Look & See, the recent film portrait of Wendell Berry (the novelist, poet, essayist, environmental activist, cultural critic and farmer), includes fascinating archival film footage of Berry debating former Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz nearly 50 years ago. Butz, urging farmers to adapt to the industrialization and commodification of agriculture rooted in financial gain over other societal values, predicted that those who cling to the moldering past are the ones who die.
In contrast, B.A. Nilsson, who recently reviewed Gary Kleppel’s The Emergent Agriculture, Farming, Sustainability and the Return of the Local Economy, spotlighted the most admirable aspect of this insightful book: its hopefulness in the face of the challenge of changing the behavior both of consumers and corporate behemoths focused on profits from the use of capital. Kleppel makes a strong case that the return of a farm economy that is natural, diverse, and local is the way forward in replacing the current, dangerous, inhumane, and dehumanizing American industrial food production system that has evolved from what Earl Butz forcefully propelled 50 years ago.
In his recent Commentary, Diverse smallholder farms can provide food security, published in the Albany Times Union (4/30/20), Gary Kleppel coincidentally referred back to Earl Butz whose primary goal to make food cheap ended up putting control of the food supply in the hands of a few multinational corporations. Kleppel also noted that powerful forces in Washington still favor industrial agriculture: the current Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, recently told a Wisconsin audience that In America, the big get bigger, the small go out.
So it is indeed good news that the transformational Farm System Reform Act originally introduced by Senator Cory Booker (NJ) in the Senate back in December has now been introduced into the House of Representatives with seven co-sponsors: Representatives Ro Khanna (CA), Jamie Raskin (MD), Ted Lieu (CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Peter DeFazio (OR), Earl Blumenauer (OR), and Debra Haaland (NM). This legislation would place an immediate moratorium on the construction of new or expanding large confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), with a phaseout of existing large facilities by 2040.
This thoughtful legislation in the words of Matthew Smith of Food & Water Action would make it possible for independent family-scale producers to make a living raising animals the right way. What we have instead is an increasing number of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) across the U.S. over the past seven years which now number just under 20,000 according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency. These factory farm operations each produce as much as 1.4 billion tons of animal waste each year.
We spotlighted Jonathan Safran Foer’s personal story on becoming an engaged vegetarian, Eating Animals, in our mission statement when this website was launched ten years ago. His clear articulation of the three main reasons why the industrial agricultural model is not sustainable bear repeating here: (1) antibiotic overuse in raising 450 billion land animals each year, (2) the sewerage produced by farmed animals in the United States which is “30 times as much waste as the human population- roughly 87,000 pounds of shit per second,” and (3) the “profoundly cruel systems” which produce meat as a product.
The timing for this legislation during the coronavirus pandemic is auspicious with the extraordinary recent news that 5,000 workers on industrial meat processing lines have become infected with the virus. This tragic situation is Exhibit 1 why we cannot return to former ways of producing food and now should favor the small and local over the big and distant.
(Frank W. Barrie, 5/15/20)