EPA to increase oversight over CAFO manure

Thanks in part to a lawsuit from the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and Waterkeeper Alliance, the EPA has agreed to increase its oversight of manure discharges from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs)*. The EPA estimates that CAFOs in the U.S.generate three times more bodily waste than humans do, yet CAFOs have virtually no waste treatment facilities. The lawsuit was brought in response to an EPA rule** that allowed CAFOs to make their own determination as to whether they were leaking manure into waterways that were covered by the Clean Water Act. Most didn't volunteer to be regulated, of course, so regulators had no idea how many CAFOs were operating in their regions.  To prepare for the rulemaking specified in the settlement, the EPA will study CAFO operations more closely, looking at the quantity of animals at facilities, how waste is handled, and other relevant items.  The EPA will propose its regulation by May 25, 2011 and finalize it by May 25, 2012. (AP in the San Francisco Chronicle, the New York Times Green blog, and an NRDC press release)

* The EPA defines large CAFOs as having more than any of these: 700 dairy cows; 1,000 cattle; 2,500 swine (> 55 lb.) or 10,000 swine (< 55 lb.); 55,000 turkeys; between 30,000 and 125,000 chickens, depending on how the waste is handled (PDF).

** Grist has a short piece about the EPA rule that launched the lawsuit. Much more detail is on the EPA's CAFO Rule History page.

6 Responsesto “EPA to increase oversight over CAFO manure”

  1. Frankly the CAFO definition is nonsense. The existence of that number of animals does not mean it is a concentrated animal feeding operation. For example: if I have 1,000 pigs on 1,000 acres then I do not have a CAFO. But if I have 500 pigs on 1 acre I would not be defined as a CAFO yet that would definitely be a CAFO situation. The acreage of the farm and the methods of farming makes a HUGE difference. A distributed pastured farm using managed rotational grazing is a totally different thing than a dry feed lot. With a pastured farm there is no concentrated manure - the animals are spreading it out on the fields where they should. I actually had to explain this to a government idiot. Then she complemented me on one of my beautiful sows - it was a boar. The fact that she can't tell a boar from a sow, not 10 feet away and on side view, demonstrates why she shouldn't be in agriculture. Absurd government regulations that really aren't helping. Frankly, if the government can't get this right then I don't want them doing this regulation. They will do more harm than good. Even a little bit of government can be way too much.

  2. bruce king says:

    Walter, it's worse than you think.  In Washington State the number of animals has nothing to do with whether you are a CAFO or not.  If you look at the state regulations, most chicken coops would qualify as a CAFO.  Here operations with as few as 5 cows have been cited, fined and regulated as CAFO. 

    They mostly apply these laws to larger feedlots -- think 20,000 animals -- but there is no minimum acreage, and no number of animal minimum.   Your operation, given its fixed feeding and watering locations, would probably qualify under washington state law.  Joy, huh?   

  3. You're right, Bruce, that is worse in WA. So why do you stay there? I'm very curious. You seem to run into a lot of trouble in WA over rules and regulations, over not being able to farm the way you want. I would think that if it were so hostile to farming you would just move to a better place. Now is the time. Tomorrow you will be one day older so don't delay.

    We wouldn't be caught by that because 1) we don't have fixed feeding areas - I can move them easily and do; 2) I pay attention to the rules and understand them - we have every intention of not growing so large that we would be bumped up to a higher farm classification; 3) I would not live in WA or any with such rules - move. I checked out the rules, regulations, laws before deciding where to live, and not just about farming but about a vast number of things. Read the laws, regulation, zoning, court rulings, etc. I make it a habit to communicate with my legislators to try to prevent nonsense like that from becoming law. It is a fairly successful endeavor but you have to speak up because if nobody opposes nonsense then nonsense becomes the law of the land.  As I say on my NoNAIS.org blog subtitle, "Protect our Traditinoal Rights to Farm". Keep fighting for good sense.

  4. Leslie says:

    I work regularly with CAFOs and yes, they do have waste control facilities. I don't know where you're getting your information, but you need to do more research before making claims like this.

  5. The reporters who covered the story oversimplified the EPA definition of CAFO (state regulations might be different). EPA's definition goes beyond a head count, as the definition in section 122.23 of the final rule (PDF) indicates:

    [---begin quote]
    (b) Definitions applicable to this section:
    (1) Animal feeding operation (“AFO”) means a lot or facility (other than an aquatic animal production facility) where the following conditions are met:
    (i) Animals (other than aquatic animals) have been, are, or will be stabled or confined and fed or maintained for a total of 45 days or more in any 12-month period, and
    (ii) Crops, vegetation, forage growth, or post-harvest residues are not sustained in the normal growing season over any portion of the lot or facility.
    (2) Concentrated animal feeding operation (“CAFO”) means an AFO that is defined as a Large CAFO or as a Medium CAFO by the terms of this paragraph, or that is designated as a CAFO in accordance with paragraph (c) of this section
    ...
    (4) Large concentrated animal feeding operation (“Large CAFO”). An AFO is defined as a Large
    CAFO if it stables or confines as many as or more than the numbers of animals specified in any of the following categories: {here is where it lists the numbers of animals that trigger a "Large CAFO" designation}
    [---end quote]

    Thus, if the animals are raised on pasture, the operation is not a AFO, which then cannot be defined as a CAFO.

    The rule is going to go through the formal channels and will include a comment period and possibly hearings or other public events. That will be a chance for advocates of more traditional practices to get EPA to avoid considering low-density operations to be designated as CAFOs strictly because of the number of animals.

  6. Linda Simmons says:

    Thank you Mental Masala for introducing some facts and logic. I don't know why so many people think they know so much about water quality and livestock farming that they can jump to conclusions without even reading 2 pages of the EPA record. Livestock operations with a permit to operate, mostly CAFOs are built and managed to treat manure appropriately to use it as fertilizer. Most CAFOs hold the manure in a fairly stinky lagoon where most pathogens are killed, the liquid is nutrient(fertilizer) rich and is then spread on fields to grow crops. Human waste in City sewer water cannot be used as fertilizer right now(it has heavy metals and stuff in it and we don't have economical treatment methods to make it safe for growing crops) so it is (in most US cities) treated to kill pathogens but leaving the nutrients(the fertilizer value and the algae growing lake killing part)in the liquid which is then dumped into our waterways, contributing to eutrophic death of rivers and the Gulf of Mexico. I repeat the reason that livestock manure is ok to put on fields as a fertilizer and that's the original sustainable agriculture. The is some e. coli in manure that dies exposed to soil and weather if properly applied. CAFO are required to apply properly. CAFO manure is actually safer than old fashioned raw manure as fertilizer because it has sat in a compost vat or lagoon or tank for a period of time. Of course we need to enforce laws that we have, that makes civilization work. But remember that the rules for city sewer plants are allowed to discharge pollution into our rivers, CAFOs are not and livestock farms smaller to small to be CAFOs are allowed to put untreated manure into our rivers. Those are the laws, the actual amount of pollution from CAFOS vs City sewer disharges vs conventional fertilizer agriculture vs small livestock farms is another question not enough room here to answer that.