Factory Farms and Flawed Economics

by Alanna Hartzok

During my 2014 campaign for US Congress I became aware of “person/planet hot spots” where local people where fighting back against corporations engaged in fracking and industrial agriculture. Corporate power tromping on human and environmental rights, a dynamic well known to third world countries and Indian reservations, was becoming a reality in Pennsylvania.

In northern Bedford County, animals died and people sickened when a natural gas compression station leaked gas and pollutants into air and water. Neither the national Environmental Protection Agency nor Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection came to aid or defend community members despite numerous cries for help.

When the people of Grant Township, Indiana County, heard about a natural gas company’s plans to store toxic, chemical-laden fracking waste water in a deep well in their small rural community they took action. Such wells are known to have a high likelihood of cracking and seepage with consequent ground water contamination — which could make Grant Township virtually uninhabitable. Grassroots leaders rallied the community and township supervisors to push back the corporate plan. So far they have succeeded and in the process have become the first governing body in the US to enact a community ordinance vesting an inherent right to protection directly in Nature herself, similar to Ecuador’s Rights of Mother Earth Constitution.

There can be no purpose more enspiriting than to begin the age of restoration, reweaving the wondrous diversity of life that still  surrounds us. — Edward O. Wilson

There can be no purpose more enspiriting than to begin the age of restoration, reweaving the wondrous diversity of life that still
surrounds us. — Edward O. Wilson

A third situation was that of Ayr Township in Fulton County, where a determined group of residents were fighting back an industrial agriculture corporation’s plans to develop a CAFO (confined animal feeding operation) housing 8,000 breeding sows each year. Manure from this facility could seriously contaminate streams and ground water. A drastic reduction of air quality was another threat. As with the other two crisis points, local citizens had to raise their own legal funds and rely on their own internal resources.

Alarmed by these battles happening in my region of Pennsylvania, I put together a team to organize a public forum. We decided to focus specifically on the threats posed by the growing number of chicken and swine CAFOs in Franklin and Fulton counties. Under the auspices of the Fulton Center for Sustainable Living at Wilson College we hosted the Factory Farm Forum on January 30, 2016, with twelve speakers and around 140 community members in attendance.

This article describes what we learned about the dangers and threats of industrial agriculture and how both individual actions and taxation policy reform can help us change course and establish sustainable, “triple bottom line” food systems that serve people and planet — not just a few corporations.

cafoMaria Payen, of the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, told us that soon after a massive CAFO moved beside her family’s home, her young son began to get severe rashes all over his body. The odors from the CAFO were so bad that sometimes they could not engage in outdoor activities. The family had to move elsewhere. They have not been able to sell their former residence. Maria now helps communities fight the devastating health, environmental, and economic impacts of industrial agriculture.

Brent Kim, the Program Officer at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, presented evidence of significant increases in human infections from swine waste. Antibiotics given to animals in CAFOs are creating antibiotic resistant bacteria, “superbugs” that adapt and grow when antibiotics try to kill them. Gases and airborne particulates also caused increased respiratory problems.

CAFOs are most often vertically integrated. While the farmer provides labor, owns the animal facilities (usually owing a large amount of debt) and is exposed to wastes, carcasses, and other health hazards, just a handful of companies own the animals, controls feed inputs, and owns the feed mills and processing plants. Though farmers are often not told what is in the feed, they are responsible for a number of potential liabilities.

Four companies (Cargill, JBS, National Beef, Tyson) control 83% of beef production; four control 63% of hog production (Cargill, JBS, Smithfield, Tyson); and four control 53% of broiler chicken production (Tyson, Purdue, JBS, Smithfield Foods). Thus, just six companies control well over half of the main sources of meat in the American diet.

Rev. Alice M. Meloy, now over 80 years old, led a movement in the 1990s against CAFOs in Franklin County’s Fannett Township, where her roots go back 250 years. She described the experiences of members of her community in a letter to Pennsylvania officials:

Manure was sprayed on frozen fields and ran over roads and into streams; the pollution of wells and streams (we have no public water supply) was so serious that citizens had to drink bottled water. The massive water consumption of factory farms made local family farmers have to dig deeper wells. Odors filled our homes, shops and lungs, so intense that our eyes stung and some had trouble breathing. Our ability to enjoy the outdoors was compromised and our property and quality of life was seriously devalued.

Rev. Meloy also expressed concern about growing antibiotic resistance in human pathogens due to high antibiotic use in factory farming — and increased risks of cancer and other health problems due to hormones and drugs used to produce rapid growth of factory farm animals.

Although Rev. Meloy managed to decrease the number of CAFOs
permitted in her township, factory farms have been steadily increasing throughout Pennsylvania’s rural counties. She concluded

Family farms have been fundamental to the fabric of our rural communities, towns and country. They nurture a strong sense of values, concern for the land, curiosity, flexibility, creative thinking and problem solving skills, not to mention common sense.These are traits we can ill afford to lose and that are fundamental to our democracy.

