News – National

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has once again identified CAFO enforcement as a top national priority.  The agency’s National Enforcement Initiatives for Fiscal Years 2010-2012 are now available.

Preventing Animal Waste from Contaminating Surface and Ground Waters

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) are agricultural operations where animals live in a confined environment. CAFOs can contain large numbers of animals, feed, manure, dead animals and production operations on a small land area.  The animals generate a large amount of manure, which typically is held in lagoons or spread on nearby fields.  If not properly controlled, manure can overflow from lagoons or run off from the fields into nearby surface waters or seep into ground water, carrying disease-causing pathogens, nutrients, or other contaminants into the water.  This contaminates both surface waters and ground waters that may be used as drinking water sources and harms fish and other aquatic species in surface waters.  Several studies have found high concentrations of CAFOs in areas with low income and non-white populations. This is typical in many rural areas of the country where livestock facilities are located.  Children in these populations may be particularly susceptible to potential adverse health effects through exposure to contaminated surface waters or drinking water from contaminated ground water sources.  The Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of these pollutants into surface waters, and EPA’s regulations require larger CAFOs to have permits (which impose control requirements) if the waste produced by animals on the farm will run off into surface waters.  However, many CAFOs are not complying with these requirements.  Therefore, EPA will continue and strengthen its enforcement focus on these facilities.  For FY2011-13, OECA will focus primarily on existing large and medium CAFOs identified as discharging without a permit.

Hopefully they’ll get busy soon – we need all the help we can get!


The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) denied a CAFO a Clean Water Act (CWA) discharge permit for the first time in its history on June 30, explaining that the permit would have allowed for a lowering of water quality without the necessary demonstration of economic and social need that the CWA requires. According to an article published July 1 in the Kalamazoo Gazette:

DEQ officials, he said, had insufficient assurances that the proposed Longnecker Road CAFO would not contribute negatively to water quality or be responsible for lowering the values of neighboring properties. McCann said the state also had insufficient assurances that the operation would not damage local roads from heavy and excessive truck traffic, or harm surrounding open space and wildlife habitat.

According to a story on, the well-organized efforts of local environmental advocates played a key role in the DEQ’s decision:

They provided evidence that jobs provided by the dairy would lower the township’s median wage level and drive away smaller farms that pay better, he said. Also, they argued persuasively that the facility would drive down property values, harm tourism and damage roads and the rural character with repeated shipments of manure, he said.

Kudos to the Michigan DEQ for having the guts to stand up to a powerful industry in the name of clean water. This serves a useful model for Wisconsin, where the Department of Natural Resources has never denied a CAFO permit.

Toxic air emissions and disrupting odors from factory farms often go unchecked, and in Wisconsin the DNR just this year gave agriculture sources of air pollution yet another pass from the state’s hazardous air pollution requirements.

This report from Grist tells of air pollution from a dairy in Minnesota so bad that nearby residents were asked to evacuate:

A giant dairy farm in Thief River Falls, Minn., is producing such noxious fumes that the state health department has advised nearby residents to evacuate. Excel Dairy’s emissions of hydrogen sulfide have been calculated at 200 times the standard allowed by Minnesota law; neighbors’ complaints include headaches, nausea, blurred vision, shortness of breath, and fatigue. “It’s so strong and so sour and so potent that it takes your breath right away,” says Jeff Brouse, who evacuated last week. “It’s so nauseous we’ve had neighbors throw up in their driveways.” Excel, which wants to add another 500 cows to its 1,500-cow dairy, says the extra fumes are coming from repairs to a damaged manure pit and are not illegal. Unappeased, some residents are planning a class-action suit against the dairy, and Marshall County has filed a public nuisance charge. Meanwhile, the U.S. EPA is considering a regulation change that would exempt factory farms from reporting toxic air pollution from animal waste.

More complete coverage is available from the Star-Tribune. A follow-up story from Northern Watch (affiliated with the Three River Falls Times) reports that the County will prosecute the dairy for causing a public nuisance. The possible $1,000 fine will be a slap on the risk for Excel Dairy, but its a start.

This week, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production issued its Final Report, entitled Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America. At 124 pages, it may well stand as the most thorough, comprehensive, and scientifically-sound critique of the modern livestock industry to date.

The report addresses the many “unintended consequences” of the modern era of factory farming, and includes a variety of recommendations in the areas of public health, environmental protection, animal welfare, and rural life.

MEA issued a press release on the Pew Commission’s report, which includes a brief comparison between some of the Commission’s key recommendations and current state and federal law. What this comparison reveals is that, in some important areas, Wisconsin is heading in the wrong direction when it comes to controlling the pollution from CAFOs.

The Pew report has seen national coverage in the New York Times, Washington Post, and USA Today, among others.

The Animal Agriculture Alliance Coalition (is that repetitive or what?) is the agribusiness front group created solely in an attempt to minimize the Pew Commission’s findings. Their website features some industry responses to the report.

From the website of the Union of Concerned Scientists:

“Misguided federal farm policies have encouraged the growth of massive confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, by shifting billions of dollars in environmental, health and economic costs to taxpayers and communities, according to a report released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). As a result, CAFOs now produce most of the nation’s beef, pork, chicken, dairy and eggs, even though there are more sophisticated and efficient farms in operation.”

The UCS has released a report entitled CAFOs Uncovered: The Untold Costs of Confined Animal Feeding Operations which “enumerates the policies that have allowed CAFOs to dominate U.S. meat and dairy production.”

The two-year study into the impacts of modern industrial livestock agriculture conducted by the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production is drawing to a close. The Commission will release its Final Report next week. Here’s a press release about the report issued today: (more…)

Today, MEA joined over seventy environmental and sustainable agriculture organizations in urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency not to exempt livestock operations from the reporting requirements of the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA). MEA signed on to a letter to the EPA, written by the environmental law firm Earthjustice, asserting that the proposed exemption is unlawful and would greatly reduce the ability of local and state regulators to monitor releases of toxic ammonia and hydrogen sulfide gasses from factory farms.

Read MEA’s Press Release on the proposed exemption.

Read the Comment Letter prepared by Earthjustice and signed by more than 70 groups from 27 states.