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Bill transfers environmental liability to integrators

Farmer Fairness Act takes environmental burden off CAFO owners and transfers it to agribusinesses.

While concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) contract farmers are already subject to environmental liability under the Clean Water Act, a new bill would extend that to integrator companies as well. The Farmer Fairness Act was introduced by Reps. Ro Khanna (D., Cal.) and Mark Pocan (D., Wis.) on July 18.

Major agribusiness companies contract with farmers to buy livestock and animal products. The companies, commonly referred to as integrators, impose strict contracts on these farmers, who assume all of the environmental liability for the operation.

CAFOs are required to obtain permits under the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. However, they are not subject to the environmental liability, despite the overwhelming control the integrator company has over contracted CAFOs. The Farmer Fairness Act would change that.

“Large agribusiness companies like Tyson and Perdue buy livestock and animal products from farmers. The companies control the way livestock are fed, medicated and housed. They dictate what equipment and capital the farmer has to use. Farmers often don’t make enough to live off of because the cost of operations, as mandated by the companies, leave the farmer in the red. Through all of this, the farmer takes on the liability (especially environmental liability) of the operation,” Khanna explained.

This bill is supported/endorsed by Food & Water Watch, the National Farmers Union and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement.

“For far too long, industrial agribusiness corporations have escaped the true cost of doing business, instead externalizing their business costs onto farmers trapped in an unfair system and the costs of their pollution onto the tax-paying public,” said Barb Kalbach, a fourth-generation family farmer and member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement from Dexter, Iowa. “That’s why we support Congressman Khanna’s bill. It’s about time to close this loophole, level the playing field and force those at the top to pay their fair share.”

“Even though they own the animals that they place on contract operations, big meat and poultry companies push the responsibility for managing their waste onto overburdened contract growers,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “Congress should pass the Farmer Fairness Act and make sure that the meat and poultry industry have to take responsibility for the waste their animals create.”

National Famers Union president Roger Johnson added, "Contract farmers are subject to a wide range of unfair practices at the hands of integrators. While integrators often control how animals are raised, farmers are left solely liable. We applaud Congressman Khanna for introducing this legislation, which is an important step toward ensuring fairness and protection for family farmers."

Find the full bill online here.

TAGS: Policy
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