Cheap Meat's Cost on Rural Economies
Factory farms advocates claim CAFOs are good for rural economies because they bring in new jobs and increase tax revenues. But in reality, factory farming often has a negative impact on rural economies.
Since 1980, factory farms have displaced traditional, independent farming across the country. USDA statistics show that the number of beef cattle operations fell by 41%, hog farms decreased by 90% and dairy farms fell by 80% as factory farms took over. 1
In a typical factory farm, large vertically integrated corporations (called integrators) own the livestock and supply the feed,drugs,
veterinary care, and detailed instructions on raising the animals to a contract grower. The contract grower owns the building and is paid a fee per animal for what amounts to temporary caretaking of the integrator’s property. Because of the mechanized nature of raising livestock in confinements, factory farms employ fewer workers and pay less than traditional, independent farms.
Traditional farming operations not only employed more people, but also supported a vibrant agricultural infrastructure including local feed, hardware, and building supply stores and lockers whose sales tax contributed revenues to local communities. One Michigan studyfound smaller, traditional hog farms proportionately spend 50% more at local businesses than large factory farms. With the expansion of factory farming, many such local businesses have closed.2
The integrators typically slaughter their own animals and maintain all sales profits. Since their corporate headquarters are not based in local communities, and some like the foreign-owned JBS and Smithfield, are not even based in the US, tax revenues from the sale of meat products do not benefit local communities where the animals are produced.
Nonetheless, local communities have to bear the cost of repairing roads that are often damaged by the corporation’s tractor-trailers that haul feed and transport livestock to and from the CAFOs. An American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials study found a single five-axle tractor-trailer traveling on interstate highways can have the same impact of at least 9,600 automobiles. These trucks, however, are frequently traveling on rural roads, often gravel, not built to withstand frequent heavy truck traffic that can quickly deteriorate roads.3
Who pays? Taxpayers foot the bill for road repairs. Funds come out of county budgets, often at the expense of other public services. Or local taxes may increase to pay for needed repair costs. In some communities, county budgets aren’t sufficient to keep up with repair costs, and residents have to navigate less safe roads and endure additional wear and tear on their vehicles at their own expense.
Community population can also decline when a factory farms move into a neighborhood. People move away either because of the nuisance and social disruption brought on by the CAFO or from a lack of jobs. These population declines lead to reduced county tax revenues.4
Who pays? Remaining community residents bear the cost through reduced county services and lost community vibrancy.
Residential property values often decline when a factory farm begins operating nearby. A Colorado College study of Iowa homes found that property values could plummet by as much as 40% when a CAFO moves within a half-mile of a home.5 Such drops in property values may wipe out gains from remodeling investments or decades of hard earned equity that was planned for retirement. Some people report they can’t even find buyers for their homes and must either abandon their property or live under stressful conditions.
Who pays? Hard working homeowners living near factory farms who lose home value or even the life they created for themselves and their families.Homeowners can also challenge their property tax assessments to account for the negative economic impacts of nearby factory farms.6
Reduced assessments that correctly reflect the value of a home can decrease property taxes, which in turn diminishes a county’s tax revenues.
In Iowa, factory farm owners are allowed a property tax exemption for the square footage of their confinement pits as a “pollution control device.”7
Who pays? According to the Iowa Association of State Counties, the cost for the exemption is shifted onto agricultural landowners who wind up paying higher taxes to subsidize the tax break enjoyed by the CAFO owner.
These are some of the costs cheap meat imposes on Iowa's rural economies.
Learn What You Can Do Here
1. United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service.
2. "Iowa Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation Air Quality Study." Environmental Health Sciences Research Center, University of Iowa. 2003.
3. “Excessive Truck Weight: An Expensive Burden We Can No Longer Afford.” US Government Accountability Office Study.
4. "Industrialized Farming and Its Relationship to Community Well-Being: An Update of a 2000 Report by Linda Lobao."The University of North Dakota, September 2006.
5. “The CAFO and Depopulation of Rural Agricultural Areas: Implications for Rural Economies in Canada and the US.” The Colorado College and Global Resource Action Center for the Environment Factory Farm Project. May 18, 2002.
6. Property Assessment Protests for Homes Near Factory Farms Iowa Guide. Wally. L. Taylor, Attorney at Law and Environmental & Natural Resources Law Clinic, Vermont Law School. 2014.
7. Iowa Code Chapter 427.19 (e) Property Exempt and Taxable.
Photos: Billwhittaker at English Wikipedia