Find out how industrial agribusiness threatens your health and safety
Bush and Big Business
The truth about Bush's special interest agenda, and the big businesses he serves
Introducing discriminating legislation and undermining civil rights, find how the Bush administration has been doing this.
Gas & Oil
Gas prices are on the rise! In some places it has already hit $3 a gallon! Find out what Bush is NOT doing about it.
Policy Problems and Recommendations
Excerpted from the report: Americas Animal Factories
Natural Resources Defense Council
The nation's federal and state
regulatory systems for protecting environmental health have failed to keep pace
with the rapid growth of factory farms. When Congress passed the Clean Water
Act (CWA) almost 27 years ago, it had the foresight to identify feedlots as an
industrial source of pollution and to require that feedlots be regulated as
strictly as other industries. However, EPA has failed to enforce these
statutory requirements and the implementation of the regulations has been
pockmarked with loopholes. According to a 1995 General Accounting Office
Report, in 1992 only 30 percent of the 6,600 farms that were large enough to be
subject to federal permit requirements actually obtained a permit under the
Clean Water Act. To a greater or lesser extent, states have attempted to step
into the void created by an ineffective federal approach. However, as this
report will illustrate, the states have failed to curb factory farm pollution.
This report describes
environmental pollution from animal factories in 30 states. In addition,
livestock pollution is a problem or threat in many more states, including Delaware,
Georgia, Idaho, New Mexico and New York. The combination of industry
consolidation toward factory farming, inadequate technology to control manure
pollution and lax regulatory controls has resulted in serious pollution
problems across the country. Some examples from this report:
- In North
Carolina, a hog manure lagoon burst in 1995, creating the biggest
hog-waste spill on record -- 25 million gallons -- killing as many as 10
million fish and closing 364,000 acres of coastal wetlands to
- In Indiana,
the LaGrange County Health Department identified six miscarriages among
women living near hog farms. Their drinking water wells had been
contaminated with unsafe levels of nitrates.
- In California's
Central Valley, dairy farmers have discovered their cows are aborting
calves after drinking water from wells contaminated with nitrates. Farmers
in this, the top milk-producing region in the nation, have been forced to
dig deeper wells in search of water safe for their own cows to drink.
- In Torrington,
Wyoming, cattle operations are possibly linked to nitrate levels in the
groundwater that exceed the safe drinking-water standard. High
concentrations of nitrates in drinking water can cause "blue-baby
syndrome," a potentially fatal disease in infants that damages their
red blood cells' oxygen-carrying ability.
- In North
Carolina, 34 percent of wells located next to poultry and hog farms had
elevated nitrate levels and 10 percent were contaminated above the health
standard for safe drinking water, a state health agency found in a survey
of more than 1,000 wells.
- In Minnesota,
more than 50 families complained of nausea, vomiting and other flu-like
symptoms associated with toxic hydrogen sulfide gas after 17 factory hog
farms moved into their county. The state environmental agency found that
half of factory farms of all animal types tested in the area exceeded
safety standards for the gas -- by as much as 50 times the state standard.
- In Missouri,
swine factory farms have been the biggest culprit in polluting 150 miles
of Missouri's streams, causing 61 fish kills and killing over 500,000
- Pollution from nutrients
contained in animal manure, namely phosphorus and nitrogen, is one of the Chesapeake
Bay's most serious problems and has led to reduced harvests of fish and
shellfish. On the Eastern Shore of Virginia, close to one-third of the
nitrogen and two-fifths of the phosporus nutrients entering the Chesapeake
Bay from that region are attributed to animal waste pollution. In Maryland,
toxic Pfiesteria outbreaks have occurred in the Bay due to
excessive nutrient loading from animal waste and farm runoff.
