Organic Consumers Association

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How a More Humane Economy Could Help Revive Rural America

Factory farming is terrible for animals and it's a disaster for rural America.

These days, it’s increasingly difficult to succeed in rural America and for more than one reason. The Great Recession hit America hard, but recovery mostly benefited cities. Historically rural jobs, like coal mining and manufacturing, are dying out as more of them are automated, outsourced or deemed obsolete. But one reason for America’s struggling rural economy isn’t discussed nearly enough: factory farming. In addition to abusing and killing billions of animals each year, and wreaking havoc on the environment and public health of rural communities, factory farms destroy rural economies.

Rural Americans are often sold a fairytale of trickle-down prosperity by state officials, who say that factory farms will bring jobs, benefit retail businesses, and enhance social services. Sometimes these agricultural projects are even developed in secret, like the one that sparked the recent Tyson Foods debacle in Kansas. In reality, factory farms provide little, if any, economic stimulus to rural America. Rather, factory farms almost always drive out smaller farms and the jobs they create.

Additionally, while smaller farms purchase feed, supplies, and equipment from local businesses, factory farms often buy their supplies from outside the region, all while paying their workers low wages to perform one of the most dangerous and PTSD-inducing jobs. Some slaughterhouse workers are denied bathroom breaks and have resorted to wearing diapers. Even worse, the injury rate for these workers is six times higher than the average for any other industry. In fact, Tyson Foods reportedly averages one worker limb amputation per month.

“When family farms give way to industrial-scale farms, rural communities depending on them fade away,” one farmer explained in an op-ed for the Kansas City Star. “As in a city, it is the difference between many small businesses and a few big box stores.” Meanwhile, 71 percent of farmers whose income relies solely on raising chickens live below the poverty line—and many farmers who find themselves working for corporations like Tyson live as modern-day serfs, not unlike my sharecropping great-grandfather.

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