This week, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) was appointed to the Senate Agriculture Committee—becoming the first vegan Senator to serve on the committee. Booker has been vegan since 2014 and is a longtime advocate for reforming agricultural systems, particularly factory farming, to create a more equitable food system for people and animals. Newly elected Senator Ralph Warnock (D-GA) was also appointed to the Senate Agriculture Committee—marking the first time in the committee’s history that two Black Americans have served as members simultaneously.
“Our food system is deeply broken. Family farmers are struggling and their farms are disappearing, while big agriculture conglomerates get bigger and enjoy greater profits,” Booker said. “Meanwhile, healthy, fresh food is hard to find and even harder to afford in rural and urban communities alike. In the richest country on the planet, over 35 million Americans from every walk of life are food insecure.”
Booker on factory farms
In 2019, the former presidential candidate proposed the Farm System Reform Act (FSRA), a new bill that aims to transition animal agriculture away from factory farming. FSRA bans the opening of new large-scale concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and limits the growth of existing CAFOs in the meat and dairy sector. The bill also aims to phase out the largest CAFOs—as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency—by 2040 and hold large meatpackers accountable for the pollution they create. With his bill, Booker hopes to protect small-scale animal farmers who are often contractually bound to, and exploited by, large corporations. After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, FSRA has gained support from other Congress members, including Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and House Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA)—who filed companion legislation to FSRA in the House.
After slaughterhouses became COVID-19 hotspots last year, Booker also introduced the Safe Line Speeds During COVID-19 Act, which aimed to protect workers, animals, and consumers from the dangers posed by higher line speeds in poultry, pig, and cattle slaughterhouses. “The fact of the matter is that our current food system is interconnected with so many issues of justice in America: racial justice, health justice, environmental justice, economic justice,” Booker said in a keynote speech at the National Food Policy Conference in July. “And our food system is fundamentally broken. It fails to reflect our collective values. And it is not a dramatization to say that the way we produce and consume food in this country is quite literally a matter of life and death.”
Booker on racial justice
Throughout his political career, Booker has spoken out about the inequities that Black Americans face, including in the agriculture sector. In November, Booker—along with Warren and Senator Krisitin Gillibrand (D-NY)—introduced The Justice for Black Farmers Act (JBFA), which seeks to end racist practices that have resulted in a great loss of land holdings and generational wealth for Black farmers. As a Senate Agriculture Committee member, Booker plans to advance a revised version of JBFA through Congress.