CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Animal Waste Management and the Environment:
Background for Current Issues
Updated April 26, 1999
Specialist in Environmental Policy
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Waste from animal agriculture is an increasingly prominent environmental quality issue. This
background report describes the livestock production industry today along with public health
and environmental concerns related to the industry. It summarizes policies and programs of
the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency and recent Clinton
Administration initiatives; state laws and programs concerning animal waste management; and
dialogues on problems and solutions initiated by some segments of this industry. The report
reviews congressional responses to the issues and outlines policy questions likely to shape
congressional action. It will be updated if there is major congressional action or if significant
new information becomes available.
Animal Waste Management and the Environment:
Background for Current Issues
Waste from animal agriculture is an increasingly prominent environmental quality
issue. Animal waste, especially excessive nutrient concentrations, is being linked to
some environmental problems, especially water pollution The growing number of
sites where degradation related to animal waste has been reported has focused
attention on this problem and led to discussions of possible responses. Three
dimensions make this a complicated challenge for policy makers.
One dimension revolves around both the prevalence of concentrating very large
numbers of animals at farm sites (rather than out in pastures) with greater
concentration of wastes, and industrialization where producers raise animals under
contract. These changes contribute to a perception by many that such large scale
agriculture is increasingly like any other business, and should be regulated in similar
ways to protect public health, especially at the larger facilities. The environmental
quality questions also include what to do with waste from smaller farm operations that
are not regulated under current federal law, and how to address other waste problems,
such as air emissions and odor, that are not currently regulated under federal laws.
A second dimension is the role of government, if any, in responding to the animal
waste management problem. One aspect of these choices is whether the federal
government should build on the regulatory approach of the Clean Water Act and
other environmental protection laws, or rely on agriculture programs that are based
on voluntary participation and incentives to attract participation with local delivery
systems providing technical assistance, cost-sharing, and education. Ongoing efforts
by the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Agriculture are merging
aspects of both approaches, but many stakeholders remain cautious about these
efforts. A second aspect is determining the federal role as states (and localities)
continue to enact legislation and implement an expanding array of laws and programs.
A third dimension is the role of information about many aspects of animal waste.
On the one hand, a lack of technical information about these complicated problems
and relationships limits discussions of effective responses. At the same time, forces
that oppose agricultural concentration and industrialization for social, philosophical,
or other reasons are using the environmental debates as an avenue for raising their
Numerous responses are underway and others are being considered.
Environmental protection advocates who cite possible threats to water quality and
human health have been joined by others with rural social and economic concerns in
pressing for action. Supporters of large-scale commercial agriculture caution that
actions should proceed carefully to avoid needless regulations, higher food costs, and
other adverse effects on individual agricultural enterprises. Congress has held
hearings, briefings, and information sessions on this topic. In the 105th Congress, two
legislative proposals were introduced, but neither bill was enacted. Congressional
attention to these issues in the 106th Congress is possible, especially in connection
with recent Clinton Administration initiatives.
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Animal Agriculture and Its Waste . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
Overview of Animal Agriculture: Status and Trends . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
Concentration and geographic location . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
Vertical integration and market change . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
Waste from Animal Agriculture . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
Manure as an agricultural asset . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Waste disposal options . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
Disposal problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
Public Health and Environmental Concerns: Water Quality . . . . . . . . . . . 13
Federal Programs and Activities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
Programs for Animal Waste at USDA . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
Animal Feeding Operations and the Clean Water Act . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
Problems with CAFO regulation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
Recent Initiatives under the Clean Water Action Plan: The National Animal
Feeding Operations (AFO) Strategy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
The final strategy vs. the draft . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
Reactions and response to the strategy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
State Programs and Legislative Activity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
State Laws and Programs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
State Legislative Activity on Animal Waste Issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Moratorium proposals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
State versus local control . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Regulatory proposals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Recent Livestock Industry Activities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37
Congressional Response . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
105th Congress . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Administration and interest group views . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
106th Congress issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Conclusion: Policy Questions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42
List of Boxes
Farm Runoff in California . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Animal Agriculture and Odor Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Swine Operations in Iowa . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
North Carolina's Experience . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Maryland Debates Animal Waste Impacts on Its Waters . . . . . . . . . . .
