Given its name, you might think that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) role is to foster the development of healthy agricultural systems; in reality, it actually props up the factory farm industry. Policies that lead to a glut of corn and soybeans drive the availability of cheap livestock feed, which paves the way for factory farms. USDA even uses public dollars to directly promote factory farming, by providing loans and guaranteeing bank loans needed to build these high-risk, polluting facilities.
But the USDA can’t violate our environmental laws in the process, as it recently did in Maryland – which is why we’re suing them.
In Maryland, USDA’s Farm Service Agency is acting on behalf of corporate poultry integrators, such as Allen Harim, by financing the construction and concentration of the large chicken factory farms that contract with these companies. One recently built factory farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, One More Haul farms, would not have been possible without an FSA loan guarantee. The facility can produce more than one million chickens and one thousand tons of manure every year.
Between 2009 and 2015, FSA approved more than 47 million dollars in direct or guaranteed loans for chicken operations in Maryland alone. It’s impossible to say exactly how much of this money went to the largest factory farms, because FSA withholds key information from the public, such as the details of particular loans. But since factory farm production dominates the chicken industry in Maryland, it seems unlikely that this money is being used to support small and mid-sized family farms.
Aren’t there safeguards against using public funds to promote factory farms that harm the public interest?
Sort of. Federal law requires agencies like the FSA to review the environmental and community impacts of these loans and other major actions. The review process, called an “Environmental Assessment,” is supposed to guide agencies to find the least harmful course of action. But here, FSA’s Environmental Assessment was little more than a paperwork exercise, glossing over the risks of manure runoff into waterways, air pollution, noise and other harms imposed by industrial chicken farming. In this formerly quiet, rural community, neighbors’ lives are already being disrupted by huge swarms of flies and loud truck traffic continuing late into the night—risks that weren’t even addressed by the Assessment.
To make matters worse, Maryland officials intervened on behalf of One More Haul to further weaken the review process. Although FSA was already breezing through the Environmental Assessment, clearly intending to issue the loan guarantee for the facility, FSA’s rubber stamp apparently didn’t hit the approval papers fast enough for the Maryland Department of Agriculture or Governor Hogan’s administration.
Public records show that the Maryland Secretary of Agriculture wrote to the FSA on behalf of the factory farm applicant, urging it to fast-track the loan guarantee.
This brazen political interference in the environmental review process—using yet more public resources to promote private gain—shows the immense power of the factory farm industry.
More now than ever, we must use all of the tools at our disposal to protect the integrity of our environmental laws.
One More Haul is hardly an isolated case, but its environmental review was so glaringly inadequate that Food & Water Watch is suing the FSA and USDA in federal court. With our attorneys at Earthrise Law Center, we’re asking the court to throw out the agency’s decision and require it to properly consider all of the negative impacts of its factory farm lending.
Please donate today to support our litigation to hold the USDA and FSA accountable for putting factory farms ahead of rural communities and the environment.