In a precedent-setting decision last month that received scant national coverage, a federal district court judge in Washington State ordered a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation), also known as a factory farm, to monitor groundwater, drainage and soil for illegal pollution resulting from its grossly inadequate manure management practices in violation of the Clean Water Act. This first-ever ruling holding a CAFO accountable for its pollution was a result of a lawsuit by the nonprofit Community Association for Restoration of the Environment (CARE) against the Nelson Faria Dairy in Royal, Washington. The ruling upholds the terms of a 2006 settlement CARE had with the dairy’s previous owners, which the current owners subsequently ignored. Read more

Imagine a series of pits that, if combined, would cover an area 40 acres in size carved 20 feet deep. Laid out as a perfect square, each side is 1,320 feet long, enough to hold 16 football fields. Now imagine it full of millions of gallons of festering manure from over 5,000 dairy cows plunked down into rural Jo Daviess County in northern Illinois. Imagine also, that these cesspools would be excavated from a porous Karst geological formation, with the propensity to percolate directly into the groundwater, along with a cocktail of nitrates, phosphorous, hydrogen sulfide, bacteria, and other substances like antibiotic drugs. Read more

What do Florida and Iowa have in common when it comes to animal agriculture? They’ve both been hot spots, past and present, for the movement to combat some of the worst abuses in industrial agribusiness. And now the factory farming industry is fighting back in both states—and their latest methods represent their biggest overreach yet. Read more

Industrial animal agriculture and meat production and consumption have become central issues of our time. Between 1950 and 2007, per capita meat consumption in the U.S. increased an astounding 78 pounds per person per year and world meat consumption is expected to double by 2050. The health consequences from the overconsumption of meat—obesity, coronary heart disease, and cancer—are now well documented.

The 2006 United Nation publication, Livestock’s Long Shadow articulated the environmental impact of industrial animal production—and a new study further estimates that livestock farming on its own—disregarding all other human activity—could negatively tip the balance for climate change and habitat destruction by mid-century.

Between the serious environmental and public health and food safety issues associated with Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs)—known for their disregard for animal welfare, misuse of pharmaceuticals, pollution and mismanagement of waste, and concentrated corporate ownership; the importance of alternatives such as sustainable ranching; and the debate as to whether we should eat meat at all, lies an important conversation worth having regarding our role in meat’s global and local impact. Read more

The CAFO Reader – a new book featuring essays by farmers Wendell Berry, Becky Weed, and Fred Kirschenmann, Republican speech writer Matthew Scully, journalist Michael Pollan and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., among many others – gives a full picture of the environmental, social, and ethical implications of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, and includes a section of essays on “Putting the CAFO Out to Pasture.” A CAFO is an Environmental Protection Agency designation for a farming facility that keeps numerous animals raised for food in close confinement, with the potential to pollute. These facilities often produce extreme amounts of waste, which ends up in toxic lagoons, sprayed on the land, and eventually in the watershed; require the use of high doses of antibiotics, thereby adding to the growth of drug-resistant bacteria; and are exempt from most animal cruelty laws. I spoke with the editor of The CAFO Reader, Daniel Imhoff, who is also the cofounder, director, and publisher of Watershed Media, about recent legislation and the future of the CAFO.

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We get asked frequently at Farm Aid what a family farmer really is, how to spot a factory farm, or if someone can be both a family farmer and run a factory farm. We also receive questions from farmers themselves who want to know if we consider them a family farm or a factory farm. You name it — we’re asked it.

At Farm Aid, we consider these questions seriously. After all, our mission is to keep family farmers on their land. So, what do we mean when we say family farmer? How do we identify a factory farm? Is there any real definition to these terms? Read more

Our movement up to now has been disparate, siloed into unique yet interrelated causes around food, from hunger, to farmer and farmworker rights, to food access or to food safety issues. But in the last year, the pieces of the pie have been coming together to form a true movement. The question remains to be answered: How can we rally to show president Obama this movement, as he has asked us to do? And, what do we ask for when we get there?

Many great folks are out there developing “asks” around food. In my opinion, the biggest successes will come from getting at the roots of issues, asking for change on bigger policies that could have an effect on what is on our plate everyday. One great “ask” I have been thinking about, for example, is to change our policies around Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Read more

I read with shame and sadness the stories out of Egypt yesterday describing the ordered mass slaughter of 350,000 hogs due to fears over swine flu. I am an omnivore and love the flavor of meat. It seems to me that humans are part of an evolving food chain stretching back millions of years. Yet, I also believe that given our position at the top of that chain, with our intellectual, emotional and spiritual capacities, we Homo sapiens have a responsibility to ethically and humanly care for all the life from which we draw our sustenance. Read more