List of Tables
Table 1. Per Capita Annual Consumption of Meat, By Major Type . . . . . . . . . . 6
Table 2. Manure Produced by Livestock . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Table 3: Number of Counties where Nutrients Available from Manure
Exceed 100% of Crop System Need . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Animal Waste Management and the
Environment: Background for Current Issues
Managing the environmental effects of intensive animal rearing and feeding
operations has long been a problem confronting the livestock industry. These
facilities, which include confined feeding operations and feedlots, are a specialized
part of the livestock production process, largely separate from cropland agriculture.
In recent years, manure and waste-handling and disposal problems from intensive
animal production have begun to receive attention as these facilities increase in size
and the effects of these problems reach beyond the industry to affect others.
A number of forces are at work on this segment of agriculture. These include
changes in the livestock industries themselves -- especially concentration of animals
in larger facilities, because of cost and production quality advantages. The presence
of these types of facilities has led, in some cases, to conflicts between farm operators
and their neighbors over such issues as corporate farming, odors, and air and water
The U.S. population of animals in livestock production being raised to feed
Americans and other consumers worldwide is very large. The inventory in the most
recently published agricultural census, collected in 1992, included over 77 million
cattle and calves, about 60 million swine, and almost 1 billion broilers. Waste
produced by these animals is a valuable soil amendment and source of nitrogen,
phosphorus, and other crop nutrients, when applied to land in proper amounts (the
traditional waste management approach). But, if not properly used or disposed, or
if applied in amounts that exceed plant needs, animal waste or its residuals can leach
through soil to contaminate ground water or can be transported by runoff to pollute
lakes and streams. Thus, as animal production has intensified and concentrated more
animals on individual farms, a growing challenge for agriculture is finding sufficient
land to dispose of manure, or finding economic alternatives, especially if the supply
of land for disposal is insufficient. The parallel challenge for policymakers is
determining if the environmental impacts of animal waste management are significant
enough to require new remedies and, if so, what strategies are appropriate.
In particular, crop and animal agricultural contributions to water quality
problems are receiving more focused attention from some groups and from
policymakers. For 25 years, the nation has been implementing federal law, the Clean
Water Act, to improve the quality of streams, lakes, and estuaries. Throughout that
time, considerable progress has been made in controlling pollution from the largest,
identifiable industrial and municipal sources. Nevertheless, recent reports by state
environmental agencies indicate that 40% of the nation's rivers and streams assessed
by states (which are only a small portion of all waters) fail to meet applicable water
quality standards. The largest category of sources now degrading water quality is
crop and animal pollution which contributes to the degradation of 60% of the assessed
waterways that are impaired.1
Most segments of agriculture have been exempt from Clean Water Act
regulation. Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are not exempt, but
regulating them and enforcing compliance was not a high priority for federal or state
environmental officials until recently. While there is growing recognition of the need
to implement current law more effectively and perhaps develop new strategies
concerning agriculture's impact on water quality, such policies are resisted by those
who object to expanding environmental regulations and potential costs.
Some interests of agricultural and environmental policy have been coming
together for over a decade, but the process has been a bumpy one. Agricultural and
environmental groups can have trouble communicating with each other because of
differing perceptions about what the problems are and how to view them, differing
concepts of environmental quality and responsibilities to maintain that quality, as well
as differing institutional perspectives.2 The agendas of these groups do not often
coincide. Environmentalists have focused on the various ways that agriculture affects
environmental quality, beyond soil erosion, while agriculturalists worry about how
much response to expanding environmental concerns is enough and whether
responding to environmental concerns threatens the ability of producers to maintain
earnings. However, representatives of both sides now find more common ground
than they did a decade ago.
This report provides background for the current policy debate about animal
waste management. It describes the livestock production industry today and public
health and environmental concerns related to the industry. It summarizes policies and
programs of the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency
and recent Clinton Administration initiatives; state programs concerning animal waste
management and recent state legislative activity; and dialogues on problems and
solutions initiated by some segments of this industry. Finally, it discusses
congressional responses to the issues and outlines policy questions likely to shape
Three points are important themes that emerge from the discussion in this report.
First, the bulk of current policy debate on animal waste issues, both legislative and
regulatory, is occurring in states, and that activity is vigorous and multi-faceted.
Federal attention followed more recently. Second, dimensions of animal waste
problems and solutions (technical and policy) are highly site-specific, which leads to
many questions about balancing roles of government, where broad policies are set,
and the importance of flexibility in policies and programs. Third, recent national
attention to these issues reflects some increase in cooperation between agricultural
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Office of Water. National Water Quality
Inventory: 1996 Report to Congress. April 1998. EPA841-R-97-008. 570 p. For
information, see: [http://www.epa.gov/305b/].
