food Program

Handouts - Issues in Depth

Caption photo by Food and Water Watch

Sowing the Seeds event, University of Iowa Environmental Coalition Student Garden

We've taken some of our detailed Issue Pages and revamped them into convenient two-sided handouts in PDF (Adobe Reader) format. Print page one, then print page two on the back of the first page.


Americans spend about ninety percent of their food budget on processed foods, which, unlike whole foods, have been treated in some way after being harvested or butchered. Almost all of these processed foods contain additives, substances intended to change the food in some way before it is sold to consumers.

Air Pollution

Industrial farms, also called factory farms or CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) pollute the air in many ways, emitting foul odors, airborne particles, greenhouse gases, and numerous toxic chemicals. Industrial farms are leading producers of noxious substances such as nitrous oxide and ammonia. Air pollution from industrial farms can cause health problems in agricultural workers, in residents of neighboring communities, and in farm animals. Although strategies exist to reduce air pollution, many industrial farms do little or nothing in this regard.

Animal Welfare

Every year, hundreds of thousands of animals experience terrible living conditions because the majority of meat, dairy, and poultry produced in the U.S. is from factory farms or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Animals suffer needless mutation and cramped, confined living conditions, exposing them to a wide range of injury and disease. They are routinely kept alive with daily doses of antibiotics.


Bacteria are everywhere, including on the skin and in the digestive system of humans. While bacteria are critical to normal bodily functions, some types can cause illness. In humans, antibiotics are used to treat health conditions caused by bacteria, including ear and skin infections, food poisoning, pneumonia, meningitis and other serious illnesses. Antibiotics are also used to treat or prevent infections that can complicate critical medical procedures including surgery, cancer therapy, and transplants.

Bottled Water

American consumers drink vast quantities of bottled water, in part because they have bought into the idea that it is somehow safer than tap water. Collectively we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars per gallon for water in plastic bottles, when tap water is generally safer and cleaner than bottled water. By taking back the tap, you can save money, protect your health, and help prevent environmental and social problems as well.

Climate Change

Choosing to eat less meat is one of the most effective personal choices we can make to address climate change. This may come as a surprise. When we think about the climate crisis, we tend to think about fossil fuel or dirty coal-fired powered plants. However, the global food system is responsible for an estimated one-third of total greenhouse gas emissions.


Cloning is a scientific process that allows scientists to copy the genetic traits of a plant or animal to create one or more living replicas. In 1996, Scottish scientists successfully created the first mammal ever cloned from an adult cell—a sheep, which they named “Dolly.” This followed the 1995 cloning of two sheep from embryonic cells. Cloning is a highly controversial topic.


The United States dairy industry produces over 20 billion gallons of milk. This milk is pasteurized and sold, or transformed into cheese, butter, cream and ice cream for consumers in the U.S. and around the world. Many people believe dairy farms are characterized by an agrarian ideal of open grassy pastures, rolling hills, grazing cows and red barns. Unfortunately, today most of our milk is produced in large industrial facilities that hardly resemble that ideal vision.

Food Safety

The significant corporate consolidation of global food production has created a food system that values quantity over quality. Every single decision a farmer or corporation makes about growing or raising a certain kind of food affects the final product. Cutting corners on the quality of animal feed, waste management, training for farm workers, processing methods and distribution all affect the safety of our food. From E. coli in spinach to mad cow disease in beef, it is clear that lowering the bottom line at any cost creates significant concerns about the safety of our food.

Organic Farming

The fundamentals of organic farming – the ideals of land stewardship in order to keep the land productive for future generations – are not new. However, organic farming as we know it today came about as a reaction to the wide adoption of input-intensive farming around the time of World War II, as a result of technological advances made earlier in the century and food shortages experienced during the war. Farmers around the world saw the potential dangers of industrialized farming and rejected the idea that this was advancement in agriculture. They began to study and develop methods that increased the long term productivity of their farm system and practice farming as stewards of the land. This type of farming came to be known as “organic.”


Pesticides are chemicals used to eliminate or control a variety of agricultural pests that can damage crops and livestock and reduce farm productivity. The most commonly applied pesticides are insecticides (to kill insects), herbicides (to kill weeds), rodenticides (to kill rodents), and fungicides (to control fungus, mold, and mildew). Of these, herbicides are the most widely used. Today, over 1 billion tons of pesticides are used in the United States every year.

Poverty and Hunger

Until recently, rural development was driven by the belief that a high-yielding means of producing export crops would increase the income of a community and bring people out of poverty. In many instances this strategy has failed, and now the paradigm is shifting. In both rural and urban areas, individuals are increasingly encouraged (or taking it upon themselves) to take control of their food security by creating sustainable and equitable food systems.

rBGH and rBST

Despite opposition from scientists, farmers and consumers, the United States currently allows dairy cows to be injected with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), also known as recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST). Developed and manufactured by the Monsanto Corporation, this genetically engineered hormone forces cows to artificially increase milk production by 10 to 15 percent. Controversy surrounds whether or not rBGH is safe for cows and humans.

Slaughterhouses and Processing

The drastic expansion of industrial animal production in the United States has been accompanied by the rapid consolidation of the meat industry. This industry is now dominated by a handful of huge corporations that process most of the country’s meat at enormous facilities, and consolidation continues to increase. As a result, meat packing companies have become increasingly powerful, while the government bodies that regulate them have done little to keep them in line.


Where there are animals, there is animal waste, and as the growth of industrial farming concentrates thousands of animals on increasingly fewer farms, it produces massive amounts of animal waste on relatively small plots of land. When too much waste is produced in one place, there is no safe, cost-effective way to use it productively or dispose of it. While government regulation and better waste management practices can make a difference and should be encouraged for existing farms, the problem of livestock waste will continue as long as we rely on concentrated industrial farms to produce our food.