The Meat Industry Hurts BIPOC Communities. Here’s How.
When it comes to the meat industry and factory farming, the environmental costs, health costs, and animal welfare are usually at the forefront of why we need to shift to a kinder, more sustainable system. However, there’s one major reason to end factory farming that often is left out of the discussion: environmental racism.
If you haven’t lived near a factory farm or processing plant, it’s hard to imagine the horrors inflicted on the surrounding communities, but the fact is that Black, Latinx, and Indigenous Americans are disproportionally threatened by animal agriculture.
A 2020 analysis published by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) documented every pig, chicken, and turkey industrial farm in North Carolina, noting that the state’s farmed animal population swelled, producing five million tons of waste each year. Most of the farmed animal population increased in the counties of Duplin, Samson, and Robeson and, these communities are predominantly Black, Latinx, and Indigenous. These vulnerable populations make up 57% of the counties’ residents and 28-29% of the people living in these counties live in poverty. The counties are also where 4.5 million pigs—more than half of the state’s pig population—are farmed.
This environmental racism, which sadly continues today, led to an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) investigation after a complaint was lodged due to the hog operations in North Carolina. The investigation was into “whether the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality's (NC DEQ) regulation of swine feeding operations discriminates against African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans on the basis of race and national origin in neighboring communities and violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Environmental Protection Agency's implementing regulation.”
An evaluation of the Civil Rights Act by the EPA found a “linear relationship between race/ethnicity [of residents within 3 miles of industrial hog operations] and...density of hogs,” and expressed “deep concern about the possibility that African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans have been subjected to discrimination.”
Factory farms disproportionally operating in communities of color is sadly nothing new. These massive factories—which treat animals like mere cogs in a machine—continue to pollute the surrounding environments and have known to build in lower-income areas for decades. “Land use, housing segregation, racialized employment patterns, financial practices, and the way that race permeates zoning, development, and bank lending processes” are major drivers of this discrimination according to Arizona State University’s sociologists.
Because factory farms house animals en masse in tightly packed, windowless sheds, there’s high quantities of feces and other bodily fluids that need to go somewhere. In fact, just the waste from the 4.5 million pigs residing in Duplin, Samson, and Robeson counties is equivalent to 6,715 Olympic-sized swimming pools. The solution on where to store this liquid waste was to build lagoons—massive pits in the ground near the sheds—and then spray the waste on surrounding fields as fertilizer (though often in too-high quantities).
Neighbors residing close to the factories and the lagoons have reported they cannot open the windows to their house, participate in outdoor activities, or even sit on their porch without enduring the horrendous stench from the waste particles being sprayed in the air. Apart from the quality of life issues, inhaling the air around factory farms—and therefore inhaling animal waste—has serious health effects on the people living nearby. , The waste being sprayed contains ammonia and other harmful chemicals which can lead to serious health issues when breathed in.
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy stated in 2001:
“People who live near or work at factory farms breathe in hundreds of gases, which are formed as manure decomposes. The stench can be unbearable, but worse still, the gases contain many harmful chemicals. For instance, one gas released by the lagoons, hydrogen sulfide, is dangerous even at low levels. Its effects--which are irreversible--range from sore throat to seizures, comas, and even death. Other health effects associated with the gases from factory farms include headaches, shortness of breath, wheezing, excessive coughing and diarrhea.”
What’s worse is the devastating effects of climate change, of which factory farming is a major contributing factor, often impact lower-income communities, communities of color, and other vulnerable populations that simply don’t have the means to relocate, rebuild, or otherwise manage climate change’s impacts. In fact, only 39% of Americans have enough money to cover a $1,000 emergency, meaning many in vulnerable communities are unable to evacuate before major climate disasters or don’t have recovery costs to raise a home above the base flood elevation, home repairs, and mold remediation.
According to Enterprise, a nonprofit working to end America’s housing crisis:
“Immediately following disasters, FEMA aid is more oriented to homeowners than to renters, and housing shortages following disasters result in rent increases that low-income households are least able to afford. Low-income households are also more likely to live in areas with greater exposure to natural hazards and less likely to live and work in structures that are resilient to these natural hazards.”
This is just the tip of factory farm’s environmental racism iceberg. However, we can work together to protect animals, our planet, and our neighbors.
You Can Help
Factory farming’s cruelty reaches every facet of our daily life. If we want to be kinder to our neighbors, animals, and our planet, we need to shift to a kinder system and ban factory farming.
In 2019, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker introduced the Farm System Reform Act (FSRA), which would overhaul our broken food system by placing a moratorium on the largest factory farms—immediately prohibiting the creation or expansion of these monstrous factories and requiring they be phased out by 2040. It’s the first step towards shifting away from our current factory farming model and toward a more sustainable and kinder food system.
In fact, Senator Booker, whose father grew up in North Carolina, told the INDY in a statement:
“I saw firsthand in North Carolina how corporate interests are disproportionately placing environmental and public health burdens on low-income communities of color that they would never accept in their own neighborhoods. In North Carolina, large corporate pork producers are mistreating small contract farmers and externalizing their costs on to vulnerable communities, polluting the air, water, and soil, and making kids and families sick while reaping large financial rewards.
And unfortunately, we know this is not just a problem in North Carolina. Similar environmental injustices are occurring right now all over the United States. This is unacceptable to me, and I’m in the process of finding ways for the federal government to start to meaningfully address this problem.”
It’s up to us to fix our broken food system for a better, kinder world. Urge your federal representatives to support the Farm System Reform Act today.