Zinn, Jeffrey and John Blodgett. "Agriculture meets the environment: communicating
perspectives." Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, v. 49, no. 2 (1994): 136-143.
interests and others outside of it concerning agricultural and environmental issues,
compared with relations of these groups in the recent past.
Besides waste management, several other issues related to animal agriculture
currently are of interest to the public and policymakers. These include meat and
poultry inspection requirements; animal health and welfare concerns ranging from
animal diseases to humane treatment of farm animals (such as production practices
that animal rights activists consider cruel or dangerous to animals) to animal testing
for medical research to human health impacts of hormones and antibiotics in livestock;
and social issues (such as impacts of corporate farming and industrialization on
traditional family farms and demographic changes in rural areas where residential
development becomes a neighbor to agriculture).3 Discussion of these topics is
beyond the scope of this report, but their outcomes, like decisions that address waste
management issues, could affect animal agriculture operations in the future.
Animal Agriculture and Its Waste
Overview of Animal Agriculture: Status and Trends
Livestock includes cattle (beef, dairy and veal), swine (hogs and pigs), poultry
(chicken and turkeys), and sheep and lambs. Livestock is a large component of the
farm economy; cash receipts to the livestock sector in 1997 and 1998 were $93 billion
each year, nearly half of the slightly more than $200 billion for all of agriculture.4 The
populations of animals are very large. The 1992 Census of Agriculture counted over
77 million cattle and calves, about 60 million swine, and almost 1 billion broilers, for
example.5 The inventory of each type of animal gradually shifts in response to
changing market conditions and consumer preferences. Changes in geographic
location of these animals and how they are raised reflect economic considerations,
business relationships, and changing technology. These changes have contributed to
low food protein prices and led to increasing concerns about several topics, including
Concentration and geographic location. Livestock production continues to
have fewer producers operating at fewer sites. Such concentration offers economies
of scale, and depends increasingly on modern technologies and better information.
This increasing concentration started first in the poultry industry about 40 years ago,
See: "Animal Agriculture: Issues for the 106th Congress," CRS Issue Brief IB10021.
USDA, Economic Research Service. “Key statistical indicators of the food and fiber sector.”
Agricultural Outlook. March 1999: 33.
Two sets of numbers are used to describe herd size. The numbers cited above are examples
of the inventory, the number of animals at any one time. The Census of Agriculture measures
the inventory every 5 years, and USDA’s National Agriculture Statistics Service uses
different techniques to measures it four times each year. A second way to show herd size is
to list the number of animals marketed annually. When the animal’s life cycle is less than a
year, the numbers are larger than the total number of animals. In each year recently, using
this measure, about 100 million swine and about 7.5 billion broilers were marketed.
and more recently has been occurring at different rates for all other types of livestock.
However, these changes are not uniform across the country; growth is occurring in
some states while decline is evident in others.6 Geographic changes in the swine
industry are the most dramatic and are in the limelight today. During the 5-year
period between 1989 and 1994, swine production grew by 111% in North Carolina,
while it declined by 31% in Ohio and by between 10% and 14% in Michigan, Kansas,
and Wisconsin.7 Since 1994, significant changes reportedly have continued.
The swine inventory stands at around 60 million, and this figure has climbed
about 18% over the past decade.8 During the same period, the number of swine
farms dropped by 72%. The largest farms have grown larger, so that now, less than
1% of farms (with at least 2,000 animals) account for 43% of the inventory. All farms
with an inventory of at least 1,000 head are less than 3% of the farms, but 60% of the
swine are produced on them. The remaining 97% of the farms (raising fewer than
1,000 head) produce only 40% of the inventory. Perhaps more important, states with
rapid growth in overall herd size have higher portions of their herds in very large
operations. For example, almost 80% of swine sales in North Carolina, South
Carolina, and Virginia are from operations with at least 5,000 head, compared to only
16% of sales in traditional producing areas.9
The concentration process has been similar for cattle feed operations, which are
now centered in the Great Plains. In the top 13 producing states, the number of
feedlots has declined by 75% during the past two decades, and the remaining ones
have grown larger. The largest feedlots, which number about 70, each have at least
32,000 head. About 90% of the marketed cattle come from only 5% of the feedlots.
Very large feedlots have become more common in Kansas, Nebraska, and Texas.
Dairy has undergone a similar shift, although the numbers are less dramatic.