Have Failed To Curb Factory Farm Pollution
State attempts to deal with
animal factories are inconsistent. Some state programs for dealing with these
animal operations are voluntary and some are mandatory. Some deal solely with
manure management, some deal solely with manure storage and some programs focus
on both. None of the state programs we evaluate have been effective so far in
curbing factory farm pollution. Problems common among state programs include
continue to take aggressive steps to attract factory farms and grant these
operations government benefits which were originally designed to help family
farms survive. While five states -- North Carolina, Oklahoma,
Mississippi, Missouri and Kentucky -- have established some form of
moratorium on new livestock factories at one time or another, many other
states are attempting to attract and retain them. Kansas granted Seaboard
Farms, Inc., one of the nation's fastest growing pork producers, the right
to issue $9.5 million in tax-exempt bonds toward the cost of building
manure lagoons in its state. Many states, such as Wyoming, grant these
massive operations agricultural tax breaks.
states have either no permitting system in place at all or have systems
that, in fact or in practice, rely on voluntary compliance. Indiana's
factory farms can safely ignore state requirements for treatment of manure
because the state relies on voluntary letters of approval. Pennsylvania, Colorado
and Alabama have no permitting program, though programs are in the works.
Illinois regulates only livestock operations with animal waste lagoons but
not those with underground manure storage tanks, which are now the norm in
Illinois. Some of these have leaked. California's Central Valley issues
permits only after an operation is caught polluting.
permits are given to factory farms. Almost every state has adopted the
type of easy-to-get permit known as a "general permit" under the
federal Clean Water Act. It essentially grants factory farms a green light
to operate with minimal controls on pollution. Under general permits, the
states routinely accept at face value the factory farm owners' assurances
that the feedlot can comply with existing statewide requirements. The
state often does not make individual visits to the site to see if the
applicant can actually comply or if the factory farm might pose unforeseen
pollution threats. The permits are not site-specific. General permits do
not provide citizens with notice of proposed factory farms or an
opportunity to comment on the pollution controls needed to protect their
communities. Nor do they require monitoring.
and spray-field systems are the norm. Despite the poor environmental
record of factory farm lagoons and the documented problems with liquid
manure spraying, most states continue to allow factory farms to rely upon
this antiquated waste treatment technology. North Carolina passed
legislation that required the State Department of Agriculture to develop a
plan to phase out lagoons and sprayfields, but the Department's plan has
failed to comply with this mandate.
of statutory requirements and penalties tends to be weak. Most states
do not have aggressive compliance programs. Instead, many agencies respond
and inspect operations only when citizens complain or when fish kills and
other problems are documented. Some, such as South Dakota, sometimes fail
to respond even then. Many states are reluctant to penalize factory farm
polluters, so penalties are waived, reduced or not meaningful to begin
with. For example, feedlot operators in Mississippi are often able to
negotiate reduced fines with state officials after they have been found guilty
quality monitoring by states and livestock operators is rare. Industrial
pollution permits under the Clean Water Act usually require industries to
monitor their discharges and periodically report the information to the
EPA. Yet neither the EPA nor the states has applied these requirements to
the animal factory industry, because these facilities are not supposed to
discharge -- a presumption that cannot be confirmed without a requirement
that water quality be monitored. Only a few states appear to require
routine water quality monitoring. Moreover, some states have failed to
adequately monitor surface water quality near factory farms. Often
citizens have had to step in and do the testing themselves. In Missouri,
more than 1,000 citizens have formed their own "Stream Teams" to
measure water pollution.
programs fail to deal adequately with the siting of lagoons. Many
states now have setback rules requiring that new manure lagoons be
situated a minimum distance from homes and rivers, although thousands of
existing factory farms are exempt from recently imposed setbacks. But even
these requirements are inadequate because lagoons are still allowed to
locate on land sitting just above water sources, in floodplains and in
coastal and other wetlands, and adjacent to wildlife refuges and other
sensitive locations. For example, Kentucky and Tennessee allow livestock
operations to locate on "karst" topography -- geological
limestone formations pockmarked with sinkholes, which provide pollutants
easy access to groundwater.
corporations that control factory farms are able to evade responsibility
for pollution controls. For most poultry operations and increasingly
for pork operations, large corporations contract with smaller producers to
operate factory farms. The corporations own the animals but contract with
the smaller producers to raise them. Under the permits issued by most
states, the small producer holds the permit obliging it to abide by
environmental restrictions. The corporation has no obligation to
contribute financially to cleanups or to pollution controls. Only one
state, Kentucky, requires some, but not equal shared financial and legal
responsibility on the part of the corporation and the contract producer.
control is restricted or under-utilized. Some states have
significantly restricted the authority of local governments to control the
problem, while some localities have failed to use the powers they have
been granted. Some states, such as Iowa, have prohibited localities from
establishing controls on factory farms. In other states, localities have
the right to utilize zoning and other tools to prevent factory farm
pollution. In states such as Missouri and North Carolina, certains
localities that tried to impose controls have faced the threat of costly
lawsuits from factory farm corporations.
have failed to devote adequate staff resources to their feedlot programs.
