If you weren’t following the news closely you may have missed an important headline: Senator Cory Booker has joined the Senate Agriculture Committee. If you care about modern agriculture, about sustainable production, and about family farms, that should send a chill down your spine.
Booker is an outspoken vegan. Perhaps that alone doesn’t disqualify him from being a friend of agriculture. (My experience with vegans online has been downright vile and disgusting. I’m not sure why one would want to voluntarily associate with that.) But his particular interests in agriculture, the legislation he’s proposed, and things he’s said worry me. A lot.
Booker takes aim at “big ag” corporations that he blames for breaking family farms, making Americans sick, and destroying our environment. And most of his ire is directed at “industrial agriculture” and “factory farms.” Instead he wants to focus on small operations that he thinks are more compassionate to animals and more sustainable overall. And he swears he doesn’t care whether other people eat meat or not.
Our food system is deeply broken. Family farmers are struggling and their farms are disappearing, while big agriculture conglomerates get bigger and enjoy greater profits. Meanwhile, healthy, fresh food is hard to find and even harder to afford in rural and urban communities alike. In the richest country on the planet, over 35 million Americans from every walk of life are food insecure.Senator Cory Booker, February 2, 2021, Press Release.
To accomplish that goal, he previously introduced the Farm System Reform Act which will end large animal agriculture farms, something known as a concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). In essence, the legislation limits the size of farms based on an arbitrarily-set number of animals. There’s apparently no consideration for good animal husbandry or whether smaller farms are actually profitable.
Our food system isn’t broken. Not even close. Is it true that we have some problems? Absolutely! Every industry can do better. We need something to boost our farm economy. We need to do a better job with outreach and education. There are still people who go to bed hungry.
But we have one of the most abundant, nutritious, and safe food supplies in all of human history. We’re leaders in adopting sustainable production methods. And we take a lot of pride in the hard work , persistence, and dedication we invest into our farms. That’s not a broken food system, that’s a thriving food system.
Booker is a very skilled politician. He knows how to talk out both sides of his mouth. So he can hijack buzzwords to make it seem like he knows something about farming. Who wants to support factory farms? Who doesn’t love family farms? Who wants animals to be mistreated? Unfortunately, the ability to use those words doesn’t mean someone understands agriculture, worries about the challenges we’re facing, and has the intentions of supporting this industry.
Take this for example. Booker claims he wants to get rid of CAFOs to help protect family farmers. But many CAFOs are family farms. These animal operations will scale up so the farm is profitable enough to raise a family, or support multiple generations on the farm. If his Farm System Reform Act becomes law, it will limit the options family farms have to do the work they love at a level where they can raise a family.
And I can’t trust someone who thinks our farms are making Americans sick, abusing animals, or destroying the environment. I don’t want someone writing legislation who thinks animal agriculture is “perverse.” And I don’t believe someone knows about agriculture when they say this:
So I think that we have a lot of work to do to start fighting again this Big Ag, industrial agriculture that has deep pockets and powerfully influential in places like Washington, but I don’t believe the status quo is going to continue indefinitely because I just think that we know that we’re starting to see the ill that this is having to farm labor, small farmers, to our environment, to the health and safety of folks. So my hope is that these bipartisan efforts are going to continue to facilitate change, and perhaps, help us get back to sustainable farm practices that can prevent against the ills that are so harmful on so many levels.Senator Cory Booker, The Veg, February 1, 2019
Here’s the thing though, Booker could be a good thing for agriculture. As the former mayor of Newark, New Jersey, he understands food deserts. He knows that inner-city areas lack grocery stores and fresh food. He’s dealt with the disconnect. And he could do something to bridge the gap between farmers in rural America and our city counterparts.
I’m not talking about community gardens either. I’m talking about finding out why certain areas are lacking the fresh food we grow, and finding incentives and practical ways to fix it. If he’s concerned about family farmers, he could address the reasons young people are forced off family farms. If he wants sustainability, he could support modern production methods that allow us to grow more with less. And he could stop demonizing the companies that help us accomplish those goals.
But despite his passionate rhetoric, that’s not what he’s about. So, yes, Cory Booker sitting on the Senate Ag Committee is terrifying. I’m worried about how his influence will reshape the landscape of modern agriculture. And I’m worried about the future of family farming in our country.