Production has grown fastest in the southern and western states, where larger herds
with more than 200 animals are common. In these states, herds with more than 200
cows account for about 90% of all milk production and about one-third of the total
dairy cow inventory. In more traditional producing areas, such as the upper Midwest,
herds with more than 200 cows account for less than 10% of production. Overall, the
See: U.S. General Accounting Office. Animal Agriculture: Information on Waste
Management and Water Quality Issues. GAO/RCED-95-200BR. June 1995. This GAO
report contains a series of maps and brief narratives which show changes in the top 10
producing states, and the percent of the national inventory, for types of livestock in differing
time spans between the mid 1970s and early 1990s.
Charles Mahtesian. “Battling boss hog.” Governing. Vol. 9, April 1996: 32.
USDA, Economic Research Service. “Livestock manure: foe or fertilizer?” Agricultural
Outlook. June 1996: 31. Unless otherwise noted, the data on changes in the components of
the livestock sector are taken from this overview.
In his testimony before the Senate Agriculture Committee on April 2, 1998, EPA Assistant
Administrator Robert Perciasepe cited Census of Agriculture data showing that between 1982
and 1992 the average number of swine per swine farm increased by 578% in North Carolina,
by 271% in Arkansas, and by 202% in California and Virginia, while the number of swine
farms in those states declined by 62%, 50%, 54%, and 71% respectively.
number of dairy farms has dropped over the past decade by 100,000 (to 150,000
total), while the average herd size has increased by more than 50%.
Concentration of livestock production occurred first with poultry, and it is now
the most concentrated segment. Broiler production nearly tripled between 1969 and
1992, while the number of farms with broiler houses dropped by 35%, according to
data compiled by the Senate Agriculture Committee minority staff.10 Firms with more
than 100,000 broilers accounted for 70% of all sales in 1975, but now account for
more than 97% of all sales.
Vertical integration and market change. Growing concentration is an
important part of broader changes in business relationships and marketing in the
livestock sector, which are often referred to as industrialization. Another important
part of industrialization is vertical integration, as farmers enter contracts with
processors, or integrators. Under these contracts, which can vary widely, producers
raise the livestock while integrators actually own the animals, assume marketing risks,
and usually provide medicine, feed and technical expertise, as well. In these
relationships, the producer usually owns the waste. Generally, vertical integration
has increased the volume and certainty of supply and improved the market
characteristics of the livestock. Producers forgo the risks and uncertainties of the
marketplace by becoming contract growers, and as more production comes within
these types of relationships, marketing opportunities may decline for those who do not
choose or are unable to participate. In economic terms, efficiencies are gained for
both producers and integrators at the expense of non-participants.
The degree of integration varies within the livestock sector. Poultry has been
fully integrated, and poultry producers have no real options to being contractors.
Swine gets much of the attention in discussions of industrialization, but it is widely
believed that about 20% of the production currently is under a contract. However,
a recent survey by the National Pork Producers Council found that almost 65% of all
hogs slaughtered in January 1999 were sold through contracts or some other type of
prearranged marketing agreement rather than for a cash price.11 The portion sold
under contract for swine, as for all livestock sectors, is growing. At the same time,
the number of processors that producers can contract with has been shrinking. In the
swine sector, the four largest packers share of the hog slaughter grew to 54% in 1997,
up from 32% in 1980. Change is occurring even more rapidly in the cattle sector,
where the four largest beef packers accounted for 80% of all cattle slaughtered in
1997, which was more than double the 37% in 1980.
Critics and some experts say that these changes have broader community and
social costs that are undesirable. This vigorous debate is explored in animal
agriculture, as well as many other agricultural topics. For example, larger and newer
animal operations are typically characterized as more efficient and less labor intensive.
A University of Missouri Extension Service study was reported to have concluded
Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Minority Staff. Animal Waste
Pollution in America: An Emerging National Problem. Dec. 1997.
Results of survey reported in The Food and Fiber Letter, Sparks Companies, Inc.
29, 1999: 4.
that traditional independent swine producers create three times as many local jobs as
the larger corporate operations. A study from Virginia Polytechnic Institute
compared the economic impact of raising 5,000 swine in two types of enterprises and
found that independent farmers produce 10% more jobs, 20% more local retail
spending, and 37% more local per capita income.12 Many opponents of
industrialization worry that, when these changes occur, even greater problems may
be associated with social disruptions than with local economic losses.
