Factory Farms Destroy Communities

Factory farms, officially called Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), make the worst possible neighbors. People forced to live close to CAFOs often report becoming sick from toxic gases produced by decomposing animal waste. They can’t even enjoy their own backyards or open their windows on summer nights because the stench from CAFOs miles away is overwhelming. Residents near CAFOs also report an increase in pest infestations, including rodents and swarms of flies. Family and friends often refuse to visit because the smell is so unbearable.


But it’s much more than the intolerable smell that impacts rural communities. Manure runoff from CAFOs contaminates streams, rivers, and lakes that were once recreation centers and tourist destinations. Over-application of manure on fields near residences can also cause wells to become contaminated, threatening the health of anyone coming into contact with the water.

CAFOs take a tremendous economic toll on communities, too. Property values plummet whenever a CAFO moves in. Some owners living near CAFOs have filed property tax appeals and won in court, demonstrating that their homes and properties lost significant value due to these industrial-scale facilities. All CAFOs entice communities with the promise of increased tax revenue, but the falling values of the properties surrounding CAFOs negate any promised increase.

Not only do communities lose income when CAFOs move in, they are also forced to increase expenditures on the development and maintenance of infrastructure, especially roads and bridges damaged by heavy CAFO truck traffic. Once a CAFO shuts down, communities are then left with depressed economies, low property values, and costly, often irreparable environmental damage.

Unlike traditional family farms, which purchase feed, supplies, and building materials from local businesses, CAFOs typically purchase everything from  outside of the region while paying their workers a very low wage. Consequently, CAFOs provide little to no stimulus for local economies, while imposing prohibitive costs.  Wherever CAFOs  come in, family farms are driven out of business–and when family farms and the good jobs they provide disappear, rural main streets become ghost towns.

CAFOs are a resource extraction industry, draining the wealth from communities and leaving behind polluted water, foul air, broken roads, and sick residents. The only ones who benefit from CAFOs are their CEOs and corporate shareholders, who profit from polluting the environment, paying workers low wages, treating animals inhumanely, and devastating rural economies.

Rural Organizations That Do Good Work

Center for Rural Affairs
This nonprofit works to establish strong rural communities, social and economic justice, environmental stewardship, and genuine opportunities for all while engaging people in decisions that affect the quality of their lives and the future of their communities.

National Catholic Rural Life Conference
This organization has been working for family farms, a healthy environment, and vibrant rural communities since 1923. One of the oldest faith-based organizations of its type, they continue to oppose the industrialization of agriculture and factory farms while promoting sustainable agriculture.

Recommended Articles and Reports

The Questions Rural Communities Should Ask About CAFOs
After meeting with rural residents in the U.S. and Canada for 10 years and reviewing CAFO research data from a wide variety of sources,  University of Missouri  Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Economics and SRAP Board Member Dr. John E. Ikerd determined that there was not a single instance of a community experiencing economic prosperity when CAFOs represent a significant segment of the local economy. This paper discusses his findings.

The Evidence for Property Devaluation Due to the Proximity to CAFOs
This paper by Dr. William Weida explains that the major reason CAFOs are constructed in a given region is that the area has a reputation for loose environmental regulations and lax enforcement of those regulations. The stricter environmental regulations and enforcement become, the more likely it is that CAFOs will locate elsewhere.

CAFO Operations and the Destruction of Agricultural Communities
This report by Dr. William Weida discusses the strong link between rural communities and food policy.

Hogs, Economics, and Rural Communities
Does the free enterprise economy give factory farming corporations the right to operate despite opposition from rural residents? Agricultural Economics Professor Emeritus Dr. John Ikerd breaks down and refutes the economic justification for factory farming.

Foundations of Sand: Considering the Rationale for Factory Farming
This report by Dr. William Weida explores how factory farms have spread across the U.S. landscape by making claims that mislead many communities. Learn why the purported benefits of factory farms are full of holes, and learn about the reality that lies beyond the claims.

The Real Economics of Factory Livestock
Economic arguments in favor of CAFOs are addressed one by one in this document, exposing their shortcomings and outright fallacies.

Industrialized Farming and Its Relationship to Community Well-Being
This report summarizes the results of existing research about the impacts of industrialized agriculture on rural communities. Approximately 82% of the 56 studies reviewed in this report conclude that industrialized farming operations have adverse effects on indicators of community well-being.

Potential Regional Economic Effects of Large Feedlots
This paper by Dr. William Weida discusses research findings concerning the regional economic impacts of large, concentrated animal feeding operations.

The Corporate-Controlled Factory System Is Inherently Flawed
This article was based on a December 1998 speech from Roger Allison, the executive director of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center. It speaks to the shortcomings of the industrial model of food production.

The New Culture of Rural America
This article explores the changes in rural America and farming, from the family farmer to the onslaught of agribusiness.

Impacts of Concentration in Hog Production on Economic Growth in Rural Illinois: An Economic Analysis
The results of this study counter the theory that large-scale hog facilities contribute to the vitality of local economies. On the contrary, the models developed here consistently indicate that large hog CAFOs hinder economic growth in communities. The report also discusses public policy implications.

A Synopsis of Potential Impacts from Dairies on a Regional Economy
This two-page paper by Dr. William Weida summarizes the impact of air pollution and odors from industrial dairies on local economies.

Books Worth Reading

Pigs, Profits, and Rural Communities
This book illuminates the processes and consequences of agricultural industrialization, particularly within the swine production industry. Contributors include a former U.S. senator, farmers, a veterinarian, a medical psychologist, an agricultural economist, a biological ecologist, a farm organization president, and anthropologists.

The Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry
In this classic book, Wendell Berry discusses how agribusiness takes farming out of its cultural context and away from families. As a result, our nation has become more estranged from the land from the intimate knowledge, love, and care of it.