High Cost of Cheap Food


by Ana Grarian

Ana’s been reading again thanks to a link provided by a watchdog for the BIOGAS Pipeline project in CNY, to a report that analyzed studies over more than half a century on the effects of industrial agriculture on communities.

This report is a response to a request from the State of North Dakota to review past social science research on the effects of industrialized farming on community well-being. In this report, a review by Lobao (2000) was updated to 2006 so that the findings of past and recent research on industrialized farming could be systematically documented. The conclusions from fifty six studies (32 detrimental effects and 14 some detrimental effects) examining the consequences of industrialized farming for communities were evaluated. Approximately 82 percent of these studies found adverse impacts on indicators of community well-being. Based on the evidence generated by social science research, we conclude that public concern about the detrimental community impacts of industrialized farming is warranted. In brief, this conclusion rests on five decades of government and academic concern with this topic, a concern that has not abetted but that has grown more intense in recent years, as the social and environmental problems associated with large animal confinement operations have become widely recognized. It rests on the consistency of five decades of social science research which has found detrimental effects of industrialized farming on many indicators of community quality of life, particularly those involving the social fabric of communities. And it rests on the new round of risks posed by industrialized farming to Heartland agriculture, communities, the environment, and regional development as a whole. Community Effects of Industrialized Farming,  Presentation to ND 101, October 2007.
Industrialized Farming and Its Relationship to Community Well-Being: An Update of a 2000 Report by Linda Lobao Prepared for the State of North Dakota, Office of the Attorney General by Curtis W. Stofferahn, Ph.D.


I was surprised to find that many states have laws that prohibit corporations from farming. I was not surprised that the findings were consistent with what I and other rural residents have observed.

Industrialized farming causes:

  • An increase in population, except where local farmers are displaced.
  • Greater income inequality in the community which puts pressure on government     services.
  • Stress in the social fabric and increased community conflict.
  • Large livestock operations increase the risk of environmental and health problems     and pressure on local governments to intervene.

82% of the studies found detrimental impacts from corporate farming. Those studies that did not show detrimental effects, tended to show “no” effects. The effects were a wash.

States with anti-corporate farming laws fared better on socio-economic indicators, and states with more restrictive laws fared better than states with less restrictive laws.

The first study was by Walter Godschmidt who studied two similar California towns in the 1940’s. The town that accepted industrial farming showed a smaller middle class, lower family income, higher poverty and more hired workers. (farm jobs were created but at lower wages) The quality of their schools and public services decreased in comparison to the family farm town. They had fewer churches, civic organizations and retail establishments. Citizens had less control in public decisions and less civic participation.

“Interests of industrial farmers are often detached from or contrary to the interests of local residents.” The needs of industrial agriculture is contrary to the needs of the local community.

I would add that this becomes true even if the ag industrialist is a local. The “local boy” may also develop an inflated view of himself now that he is a “businessman” and not a lowly farmer.

The decline participation in and control of local government by, local residents, creates potential for diversion of public resources toward financial incentives for agri-business developers. (perhaps the building of a pipeline at taxpayer expense in an attempt to mitigate pollution generated by massive livestock operations?) This creates a loss of revenue to support schools and other local services. Small rural townships are targeted because their local governments are not equipped to deal with the pressures from agri-business. (I would say this would relate to trust issues also. In communities where a man’s handshake was a contract, there might be less questioning of proposals and less use of legal counsel to review a proposal with an eye on the cost to the local population)

The high cost of cheap food begs a serious question: who should foot the bill to cover the full external costs of industrial farming—the American people, as has largely been the case—or the corporations who chiefly benefit from the existing structure?