Markets are changing as well. Total meat consumption per capita (excluding
fish, veal, and lamb) has declined during the past two decades, from more than 189
pounds in 1975 to more than 174 pounds in 1997. But the mix has changed
considerably, with a decline in beef being countered by an increase in poultry, as
shown in the table below.
Table 1. Per Capita Annual Consumption of Meat, By Major Type
Source: USDA, Economic Research Service, National Food Situation, March 1977, and
Agricultural Outlook, March 1999.
The overall livestock sector has grown in this decade, in part to serve expanding
demand for protein in a more affluent world. For example, the U.S. has become the
largest beef-exporting nation in the world, with between 16% and 20% of world trade
in recent years. A decade ago, in 1988, the United States exported under 3% of the
domestic beef production, but by 1998, that portion had risen to 7.5%, and is forecast
to rise to 8.3% in 1999. Swine trade is similar, growing by an annual average of 4%
between 1989 and 1997; the United States now accounts for almost 20% of the
world’s pork exports. In FY1998, meat exports were valued at just over $7 billion,
with poultry accounting for more than $3 billion of that total. But meat exports were
only about one-eighth of the $55 billion in agricultural exports in FY1997.13
Waste from Animal Agriculture
Animal wastes are predominately solid and liquid manures, although they also
include used bedding, spilled feed, dead animals, and a variety of other substances.
Both studies are cited in: American Planning Association. Zoning News. Oct. 1996: 1-4.
These data are from: Congressional Research Service. U.S. Agricultural Trade: Trends,
Composition, Direction, and Policy. [by Charles Hanrahan and Mary Dunkley], March 1998.
CRS Report 98-253. 73 p.
Manure production is estimated to be almost 112 million tons (dry matter) annually.14
Production varies not only with the animal type, but also with such factors as feed
ration, health, animal age, and climate. Trends in the livestock sector such as
increased animal confinement (rather than pasturing) and improved feeds have
increased the amount of manure produced per animal and changed the composition.
The larger volume per animal combined with concentration of more animals at a site
compounds storage and disposal difficulties for the farmer. Retention and disposal
of manure is the basis of many animal agriculture conflicts.
Animal waste contains nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
Nutrients can be valuable for crops, but they can cause water quality problems
because of their oxygen-demanding characteristics. Waste can also contain organic
solids, trace heavy metals, salts, bacteria, viruses, other microorganisms, and
sediments. While effects on water quality have received most of the attention, there
is growing interest in airborne transportation and deposition of pollutants as well.
Nutrients have been the focus of interest, as interested parties argue about the benefits
they can provide and the environmental problems they can cause.
Animal types, equalized by weight, yield different volumes of manure and
different amounts of nutrients. The NRCS has estimated the amount of manure
produced on an animal unit equivalent basis for various livestock sectors, as well as
the nutrient content of that manure (see Table 2). This comparison shows that the
waste management challenges are not the same for all types of livestock.
Table 2. Manure Produced by Livestock (lbs per day/1000 lb animal unit)
Source: NRCS/RCA Issue Brief 7. Animal Manure Management. Dec. 1995.
Volumes of animal waste are substantial. Estimates indicate that U.S. animal
waste production in 1992 was 13 times greater (on a dry-weight basis) than human
Council for Agricultural Science and Technology. Integrated Animal Waste Management.
Task Force Report no. 128, Nov. 1996: 17.
sanitary waste production.15 Comparisons of human community equivalents with the
waste that herds or flocks of animals produce are illustrative. For example, the
manure produced by a dairy milking 200 cows contains as much nitrogen as the
sewage of a community with 5,000 to 10,000 residents, or the litter removed annually
from a broiler house with 22,000 birds contains as much phosphorus as the sewage
from a community of 6,000 people, according to the USDA’s Natural Resources
Conservation Service (NRCS).16
Considerable disagreement exists over how to characterize the volume of animal
waste in human terms. For example, in congressional testimony in 1998, the National
Pork Producers Council stated that cattle, swine, and poultry feeding operations
produce the equivalent of about 700 pounds of collectable manure per person per
year, and contrasted that figure with other estimates of up to 10,000 pounds per
person. For every pound of nitrogen produced by pigs, the Council said, 2 pounds are
piped into surface waters by public and industrial waste water treatment facilities, and
4 pounds are released into the atmosphere, primarily by internal combustion engines.17
This is one of many areas in the animal waste management debate where various
interests use different data to measure conditions.
