“Built by agribusinesses, the industrial livestock and poultry system is designed to maximize production—while externalizing risk and liability—to ensure corporate profits even when the system fails.”
– Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ)
Farm Forward and 61 other organizations, including HEAL Food Alliance, Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, and Friends of the Earth, have officially endorsed Senator Cory Booker’s legislation, the Industrial Agriculture Accountability Act (IAA). This comprehensive bill would mitigate some of the harm done by the meat industry that invariably hurts workers, farm animals, and consumers. Much of the bill regards provisions and enforcement that would arise during public health crises that are, in many cases, the result of the inherent unsustainability of our industrial animal agriculture system.
The IAA would establish a new office to hold the industry accountable and would implement reforms that would benefit not only meat and poultry workers but also the billions of farmed animals killed every year in the U.S. This legislation is an unprecedented step in the direction of meaningful accountability and transparency for factory farms. Like the Farm System Reform Act, this legislation wasn’t written to be signed into law this year. Instead, the bill is intended to spark a national conversation about the future of industrial animal agriculture.
Some accountability for the industry
The industrial animal agriculture sector has been protected from meaningful accountability by the very body that is supposed to regulate it: the USDA. The IAA would establish a new office within the USDA: the Office of High-Risk Animal Feeding Operation (AFO) Disaster Mitigation and Enforcement. Large-scale AFOs in the U.S. would have to register with the Office and submit detailed disaster mitigation plans. Among other provisions, such plans would include steps to ensure animal well-being during extreme weather events and other crises.
This new office would also order AFOs to pay fees “associated with activities related to disaster events or depopulation of livestock or poultry.” Currently, the federal government often foots the bill in disaster scenarios. Instead, fees collected from industrial operators would be used to cover the operating costs of the Office and fund enforcement actions against AFOs.
During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the fragility of the U.S. industrial food system became impossible to ignore; these IAA requirements directly respond to that fragility and take steps toward addressing it.
During disasters impacting the U.S. food supply chain, such as avian influenza (bird flu) and a global pandemic, meat industry workers are some of the first to suffer. To address this, IAA would institute new and unprecedented protections for those who work during disaster mitigation efforts. These include protections for whistleblowers so industrial operators may not discharge a worker for filing a complaint or testifying in a relevant proceeding.
The IAA would also demand that industrial operators provide healthcare to workers during a disaster mitigation event, and pay 12 weeks of severance to terminated workers. The legislation would also ban the use of inmate labor when responding to a food supply disaster, a practice that has a problematic history, given that incarcerated people do not always have the same protections as the rest of the workforce.
Farmed animal protections
Booker’s legislation would establish significant new protections for farmed animals who suffer immensely under the current model of industrial farming. One major step forward is the proposed expansion of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act of 1958 to include poultry–an amendment that would take effect over the next ten years. This move would force the industry to adopt more comprehensive measures that ensure poultry don’t suffer at the time of slaughter.
The COVID-19 pandemic saw numerous cases of livestock depopulation, where economic conditions led to the culling of millions of farm animals. Some methods are particularly brutal, like when animals are heated to death via “ventilation shutdown.” In other instances, foam is introduced to a confined space to suffocate large numbers of animals. The IAA creates significant consequences for industrial actors caught using these methods of depopulation during crises, including financial penalties and ineligibility for federal contracts.
The bill also contains provisions regarding the proliferation of higher slaughter line speeds, an issue that activists have long opposed. If passed, the IAA would end ever-increasing slaughter speeds and dismantle the expectation that AFOs self-inspect their own slaughter lines.
What this bill means
Farm Forward has long argued that the modern meat industry is a disaster kept in operation by the federal government’s failure to regulate appropriately. The IAA would be a significant step toward accountability and transparency; it addresses the harm to workers, animals, and consumers that industrial operators have inflicted for decades. Even though a bill of this type is unlikely to pass at this stage, it no doubt pushes the conversation forward and demands that we face the fundamental flaws present in how we produce food.
Show your support for the IAA by calling your senator and asking them to push for this transformative legislation.