Compliance with regulatory programs is all but voluntary when there are
almost no inspectors on the job. Colorado and Montana each have one
part-time inspector, rendering their enforcement of feedlot pollution
operations are generally unregulated. In many states, poultry
operations are not regulated. The over-application of poultry litter to
cropland leads to pollution from phosphorus, a nutrient that accumulates
in the soil. Manure runoff produced by rain or melting snow causes
phosphorus to pollute nearby bodies of water. The misguided rationale used
by states to exempt poultry factories from their regulatory systems
altogether is that the litter is dry and therefore does not count as a
discharge pollutant. Major poultry-producing states such as West Virginia,
Kentucky, Missouri, Virginia and Arkansas subscribe to this view. Maryland,
Tennessee and Alabama have plans to include poultry operations in the
regulatory system, but implementation has not yet begun.
application requirements are inadequate. Most states require that
manure spread as fertilizer be applied at rates that do not exceed the
crops' ability to absorb nitrogen but they ignore the quantity of
phosphorus -- another nutrient -- present in manure. Phosphorus
accumulates in the soil and excess levels run off. More land area is
needed to safely absorb this long-lived nutrient. Only Maryland has
established rates for land-application of manure based on phosphorus that
will be part of the state's regulatory requirements. The remaining states
base their land-application requirements on nitrogen for regulatory purposes.
In addition, no state restricts application of manure based on heavy
metals. Many states allow manure to be applied to the land in a manner
that allows polluted runoff to occur, such as application of manure on
snow. One state, Ohio, allows at least one major factory farm to claim
that its off-site manure application is a "trade secret," and
thus the amount of manure applied to the land can never be known.
- Only a
handful of states have regulated air pollution. Harmful
hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia gases are emitted from open-air lagoons, dry
litter storage facilities and aerial spraying of manure. While it appears
that some states have the power to regulate air emissions from factory
farms, Minnesota, Illinois and North Dakota are the only states that have
used their power to so. Minnesota has established safety standards for
hydrogen-sulfide, a toxic gas that can cause vomiting, diarrhea and other
flu-like symptoms. That state's initial testing of emissions from feedlot
operations found that state health standards for hydrogen sulfide were
being violated in half of the facilities tested.
- Public information about
factory farms is lacking. Many state permitting programs allow
livestock operations to keep records tracking their compliance with manure
management pollution controls on-site and inaccessible to the public view.
This makes it extremely difficult for citizens to find out whether a
factory farm they suspect of polluting is indeed fouling local waterways.
In addition, there has been virtually no national reporting of state
permitting activities relating to large feedlots. Most states have not
been required to submit to EPA any information regarding permit
violations, the number of facilities permitted or inspections conducted.
The lack of data has meant that the public cannot assess how the state
next door measures up.
a moratorium on Clean Water Act permits for new and expanding factory
farms until all existing facilities have effective permits in place and
standards are upgraded.
that local citizens are able to participate fully in the decision as to
whether a factory farm is allowed to locate in their community. Give
citizens the opportunity to help decide what pollution controls are needed
on factory farms to protect their communities. Only individual
site-specific permits can accomplish this -- followed by strict water
quality monitoring by livestock operators and tough enforcement against
Clean Water Act violators.
massive open-air manure lagoons at factory farms, and the spraying of
manure and urine into the air. Encourage environmentally friendly farming
manure from running off the land.
nation's water must be protected from poultry manure. Regulate chicken
factories under the Clean Water Act in the same fashion as other animal
- Hold corporations that own
livestock animals responsible for paying the costs of wate disposal and