Factory Farms

Industrial Animal Agriculture: CAFOs

Over the past few decades, industrial animal agriculture in the U.S. has grown rapidly, with increasingly more animals housed in fewer, larger buildings. Concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, house thousands of animals in the same facility.

CAFOs’ impacts on land, water and air have serious consequences for human health.

Millions of acres of U.S. cropland are fertilized with manure from cattle, poultry, dairy and swine operations. This waste – which contains chemicals like nitrogen and phosphorus and can carry nasty pathogens like E. coli and antibiotic-resistant bacteria – often runs off the landscape when it rains, contaminating tap water, triggering outbreaks of toxic algae and threatening fish and other wildlife.

To compound the problem, certain areas of the country provide easy access to feed and processing plants, leading to new CAFOs being built in areas already crowded with animal agriculture. Dense pockets of animal operations make manure disposal challenging, leading to oversaturation of nearby fields with nutrients that often wind up in our waterways or groundwater.

Airborne pathogens are also a concern. Hazardous health effects from fecal matter, odors and gases like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide often occur several miles away from a large CAFO.

To help policymakers, consumers and others understand the extent to which industrial animal agriculture is changing the American landscape, EWG is using satellite imagery coupled with government data to locate CAFOs precisely in hotspots around the nation.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

On April 23, the Environmental Working Group’s Rebecca Sutton, PhD, submitted a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency articulating EWG’s support for the Agency's proposed pollution controls. Her letter also urged the EPA to step up its efforts to combat one of the biggest threats to the bay — phosphorous and nitrogen runoff from agriculture — as it goes forward with regulatory and enforcement strategies.

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