Traditional Farms vs Factory Farms

Farming traditionally has been a way of life, not just a business or a way to make a living. Traditional family farms provide multiple benefits to communities, consumers, and society in general, not just profits for farmers or corporate investors. Farms have traditionally been diverse, individualistic, and interdependent, not specialized, standardized, and corporately controlled like the so-called modern industrial farms of today. Farms traditionally have required minimal regulations because they are guided by a culture of social responsibility rather than economic expediency.

Americans today are being bombarded by a massive corporately funded propaganda campaign to try to convince people that the factory farm businesses of today are no different in principle from traditional family farms, simply because they are owned or operated by families. Nothing could be further from the truth. Today’s family-owned and operated factory farms are managed much the same as any other economic bottom-line business rather than as a multifunctional way of life. Modern farm managers don’t really manage “farms.” They manage money, land, and people.

Factory farm businesses are specialized and standardized: their mono-cropped fields, confinements and feedlots function like biological assembly lines – thus the name “factory farm.” Industrial processes are inherently linear and sequential: inputs or raw materials flow in and products and waste materials flow out. The inevitable chemical and biological waste from animal factory farms can pollute the air and water of rural communities and threaten the safety and healthfulness of the food supply. The animals on factory farms are treated as machines, not as sentient beings deserving of dignity, respect, and humane treatment. Farm workers may be hired and fired with no more compassion than replacing machines.

Traditional farmers integrate a diversity of farm enterprises to mimic the mutually beneficial relationships among the diverse elements of healthy living ecosystems. The people on the farm, including the farm family, are an integral part of that healthy living system. Wastes from some enterprises become productive inputs for others, and the products from some enterprises become raw materials for other value-adding farm enterprises. Wastes not utilized by farm enterprises are assimilated in sustaining the biological health of natural ecosystems. Traditional farmers respect both the bounty and bounds of nature.

As a result, traditional family farms need only minimal public oversight and regulation. Regulations are only needed to correct occasional lapses in responsibility or to restrain the few who stray from the traditional culture of agriculture. Current laws and regulations of farming, including regulations of CAFOs, are based on the nature of traditional family farms, not factory farms. Current regulations obviously are not adequate for today’s “modern farm businesses.”

Factory farms need to be continually monitored and regulated, much as other industrial operations are monitored and regulated. Factory farms present inevitable environmental and public health risks as a consequence of their economic motivation and industrial systems of organization. For example, CAFOs create and concentrate more toxic wastes than nature can neutralize and assimilate. Families that operate factory farms are not necessarily better or worse people than families on traditional farms. They are just operating an industrial operation, a factory, rather than a traditional farm, and they must be regulated accordingly.

Traditional vs Factory Farms used with permission from the Iowa Alliance for Responsible Agriculture