The importance of small farming in Pennsylvania’s history

Small family farms and decentralized government were very important to Pennsylvania from the beginning of European settlement. Today, Pennsylvania has more incorporated municipalities than any other state in the US. The state’s founder, William Penn (1644-1718), was well-known for his pacifism and his commitment to freedom of religion. However, few realize the importance he placed on small farms as a key to liberty. Voltaire (1694-1778) praised Pennsylvania as the only government in the world at the time that was responsible to the people and respectful of minority rights.

Thaddeus Stevens (1792-1868) from south central Pennsylvania, who was Speaker of the House for many years, was a radical abolitionist and a major proponent of land reform (“40 acres and a mule”) during Reconstruction. “No people will ever be republican in spirit and practice where a few own immense manors and the masses are landless,” said Stevens. “Small independent landholders are the support and guardians of republican liberty.”

Looking back thousands of years, societies that had fair land tenure and justice in land access, such as the Vedic culture in the Indus River Valley, were balanced and harmonic; when control of land concentrated into the hands of a few there emerged conditions of wealth inequality, poverty, conflict and war.

In his book Poison Spring, Evaggelos Vallianotos says

In the natural world, a toxin may last for a long time, slowly moving into the land, spreading its deleterious effects and death to microorganisms vital for carrying nutrients taken up by crops. In the political world, corruption moves slowly and cuts deep into our democracy, giving tremendous advantage to the lobbyists and their paymasters with an undemocratic vision of America.

cutefarmerWhat practical steps can we take, now, to move “back to the future” of sustainable agriculture? There are several things many of us can do immediately. We can (1) buy from community supported agriculture (CSAs) and direct farmer-to-consumer local markets; (2) eat less meat, of higher quality, by purchasing locally pastured poultry and humanely raised animals; (3) turn backyards into organic mini-farms; (4) monitor and learn how to check water quality and other environmental indicators and (5) report violations to local
community courts.

Thomas Jefferson recognized that the common law jury system is the most basic and powerful element of democracy. For decades federal court decisions have chipped away at the right to take polluters directly to court; instead, we have to wait on bureaucratic agencies to do their jobs. Reinstating and reinforcing this right could play an important role in moving towards sustainable agriculture and a fair economy. A complementary approach is to implement home rule for our townships and municipalities in order to strengthen local control.

My Forum presentation, titled “Harnessing Tax & Other Policy Incentives to Encourage Sustainable Agriculture,” states that several of the problems of factory farming have their origin in gross wealth and power inequality stemming from unjust and misaligned systems of land tenure, taxation and banking policy. I consider this situation to be a national emergency, undermining democratic rule.

The Union of Concerned Scientists Food and Environment Program tells us that

The US government spends billions of dollars each year to subsidize crops used to produce processed foods and sugary drinks — the same foods the USDA’s nutritional guidelines tell us to eat less of. This policy failure is contributing to a massive and costly public health crisis, as rates of chronic, diet-related diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease have shot up — even, increasingly, among children. And the same policies that encourage unhealthy food production also support an outdated, unsustainable system of industrial agriculture, which has damaging impacts on soil, air, water, human health, and rural economies.

Our system of taxation encourages land speculation and hoarding. An analysis published by CNBC in 2012 indicated that 100 private landowners in the US control more than 30 million acres, or 2% of America’s land mass. According to The Land Report magazine, media billionaire John Malone owns an estimated 2.2 million acres, an area about three times the size of Rhode Island. Ted Turner, another media billionaire, also owns around two million acres of land, half in New Mexico, with holdings in ten other states.

When so few enclose so much of the commons, and so much valuable land is held out of productive use, the cost of agricultural land prohibits land access for young people who would like to have small farms. The more debt burden incurred to purchase land, the harder it is to make a living on a small farm. Nor do small family farms receive the agricultural subsidies given to large scale corporate agriculture. Agribusinesses often engage in “tax loss farming” whereby profits in some forms of production, which may be oil or other resource extraction, are written off against loses in agriculture resulting in zero taxes paid.

A vital precedent in California

As Theodore Roszak wrote in his book Person/Planet, “Land reform is the undiscovered revolution in American politics.” Combining this perspective with Thomas Paine’s policy prescription that “Every proprietor owes to the community a ground rent for the land which he holds,” we now have the template an effective tax reform that can enable affordable land access for small farm sustainable agriculture. We even have an historical example with the Wright Act and how it created a “natural land reform” in California.

After one California rancher who owned one million acres of land won full rights to the water of the Kern River (1886), citizens protested, organized, and then passed the Wright Act, legislation permitting local irrigation districts to build dams and canals and other infrastructure to be funded by bonds paid off by land rent.

