Senator Booker Is Right about Factory Farming

We should pass legislation to end it


By Spencer Case, National Review 

March 19, 2020


Contrary to common belief, Senator Cory Booker’s best idea wasn’t dropping out of the 2020 presidential race. That was his second-best idea. His best idea was introducing the Farm System Reform Bill of 2019 to the U.S. Senate.


This legislation would curtail concentrated animal-feeding operations (CAFOs), so-called factory farms, in the U.S. Let’s hope it becomes law. Factory farms are an abomination, cruel to animals and a bad deal for humans, too. The sooner we abolish them, the better. Until then, we should take steps to reduce them.


Let’s first consider the costs to humans. Factory farms are hazardous work environments, and they produce enormous amounts of untreated animal waste that we have to deal with. But of the many anthropocentric considerations against factory farms, the most compelling is that they elevate the risk of pandemic diseases.


 Many pandemics are the result of zoonotic pathogens, diseases transmitted from animals to humans. The COVID-19 coronavirus, which has lately been dominating headlines and rattling markets, is believed to be zoonotic. The H1N1 “swine flu” virus likely originated in American factory farms. H1N1 is believed to have killed more than 12,000 Americans from 2009 to 2010 and hospitalized over 274,000 in the same period.


We’ll see what kind of damage COVID-19 inflicts, but both COVID-19 and H1N1 are tame compared with what we might see. The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918–20 killed between 50 and 100 million people at a time when the global population was less than 2 billion. It’s believed to have originated on a pig farm before the creation of factory farms.


 Modern factory farms are even better breeding grounds for diseases. Animals are packed tightly together, and the stressful conditions weaken their immune systems. It’s common for farmers to feed them antibiotics at low levels to prevent outbreaks and spur growth. Over time this erodes the effectiveness of those antibiotics, including those useful for treating infections in humans, as pathogens adapt. This is what is meant by “antibiotic resistance.”


Since each use of an antibiotic potentially increases resistance, health experts advise doctors to prescribe antibiotics sparingly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is clearly very worried about this issue, offers guidelines for “antibiotic stewardship” in hospitals, nursing homes, and other institutions. According to the CDC, “each year in the U.S., at least 2.8 million people are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria or fungi, and more than 35,000 people die as a result.”


A 2011 U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report revealed that 80 percent of antibiotics in the U.S. in 2009 were used for animals. Most were antibiotics that could be effective in treating humans. A 2017 GAO report noted that “there is strong evidence that some resistance in bacteria is caused by antibiotic use in food animals (cattle, poultry, and swine).” This is dubious “antibiotic stewardship” indeed.


 Granted, we could regulate the use of antibiotics in CAFOs more stringently, as Denmark has done, without abolishing factory farming. But Denmark hasn’t eliminated antibiotic use in CAFOs, so even supposedly progressive Danish CAFOs jeopardize our shields against germs. Other risk factors, such as confining many animals close together, are intrinsic to factory farming. So as long as factory farms exist, they will endanger human welfare.


 Let’s turn now to cruelty...