put the country on a path to more safe and sustainable food production in the future. Among other things, the Farm System Reform Act would:
- Place a moratorium on construction of new large factory farms and the expansion of existing ones.
- Hold corporations liable for environmental harm caused by the factory farms that raise their animals.
- Provide a $100 billion voluntary buyout program for contract farmers to transition away from factory farming corporate control.
- Strengthen the Packers & Stockyards Act to protect family farmers and ranchers from abusive practices by integrating corporations.