This text was initially written as part of the ‘Social Sciences Week 2022 Monash University Essay Competition‘ for students across Australia to voice their concerns about current social justice issues around the globe, why they matter, and what could (or is) being done to reduce the injustice.
The entire 800-word text has been copied from the initial Word document into this blog, however, the original copy can be found at the bottom of the page if interested.
Factory farms are modernised systems of operation, that seek to maximise meat and dairy production by housing thousands of animals into compact, unhygienic, indoor environments to produce huge quantities of meat and dairy for inexpensive prices (World Animal Protection, 2020). Examples include stationing pigs and cows in crates of no more than 2m by 0.6m whilst encumbering 4 to 7 hens into single 0.4m tall cages (RSPCA, 2022). As of 2017, there were 2 million factory farms globally, contributing to the supply of 90% of all meat (petpedia, 2022). However, this industry causes significant social injustice, not only establishing operations in low socio-economic, indigenous or black neighbourhoods but monumentally affecting the physical and mental health, economy, and environment of the small communities.
The injustice of our food – Issue most passionate about & why?
Food Worker Justice believes that factory farms pose a grave threat to black, indigenous and poor communities because “they locate their facilities in the areas where these people live” due to their lack of political or economic power (Food Worker Justice, 2022). According to data from communities on the front-line, those that live near such facilities develop frequent headaches, eye, nose and throat irritation, nosebleeds, breathing difficulties, heart conditions, and are at a greater risk of colon cancer, melanoma and lip cancer (University of Wisconsin, 2019).”
These factory farms typically employ local residents and experience on average 2 amputations weekly within the workforce. Such employees are paid less than $2 for every 1,000 chickens they slaughter and are at risk of contracting zoonotic diseases such as swine or bird flu and being affected by bacteria such as E. Coli or salmonella. In addition, the staff operate in rooms containing ammonia or hydrogen sulfide in the air and are forced to perform brutal jobs of slaughter, like smashing piglets’ heads on the floor or wall (Animal Legal Defence fund, 2020).
During the 2018 flooding in Duplin and Sampson County, USA (in Sampson County, over 1 in 5 live in poverty – U.S. Census Bureau), manure that had been inadequately managed at the factory farm was released and covered “the state in manure.” Despite the obvious culprit – the factory farms – both communities were forced to cover the $11 million clean-up costs (Sentiment Media, 2019).
In addition to poor working conditions and economic impacts, these less affluent communities suffer the real estate burden of proximity to such establishments. An Iowa study revealed houses located more than 800m away from factory farms reduced in property value by 40% (Yale University, 2002). Similarly, a 2002 finding in Putnam County (during 2016 – 2020, the average income was $16,161 less than the U.S. national average according to the Census Bureau) found that properties 2.4km away from factory farms had an average devaluation per acre of $58 (William J. Weida, 2002). Such devaluation is significant in impact for Putnam County.
The word must be spread – Why does it matter?
By eliminating factory farm operations globally, we can continue to deplete social segregation. As evident from above, factory farms are almost always built in low socio-economic, indigenous, or black communities, which has continued to distinguish social classes whilst impacting their ability to live healthy lives. According to the Global Impact Investing Network, factory farmers have benefited “by exploiting farm workers, […] excluding low income and minority communities from healthy food access, and polluting the water and air in rural communities.” Conversely, however, sustainable means of livestock agriculture could benefit these communities. With the power to prohibit the expansion of factory farms, communities on the front line would be given a greater choice of work environments; free of exploitative practices, whilst simultaneously gaining previously unimaginable health, financial and environmental benefits.
Turning aim into achievement – What is being done to address it?
Globally, action is being taken to halt or reduce the development of factory farms, and the health and economic impacts that arise from them. In 2014, the ACT introduced legislation that banned the operation of factory farms throughout the capital territory (ABC Rural, 2014). Jed Goodfellow, PhD researcher in animal welfare regulations stated, “I think it’s really the symbolic impact that the ACT’s new bill is going to achieve nationally.” Furthermore, a 2021 bill introduced to congress in Washington D.C. “places a moratorium on large, concentrated animal feeding operations” and – most notably – “ensure[s] communities located near factory farms are able to hold these companies legally accountable for negative environmental and public health impacts (Congress.gov, 2021).” Four additional moratoriums have been proposed in U.S. farming states (Alex Brown, 2021).
In recent years, there has also been a significant increase in vegan diets globally due to health, environmental, and ethical concerns. As of early 2021, there were 79 million vegans worldwide based on UN data (the VOU, 2021).
Factory farm operations have, and will continue to, deeply affect communities who live in close proximity to them if little action is taken. Today, the world’s education system has a strong focus on equality, yet, in practice society and cooperate greed supports the racial and financial prejudice brought upon communities of poverty, colour or indigenous background for the continued production of meat and dairy. Fortunately, this can change. Encouraging radical change throughout the food system, plant-based diets, and speaking out about the mistreatment of these communities, can help the world bring about an end to factory farms and the entrenched segregation that comes with them.