July 13, 2021

Warren Joins Booker in Reintroducing Bill to Reform Farm System With Support From Farm, Labor, Environment, Public Health, Faith Based and Animal Welfare Groups

Legislation would crack down on monopolistic practices, invest billions towards a more resilient food system, and place a moratorium on large factory farms.

Bill Text (PDF) | Bill Section by Section (PDF) | List of Endorsing Organizations (PDF)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) joined Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.), along with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), in reintroducing the Farm System Reform Act, a bill that would create a level playing field for independent family farmers and transform the broken system built by multi-national meatpacking companies. This legislation would strengthen the Packers & Stockyards Act to crack down on the monopolistic practices of meatpackers and corporate integrators, place a moratorium on large factory farms, sometimes referred to as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), and restore mandatory country-of-origin labeling requirements. U.S. Representative Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. The reintroduction of this bill follows President Biden’s recent executive order, which promotes competition in the marketplace, an important first step toward restoring fairness for independent family farmers and ranchers. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many of the serious weaknesses in our food system. The hyper consolidation of our livestock and meat industry led to a near collapse of the supply chain in the early days of the pandemic. Consumers found empty shelves at their grocery stores, at least 259 meat processing workers died of COVID after their employers failed to provide safe working conditions, animals were cruelly killed, and farmers were left with no market for the livestock they produced. This broken system is not the result of inevitable market forces, but rather comes directly from the influence multinational meatpackers – who continued to make record profits during the pandemic – have over federal farm policy. 

Economic concentration in agriculture has been hurting our country, especially rural America, for decades. The top four beef packing companies control nearly 85% of the market. The top four pork packers control 71% of the market. These companies have too much market power, and it comes at the expense of independent family farmers, who earn just 14.3 cents of every dollar spent on food. Agricultural concentration hurts consumers too, who see higher prices, poorer quality, less innovation, and reduced access to food. Additionally, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) continues to allow beef and pork products that are shipped to the U.S. and processed or repackaged here to be labeled “product of U.S.A.,” even when the animal was raised in another country. This allows multinational meatpackers to pass their imported meat off as American, further eroding fair competition and preventing shoppers from supporting local rural communities. 

“For years, giant multinational corporations have been crushing competition in the agricultural sector and seizing key markets while regulators have looked the other way. And the COVID-19 crisis has made it even easier for Big Ag to get even bigger and gobble up small farms -- leaving farmers out in the cold and consumers facing higher costs and fewer choices. This bill is necessary to end the vice grip that Big Ag has over our farm economy, and to give our farmers, workers, and consumers real bargaining power in our farm and food systems,” said Senator Warren. 

“Large, multinational meatpackers, because of their buying power and size, are putting our food system at risk and harming everyone along the supply chain. We need to fix the broken system – that means giving family farmers and ranchers a fair shot and holding corporate integrators responsible for the harm they are causing,” said Senator Booker. “We must immediately begin to transition to a more sustainable and humane system. An important first step is ending our reliance on huge factory farms and investing in a system that focuses on resilient and regenerative production.”

“In my home state of Vermont and across the country, small farms are critical to our economies, our communities, and to maintaining the rural way of life,” said Senator Sanders. “And yet it has become harder and harder for the family farmer to get by, and the pandemic only exacerbated the strain and crushing challenges farmers are facing today. Our farming economy today is not working for the majority of Americans. It’s not working for the family farmer struggling to get by, it’s not working for the environment, and it’s not working for our rural communities. This rigged system, however, is working for huge conglomerates and the meatpacking industry who are raking in massive profits. It’s time the federal government had the backs of our family farmers instead of doing favors for corporate agriculture monopolies.” 

“If Congress doesn’t act soon, we risk losing an entire generation of family farms to multinational farming corporations,” said Rep. Ro Khanna. “The Farm System Reform Act is the clear way to ensure the American food system maintains fair competition, high animal welfare standards, & a dependable food chain. We must fix this broken system. Proud to reintroduce this critical legislation with Senator Booker to level the playing field for family farmers, ranchers, and agricultural workers in the 21st century.”

Large CAFOs produce enormous amounts of animal waste and other harmful pollution, which are directly linked to environmental and health problems for farming communities across the country. These factory farms create runoff pollution that can contaminate waterways and drinking water. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, large CAFOs produce as much as 1.4 billion tons of waste each year and are not required to maintain a treatment facility for livestock waste. The number of CAFOs have dramatically increased over the years and the steady growth makes rural communities vulnerable to environmental hazards and threaten the economic prosperity of family farms. The overuse of medically important antibiotics by large CAFOs has led to the generation and spread of dangerous antibiotic resistant bacteria. In 2019, the American Public Health Association urged federal, state, and local governments and public health agencies to impose a moratorium on all new and expanding CAFOs, and a 2021 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) found that air pollution due to animal agriculture is responsible for 12,720 US deaths per year.  

The Farm System Reform Act would:

  • Place an immediate moratorium on new and expanding large CAFOs, and phase out by 2040 the largest CAFOs as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency
  • Hold corporate integrators responsible for pollution and other harm caused by CAFOs
  • Provide a voluntary buyout for farmers who want to transition out of operating a CAFO
  • Strengthen the Packers and Stockyards Act to protect family farmers and ranchers, including: 
    • Prohibit the use of unfair tournament or ranking systems for paying contract growers
    • Protect livestock and poultry farmers from retaliation
    • Create market transparency and protect farmers and ranchers from predatory purchasing practices
  • Restore mandatory country-of-origin labeling requirements for beef and pork and expand to dairy products
  • Prohibit the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) from labeling foreign imported meat products as “Product of USA” 

Senator Warren has been a vocal leader to rein in anti-competitive practices of large companies that can stifle competition. 

  • Last Friday, Senator Warren joined the Data for Progress blog in breaking down President Biden’s recent competition executive orders and talking about how they put power back in the hands of consumers and workers.
  • On June 9, 2021, Senator Warren released a statement following President Biden's executive order to promote competition and bolster antitrust enforcement throughout the administration. 
  • That same month, Senator Warren sent a letter to FTC Chair Lisa Khan calling for a broad and meticulous FTC review of Amazon’s proposed acquisition of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios (MGM). 
  • Senator Warren made a statement following the announcement that the FTC will review Amazon's proposed acquisition of MGM.  
  • In June 2020, Warren and Booker opened an investigation into meatpackers' manipulation of COVID-19 crisis to raise prices and exploit workers. In July 2020, Senators Warren and Booker released information from their investigation. Since releasing their findings, Senator Warren sharply criticized OSHA on September 10 for failing to hold Smithfield Foods and other meatpacking companies accountable for putting thousands of lives at risk, sending a message to the industry that OSHA is working for big business, not workers.