Coalition Report

By Sophie Watterson, Agriculture Policy Associate
Missouri Coalition for the Environment

Factory Farms Threaten Missouri’s Health and Environment During COVID-19: Here’s What You Can Do

Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) — often referred to as “factory farms” — are intensive livestock facilities that confine thousands of animals in warehouse-like barns without access to sunlight or pasture. In recent years, the CAFO industry has exploded in Missouri: as of January 1, 2019, there were 502 CAFOs in our state. 

When a CAFO moves in, it wreaks havoc on the surrounding community. Animal waste contaminates the water, odors prevent people from enjoying the outdoors, air emissions produce respiratory illness, and property values plummet. The CAFO industry turns a tremendous profit, but local economies rarely experience any benefit. CAFOs outcompete smaller, local farmers because they can offer lower prices by mass-producing meat with minimal human labor. Facilities with thousands of animals may only employ a dozen workers, and CAFO operators frequently recruit undocumented Latinx migrants who are less likely to report unsafe work conditions.

CAFOs have always been a public health hazard — and now these facilities are also major sites of COVID-19 transmission. CAFO operators don’t provide sufficient workplace safety measures, such as personal protective equipment and testing resources, to prevent their workers from exposure to the virus. What’s worse, regulatory authorities haven’t mandated safety standards for CAFOs or meat processing facilities, resulting in devastating outbreaks. There is racial injustice in all this: industrial agriculture facilities put low-wage workers of color on the frontline — treating them as if they are expendable, rather than essential. 

Amidst a public health crisis, it has become even easier for Missouri CAFOs to evade regulatory enforcement. In April, Governor Parson issued an Executive Order suspending certain permit requirements and allowing facilities to keep additional animals on-site. These requirements exist to protect human health and the environment from CAFO pollution, but our government is reducing regulation to help the CAFO industry “adapt” to disruptions caused by COVID-19.

Missouri’s response to COVID-19 demonstrates a complete lack of corporate accountability and regulatory oversight in the CAFO industry. We need citizen action. MCE recently released a toolkit of resources to facilitate community advocacy against CAFO expansion in Missouri. We hope that you will use these resources to learn more about CAFO concerns, how you can document them and engage with decision-makers to affect change.

Access MCE’s CAFO Advocacy Toolkit at https://moenvironment.org/advocacy-toolkit-cafos/.