Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) typically consist of beef or dairy cattle, pigs or poultry, and are currently defined as having at least 1,000 cattle or comparable “animal units”. According to the EPA, CAFOs contribute to the 60% of the river pollution which comes from all types of agricultural runoff, though only an estimated 2,500 operations have enforceable permits under the Clean Water Act.

The EPA is proposing that a greater number of intensive farming operations should fall into the remit of the Act through a redefinition of CAFOs. One proposed definition could include livestock facilities with more than 500 cattle or other animal units. The other proposal would require operations with 300-1000 cattle to have a permit if they meet certain risk-based conditions.

“Wastes from large factory farms are among the greatest threats to our nation’s waters and drinking water supplies,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water, J Charles Fox. “Today, EPA is taking action to protect public health and the environment by significantly controlling pollution from animal feeding operations.”

On top of the stricter definition of CAFOs, the EPA proposal also includes:

  • a requirement for poultry, veal, and swine operations to prevent all discharges from their waste storage pits and lagoons;
  • an elimination of potential exemptions from permits presently used in some states, so that all large livestock operations will have to acquire permits;
  • the issuing of co-permits by states and the EPA, for corporations and contract growers to ensure financial resources exist to meet environmental requirements;
  • a limit on the spreading of manure on land owned by livestock facilities in order to protect waterways.

The EPA will take public comment on the proposals for 120 days, and will hold public meetings around the country.

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