Letter: End CAFO Support in the Build Back Better Act
The Honorable Charles Schumer
Senate Majority Leader
United States Senate
322 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington DC 20510

CC: Chairwoman Stabenow, Chairman Sanders

Dear Senator Schumer,

The undersigned organizations wish to express their deep concern about the factory farm incentives included in the Build Back Better Act, and urge you to reject the manure digester and Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) incentives outlined below in the final Bill and to prioritize funding farm practices that build healthy soils.

CAFOs are an extractive, exploitative, and unsustainable model for American agriculture. Already, factory farms receive immense financial support through government subsidies and enjoy a lack of regulatory oversight. CAFOs and factory farms are not part of the climate solution and have no place in the Build Back Better Act. CAFOs pollute our climate and the environment, threaten public health, and disproportionately harm BIPOC communities. If the majority is to be the party of working-class families and revitalizing the US economy, advocating for incentives that would exacerbate the harms caused by CAFOs and other factory farms would be grossly misguided.

CAFOs fuel the climate crisis. The Build Back Better Act that passed the House of Representatives would substantially incentivize building CAFO methane digesters. A CAFO houses thousands of animals and collects their urine and manure in large pits located either under the CAFO building or in a nearby lagoon. The liquid waste releases methane as it decomposes, which is then burned for energy. This type of methane capture is falsely labeled as a “renewable energy” source as liquid manure emits more methane than solid manure in a dry lot or on pasture. Methane, a greenhouse gas, is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a twenty year time frame. Manure digesters require a scale of thousands of animals to operate, causing further expansion of CAFOs and their greenhouse gas emissions, as well as displacement of small and medium-sized farmers across the nation. For example, manure digesters for dairies require thousands of animals to operate efficiently. Investing in manure digesters comes with the unacceptable trade-off of harming the surrounding communities by expanding the factory farms that are destroying their quality of life.
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Congress should be finding solutions that reduce reliance on a supply chain that creates liquid manure and methane, not patching together harmful remedies that prop up factory farms. The Build Back Better Act prioritizes building resilient human infrastructure and combating the climate crisis -- CAFOs are antithetical to both.

CAFOs are extremely detrimental to local air and water quality, as well as the broader environment. While methane may seem like an abstract threat, your friends, neighbors, and constituents suffer directly from the many other polluting impacts of CAFOs. Drinking water, especially in rural areas, is likely to be contaminated with nitrates and bacteria from CAFO-sourced manure after running off from fields and into local waterways and drinking wells. The Environmental Protection Agency has long cautioned that CAFOs are a leading contributor to dangerously high levels of toxic particles in water, leading to fish kills and polluted drinking water.

CAFOs and factory farms jeopardize public health. In 2019, the American Public Health Association called for a precautionary moratorium on new and expanding CAFOs. Workers and neighboring residents of CAFOs are at a higher risk of developing asthma, allergies, and decreased lung function than those who do not live by CAFOs. Over 150 pathogens can be found in manure from CAFOs causing serious diseases in humans, such as Anthrax, Leptospirosis, Listeriosis, Salmonella poisoning, Giardiasis, and many others. Health risks are greater for children and those who are immunocompromised. The World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations have warned that humans are also at ever-higher health risks because CAFOs create superbugs by increasingly relying on antibiotics to control diseases in animals, so much so that the microbes being controlled develop immunity to the drugs and mutate. As such, CAFOs create microbes that infect humans, and are resistant to life-saving antibiotics used by medical professionals.

CAFOs are a tool of environmental racism and injustice. CAFOs tend to be built in and around communities with the least financial and political resources to fight back against the extractive operations. In many parts of the country, this tends to be in Black communities with histories of slavery and sharecropping. In North Carolina, CAFOs are 5 times more likely to be located in majority non-white communities and 7 times more likely in high-poverty areas. Workers in CAFOs tend to be immigrants and face grueling working conditions. Communities of all affluence levels tend to oppose proposed CAFO sites, so the intentional placement in BIPOC and low-wealth communities is an environmental injustice that must be ended -- not perpetuated by the Build Back Better Act.

CAFOs are a driving factor of an unjust food system that pollutes the environment, threatens human health, and perpetuates systemic racism and inequity. They have no role in the Build Back Better Act. CAFO operators already enjoy many incentives and do not need another program built from funds meant to support working families. Furthermore as written the bill would allow factory farms to stack incentives essentially encouraging a CAFO boom across the country. The House-passed BBBl includes the following incentives:

A set-aside for “underutilized technology” (which is likely to primarily fund manure digesters) in new grant funding for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP);
Expanded eligibility for the 30% renewable energy tax credit to offset upfront costs associated with building digester systems, including manure digesters; and
An additional $9 Billion in funds for USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program without proper guardrails to restrict this funding from going to support manure digesters for CAFOs instead of other more beneficial practices that would contribute to diversified and equitable climate-friendly food production.  

Further incentivizing CAFOs would be misguided and firmly against the best interests of Americans. In 2019, the Center for Livable Future at Johns Hopkins University published poll results of likely voters in heavy CAFO states who strongly favored moratoriums on new CAFOs. Factory farms would not be viable without the federal subsidies they rely on, the lack of regulatory oversight they enjoy , and the political power of the corporations that profit from them. CAFOs are not the first choice of voters, farmers, consumers, or even the free market -- but rather the product of corporate food giants that make their money from exploitation, often aided by government support.

We, the undersigned organizations, urge that you reject any new CAFO incentives  in the forthcoming draft of the Build Back Better Act to be voted on in the Senate.

Sincerely,

XXX

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