In ten years, the Central Valley was transformed into over 7,000 independent farms. The Wright Act was amended to mandate the total exemption of improvements from the tax base. Irrigation Districts included (and taxed) land that was used not only for farming but also for residence and commerce within townships. Steadily the Irrigation Districts evolved to provide reclamation, recreation, and electric power. The formerly semi-arid plains of the San Joaquin Valley became one of the most productive agricultural areas on the planet.

The People have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic, and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania's public natural resources are the common property of all of the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.    —Pennsylvania Constitution, Article I, Section 27

The People have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the
preservation of the natural, scenic, historic, and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all of the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.
—Pennsylvania Constitution, Article I, Section 27

Under the Wright Act, first lien on the land was held by the irrigation districts; the banks held second place. After three efforts to have the Supreme Court annul the Wright Act, the Bank of America finally succeeded. Now taxpayers throughout the United States fund irrigation systems which mainly benefit large agribusinesses. Thus the need for a two-pronged approach for macroeconomic restructuring that ideally would combine BOTH the removal of taxes from labor and production while collecting the full land rent AND the establishment of public banks and monetary systems that issue money directly not as now, which is primarily by mortgage debt.

Those who care about the health, happiness and well-being of all and who understand our connectedness to plants, soil organisms, insects, and animals — indeed all of life — must grasp the importance of putting in place tax policy that creates healthy incentives for these sustainable outcomes. Our current tax and financial systems do the opposite. A public finance policy approach that removes the tax burden from labor and productive capital and collects the “ground rent” based on land value would do much to help us build a “triple-win world” of human rights, environmental protection and thriving economies that work for everyone.

What the (Georgist) World Needs Now

by Alanna Hartzok

Thirty-four years ago I walked through the doorway of the Henry George School of Northern California and was greeted by its then executive director, Wendell Fitzgerald. I soon caught the Georgist bug, and I have had it ever since. It is said that when you come across a worthy cause when you are young you think you will sprint to accomplish its goals. At middle age it seems more like an endurance race. Upon reaching the elder years one realizes that the cause is a relay race. Deeply rooted socio-economic change moves ever so slowly. I do confess however to retaining some of that eternally-springing youthful hope that the quantum leap will happen in my lifetime.

Could the multiple breakdowns and challenges society now faces be the evolutionary drivers that will launch the Georgist paradigm to the front and center of the zeitgeist? That would make our job easy! In the meantime, though, it seems to be time for some of us elders to begin mentoring, encouraging, and empowering a younger generation of Georgist educators and activists.

Lo and behold, there now exists, spanning several continents, a cadre of inspired, bright and talented twenty-somethings, many of whom would love to make a career in the Georgist movement. Therein lies our dilemma and our challenge. The times are crying out for our practical wisdom.

Sadly, the Georgist movement and the various organizations and institutions that comprise it fall short of what is required to enable us to strongly move forward.

I want to share with you what I have learned from observing the work of two effective economic justice organizations.

From 2003 to 2008, along with Dr. Polly Cleveland, I served on the board of United for a Fair Economy. Based in Boston and founded by Chuck Collins and Felice Yeskel in 1995, UFE describes itself as “raising awareness that concentrated wealth and power undermine the economy, corrupts democracy, deepen the racial divide, and tear communities apart… supporting and helping build for greater equality.” UFE has thirteen full-time staff members. It offers internships in eight categories. The staff and interns work in teams in these areas: workshop educators and trainers, tax justice, research, publishing, media and publicity, and membership cultivation and activation.

The UFE’s full-time Development Director plays a vital role — as is true for most non-profit organizations that make an impact on the world. A nonprofit’s Development Director develops potential funding sources, by taking responsibility for the grant-writing process, developing relationships with donors and pursuing other possibilities for obtaining steady funding.

In London recently, David Triggs and I met with Stewart Wallace, the Executive Director of the New Economics Foundation, and Aniol Esteban, head of their Environmental Economics division. NEF was formed in 1986 by James Robertson, Alison Pritchard, and other leaders of The Other Economic Summit (TOES). Many of the NEF staff of fifty-six people work out of beehive-busy offices located near the British Parliament. They are working for a “new model of wealth creation, based on equality, diversity and economic stability.”

NEF’s 2010-11 annual operating budget, the most recent one posted on their website, was £2,505,069, or nearly four million dollars. Could they have achieved this level of prominence and impact without a Development Director?

Compared to our endowed Georgist organizations, UFE and NEF are both youngsters. Their goals for a fair society are similar in several ways to those of our Georgist movement. Both are greatly concerned about the wealth divide and focus on ways to build an economic system that works for everyone. But there are some serious differences. They both have a significant number of paid staff positions, and substantial annual operating budgets. Most important, they both have Development Directors and Publicists.

