Recognizing Social and Racial Equity in Berkeley's Food Purchasing

- By Nilang Gor, Founder of Cultivate Empathy for All

SHARE THIS:          
The murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests brought the spotlight once again to systemic racism and an intensified sense of urgency to reform our criminal justice system. But the roots of systemic racism are not limited to the criminal justice system. In our food system, systemic racism is rooted in both production and consumption of animal derived products. For obvious reasons, factory farms are increasingly coming under scrutiny for environmental damage and animal cruelty. But we rarely recognize the relationship between racial oppression and industrial animal agriculture.

Concentrated Feeding Operations (CAFOs), commonly known as factory farms, are large facilities intended to raise animals at high density for production of animal products like meat, dairy and poultry. These facilities collect animal waste in large open lagoons and spray this waste into open fields [1]. These practices contaminate local air and waterways with serious consequences for nearby communities [2][4]. Factory farms are predominantly located in low-income communities of color and it's these communities that live with the health consequences [5].

Figure 1: Number of the U.S. deaths from farm related air-pollution [4].
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has warned against the dangers of CAFOs and their subsequent impacts on communities of color [2]. The United States Environment Protection Agency has also reported a linear relationship between race/ethnicity and environmental degradation due to intensive animal agriculture [3]. A new study published in the National Academy of Sciences now links 12,700 annual deaths just from air-pollution caused by industrial animal agriculture [4]. Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg and there is more to be discussed about water pollution, antibiotic resistance, and the psychological impacts on these communities [2][3].

CAFOs require killing hundreds of animals at such a rapid pace that meatpacking jobs are the most dangerous occupation in the U.S., averaging two amputations per week [6][7]. In order to bypass these safety concerns, the meatpacking industry often exploits prison labor, undocumented individuals, and “at will” employees [8]. Hispanics (44%) and African Americans (25%) account for the majority of slaughterhouse workers [9]. Beyond physical harm, these workers are at risk of psychological disorders like PTSD and perpetration-induced traumatic stress [11]. The combination of oppressive conditions and sanctioned occupational violence has led to research from Dr. Amy Fitzgerald and others who have shown that the presence of a slaughterhouse in a community increases the arrest rate of violent crimes, rape, and sex offenses in that area [10].

Figure 2: Occupational injuries across the U.S. industries [7].
The United States Department of Agriculture heavily subsidizes livestock industry [12]. By lowering product costs for consumers, many communities can access red and processed meats. However, there is a significant cost to consumers’ health. Multiple leading health agencies have associated both red and processed meat with major chronic diseases like colorectal cancer (CRC), the second highest death-related cancer in the nation [13]. Subsidized meats combined with low socio-economic realities explains the disproportionate chronic health impacts on communities of color. For example, African Americas have 20% higher CRC incidence and 35% higher CRC mortality rates than White Americans [15].

The City of Berkeley purchases nearly $5 million worth of food for the North Berkeley Senior Center, the South Berkeley Senior Center and the Berkeley jail facility [14]. The City has an opportunity and an obligation to provide healthy options that are also socially and environmentally responsible. The Berkeley City Council has already recognized that CAFOs pose multiple environmental, social and governance risks. They recently urged the California Public Employee's Retirement System (CalPERS) to divest from industrial animal agriculture and factory farming companies [16]. During the City Council hearing on the recent CalPERS item, Mayor Jesse Arreguin emphasized the importance of responsibly reallocating City funds to transition away from industrial animal agriculture [17]. The Berkeley City Council should consider phasing out red meat, processed meat and CAFO derived animal products from the city's food procurement.

As a resident of Berkeley, I want to see my community thriving and accessing healthy options, not just for our own bodies and our local environment, but for the people and places where our food comes from. I hope my fellow community members will join me in urging our City Council to consider requiring appropriate certification for animal derived products and prohibiting red and processed meats in the city's food procurement.  

Nilang Gor
Nilang Gor, is a Molecular Biologist and the founder of Cultivate Empathy for All. Nilang is global citizen and active member of the community with his constant participation through activism/volunteering for homelessness, animal rights and environment. Nilang believes our ecosystem is built on the principle on interdependence and exponential growth in globalization is making our well-being more interdependent than ever before. As a result, he believes cultivating empathy for all is the key factor in creating systemic harmony on our planet earth.

(4) Air pollution from farms leads to 17,900 U.S. deaths per year, study finds
(8) Slaughterhouse Workers
(10) Slaughterhouses and Increased Crime Rates
(11) A Call to Action: Psychological Harm in Slaughterhouse Workers
(12) U.S. 2020 Farm Subsidy Breakdown
(13) Cancer: Carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat
(15) Colorectal Cancer Disparity in African Americans