Recent Compassion in World Farming campaigns have looked at the effects of factory-farming pollution on local environments and communities. But pollution is just a part of the problem. We take a look at how the consolidation of smaller farms is leading to the deterioration of rural communities.
The agricultural revolution led to profound changes for farming worldwide. According to academics Don and Philip Paarlberg1, the extent of these in the United States included the following:
- 70 minutes of farm labour would earn $1 in 1910; by 1980, four minutes was needed to earn the same amount.
- At the turn of the 20th century, it took 81 minutes to produce a bushel of corn; currently, it takes less than two minutes.
- The farm population in 1900 was 29 million; by the year 2000 (when this book was written), it was estimated to be just fewer than 5 million (from 39% to around 1.5% of the American population).
You can see, there were both positive and negative changes from this paradigm shift in food production. More mouths could be fed, but an increase in mechanisation led to job losses for many. Back to the present day, and while enough food is now arguably being produced, we are still witnessing a general decline in agricultural employment and the vibrancy of rural communities; a farmer quits agriculture every second in Europe, according to Share the World’s Resources2. The reason? A complex array of factors, no doubt, but one that may well include the rise of the factory farm.
A loss of "social fabric"?
Factory farming prioritises maximum production above all else. Its highly mechanised approach to livestock production means that fewer workers are required. According to the makers of factory-farming film Pig Business3, for example, "[t]wenty years ago in North Carolina, where we went to film the US footage of Pig Business, there were 27,000 independent family pig farmers. Today there are almost none; instead, there are 2,200 pig factories...The factories have created new jobs, but they have displaced three times that number of independent family farmers."
The Pew Commission states4 that the "social fabric" of communities changes significantly when factory farms replace family farms. This is partly because factory farming relies more on technology than on labour, which has led to an increasing preference for temporary or migrant workers.
According to the Food Empowerment Project5, a large number of workers are undocumented, migrant workers, who are less likely to complain about their low wages, and the hazardous, often unclean conditions in which they are forced to work.
A reduction in community spending
And it’s not just direct farming jobs that can suffer from the concentration of livestock farming. In 2007, scientists found that the "economic concentration of agricultural operations tends to remove a higher percentage of money from rural communities than when the industry is dominated by smaller farm operations, which tend to circulate money within the community"6.
The economic potential of humane-sustainable farming
When you focus on livestock production that values quality over quantity, you can creative significant economic benefits. According to the Soil Association7, for example, organic farms provide over 30% more jobs per hectare than non-organic farms in the UK. And this ratio can be increased further on farms that are involved in on-farm processing and direct marketing. Of course, this extra labour requirement will likely affect the retail price for our meat and dairy, but it’s a small price to pay if it helps to guarantee future farming jobs and the vitality of our rural communities.
- Don and Philip Paarlberg (2000), The Agricultural Revolution of the 20th Century
- Share The World's Resources (2005), Farm Subsidies: The Report Card
- Pig Business (2009), Wrecking Rural Communities
- Pew Commission (2008), Putting Meat on the Table
- Food Empowerment Project (2010), Factory Farm Workers
- Environmental Health Perspectives (2007), Community Health and Socioeconomic Issues Surrounding Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations
- Soil Association (2006), Organic Works