Table of Contents

Factory Farming's Impacts on Indigenous Populations

May 27, 2021

A discussion of some of the impacts factory farming wreaks on indigenous populations in the United States.

Understanding that our current food production system has disproportionate impacts is the first step in raising awareness and enacting necessary change.

Since its integration within our food system, factory farming has wreaked havoc in a multitude of areas ranging from climate change to animal justice, disproportionately impacting people of color and impoverished communities. One community, however, tends to be overlooked when discussing these implications: indigenous groups. To put this into perspective, let’s take a look at North Carolina, where the proportion of Native Americans “living within three miles of an industrial hog operation are 2.18 times higher than the proportion of non-Hispanic Whites.” Here is why that statistic is alarming.

According to a research article published by the North Carolina Medical Journal, “During 1982 through 2017, the number of hogs in North Carolina increased from approximately two million to nine million, while the number of hog farms dropped from 10,000 to 2,000.” Profit-hungry corporations are expanding their meat production at rates never seen before, especially in areas like North Carolina. Increasing the number of hogs while decreasing the number of hog farms indicates that sanitary standards are being neglected, a risk indigenous tribes have to bear the brunt of. There are approximately “8.7 million hogs potentially generating 9.2 billion gallons of liquified waste and sludge a year” statewide on top of the “more than 538 million chickens and turkeys that could produce over five million tons of manure each year” cited by the Environmental Working Group. Many studies have found that there is a correlation between the presence of factory farms and conditions like asthma, tuberculosis, kidney failure and even miscarriage. Individuals in close proximity to these operations can be exposed through a variety of pathways including airborne and microbe-bearing particulates, soil transported microbes, cesspools, and contaminated waterways. Corporations are turning a blind eye to this community, as they continue to expand their operations close by in spite of increasing detrimental risks.

The animals on these sites are kept in prison-like conditions, living in cages with no space to walk. As a result of the increasing population and decreasing number of farms, the overflowing waste from these animals is ending up as runoff, contaminating soil and waterways. This constant eutrophication and resulting algal blooms prevent tribes from performing sacred traditions integral to their culture, as water is often important for the rituals. These damaging environmental consequences are also threatening the food security of these tribes, translating into a higher risk of their forced relocation.

The specific location within North Carolina is also significant, as many CAFOs are located within the coastal floodplains. This vulnerability to natural disasters puts the safety and wellbeing of indigenous tribes at extreme risk.

Understanding that our current food production system has disproportionate impacts is the first step in raising awareness and enacting necessary change. Listening to the perspectives of and learning from indigenous leaders is also key, as there are many who strive to educate and inform the public about their experiences with food production. (Take a look at the 8 indigenous leaders documented by Compassion in World Farming.) Finally, looking out for plant-based alternatives to implement within your diet will help improve the quality of living for indigenous tribes and future generations to come.

Sana Ansari is a student in the Bay Area and FFAC Fellow.