How have UFE and NEF managed to raise sufficient funds to hire a substantial number of full-time paid staff? They made fundraising a priority by employing Development Directors, who concentrate on grant-writing and other fundraising opportunities. The Executive Director works closely with the Development Director to guide her/his efforts in researching potential funding opportunities for specific projects.

To my knowledge no Georgist organization has ever had a full-time Development Director. They have instead relied on volunteer labor and on the income from their original endowments.

The Georgist movement also needs at least one (and preferably many) fulltime Publicists. Our constantly-churning information age requires strategic critical thinking for effective public relations. A Publicist’s role is to create a solid publicity program via news releases, social media, advocacy campaigns, well-designed material for e-newsletters, announcements and viral messaging.

While there are a number of Georgists who engage in such activities, there is no one doing this job as their main work for the Georgist movement. Our Publicist would also research potential venues, and promote Georgist speakers to a wide range of business, civic, government and academic institutions. There are many excellent, underutilized Georgist speakers. I often think of them (us) as highly trained racehorses that rarely get let out of our stalls (computer screens). Few of us relish promoting ourselves — and it takes time and effort to research and follow-up on leads. We need to hire professionals for this job — and if those professionals are young Georgists, so much the better!

It is my strong opinion and recommendation, based on more than thirty years engaged in the Georgist movement, that there is no better or more urgent requirement for our future and our success than to hire competent Development Directors and Publicists. One of each to start with would be nice. Both positions would likely begin to pay for themselves within a few years. Successful non-profits do this. Why not Georgist ones?

When I recently asked Wendell Fitzgerald what the Georgist movement needs most he said simply: “more girls.” Let’s keep that concern in mind. Meanwhile I am sure that somewhere in this big wide world there are some terrific people who could do a great job as Development Directors and Publicists for the organizations comprising the Georgist movement.

Author’s note: The International Union for Land Value Taxation has recently employed “twenty-something” Jacob Shwartz-Lucas to work one day a week in a Development Director role along with me in my capacity as the IU’s part-time General Secretary. Baby steps — but this is how the proverbial journey of a thousand miles begins.


London 2013 — Economics for Conscious Evolution

skyUThe quality of our consciousness and thinking profoundly impacts economics. Consciousness in its fulfilled, developed state will bring the ‘dismal science’ of economics to an evolved and higher level — to the status of Enlightened Economics. — Ron Robins

The Economics for Conscious Evolution conference will highlight key principles and policies to show how economics can align with the conscious purpose of furthering the well being of all life on earth. We will explore how to harmonize the needs of the individual and the community and design a cohesive strategy for next steps we can take to build a world that works for everyone. The conference is also designed to maximize participation of all attending.

Objectives of the conference: We will highlight key principles and policies for the emerging economics paradigm, showing how economics can align with and support the conscious evolution of human and other life on earth. We will explore a path beyond both left and right, one that meets the needs of both the individual and the community. Conference participants will design a cohesive strategy for next steps as individuals and as leaders of organizations.

— Alanna Hartzok

Key Sessions and Speakers

Land and Geo-Justice — Kamran Mofid (Globalisation and the Common Good Initiative) Peter Bowman (Head of Economics, School of Economic Science)

Sharing the Land, Rent, and Money Commons — Rajesh Makwana, Adam Parsons (Share the World’s Resources), Gary Flomenhoft (Gund Institute, University of Vermont)


The School of Economic Science

Sharing the Water, Fish, and Oil Commons — David Triggs (Land and Liberty), Aniol Esteban (New Economics Foundation), Bill Batt (Central Research Group), Alanna Hartzok (Earth Rights Institute)

Sharing the Land via Land Trusts and Ecovillages — Anthony Trowbridge on the Zulu Village in RSA, speakers from This Land is Ours and/or the Global Ecovillage Movement

Why Socializing Land Rent and Untaxing Production is Good for Labour — Presented by Labour Land Campaign: Dave Wetzel, Carol Wilcox, Heather Wetzel (Round Table Format)

Inequality, Climate Change and New Economics — Connecting the dots of money, land, energy, taxes and climate change for a big picture view. Caroline Lucas (UK Parliament) Gary Flomenhoft (Vermont Common Assets Model)

Geo-Justice Synergy Workshop — We will co-creatively utilize open space methodology, small groups, brainstorming and a few brief presentations to envision and develop ways to strengthen and harmonize our work together after the conference concludes.

London Tour Day — Exploring the economic history and influence of London through the ages. Charters, Declarations and Economic Human Rights from the Magna Carta and Charter of the Forest to the Declaration of Individual and Common Rights to Land. Bus tour and event at Speakers Corner.