From origin to disposal, farmers may manage manure and related wastes in many
different ways, depending on the characteristics of the farm operation and the physical
conditions of the farm. Waste management systems usually include several
components. Manure may be collected at temporary storage facilities until it can be
treated or utilized. Common storage facilities include stacks, ponds, and tanks.
Waste may be treated in many ways to convert it to a more useful resource, usually
by concentrating the beneficial constituents and decreasing the total volume.
Lagoons are the most common holding facility. In an open lagoon, the manure
undergoes continuous anaerobic decomposition and nitrogen is released into the air
while most of the phosphorous settles to the bottom. Operational failure of lagoons
and the resulting waste spills have brought much of the recent critical attention to
animal agriculture, and some have called for phasing out lagoons. In addition, the
waste collected in lagoons has limited value as fertilizer if the cost to apply it exceeds
the value of the nutrients.
Other types of holding and treatment facilities include composters, solid
separators, and settling basins. Holding capacities of storage and treatment facilities
are recommended based on the estimated time period the anticipated volume of waste
may have to be retained. For example, waste should not be spread while the ground
is frozen, or it will be washed into surface waters, so farms in locations where winters
are long need a greater storage capacity. The management process ends when the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "Executive Summary, Feedlots Point Source
Category Study, Preliminary Data Summary." Dec. 31, 1998: 14.
Natural Resources Conservation Service. Animal Manure Management. NRCS/RCA Issue
Brief 7, Dec. 1995. No pagination.
Testimony of Jim Moseley, Representing the National Pork Producers Council before the
Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, April 2, 1998: 7.
waste is transferred and used. The most common use, by far, is to spread it across the
farm fields as a soil amendment and a nutrient supplement. How it is spread may have
important environmental implications; for example, spray irrigation has been
associated with environmental problems in some situations, while cultivation into the
soil generally minimizes the potential for such problems.
Not all the manure produced by livestock can be collected so that its disposal can
be managed. The 1996 Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST)
study estimates that almost 62 million tons, 55% of the total, can be collected. Much
of the remainder is directly deposited in range and pastures. In discussing possible
environmental harm from livestock wastes, whether the magnitude of the problem
should be based on the total amount produced, or just the amount that is collectable,
is subject to dispute. Some in industry say that collectable amounts are most
important, since waste at confined feeding operations is collectable, and farmers can
manage the disposal of these wastes to lessen environmental impact. Others say that
all waste, including that which is deposited on pastureland, has potential for
Manure as an agricultural asset. Manure can be a valuable asset for
agriculture, generally as a supplement to or partial substitute for commercial
fertilizers. This value can best be determined when manure is considered in the
broader context of overall nutrient management. Manure nutrient values, however,
vary considerably and any supply of manure must be assessed for determining
application rates. Commercial chemical fertilizer, by contrast, has consistent content,
with that information supplied by the manufacturer. Also, nutrients from manure are
not all immediately available. Guidelines on the rate of release have been developed
for nitrogen, based on the source and form of the manure. NRCS (and probably
others) has developed national design standards for many aspects of managing
manure, and state regulations are being developed and implemented in a growing
number of locations as well (see discussion below of State Programs and Legislative
A better way to view manure is as a soil amendment that improves many of the
physical and chemical properties, as well as the nutrient values, of soil by adding
organic material and improving soil structure and the ability to hold water and retain
nutrients. These benefits are of considerable value. CAST reported in 1996 that
animal waste can supply an average of 15% of the nitrogen and 42% of the
phosphorus needed by crops. The study states that the total potential value of manure
as fertilizer approaches $3.4 billion annually. This figure does not include the
economic benefits of improved soil quality, decreased runoff and soil erosion
potential, and improved soil moisture, or offsetting costs associated with processing,
transportation, and management.
Waste disposal options. Many options exist for disposing of animal waste, but
spreading has always been and remains the preferred option throughout the farm
community. If all the collectable animal waste could be added evenly to all farmland
to help meet crop nutrient requirements, there would be no waste disposal problem.
An analogy is rainfall--if the total volume of rain fell equally across the country and
evenly throughout the year, supplies would exceed demand. Because it does not, the
country has developed extensive public works projects to hold and distribute water
in a volume and pattern that meets various demands.
Animal waste also accumulates unequally across the country, probably far more
unequally than rainfall. The NRCS explored this disparity in a recent study that used
simulations to examine “the degree to which nutrients in manure from confined
livestock operations could potentially satisfy crop nutrient requirements” if all manure
was used on crops. The study, which assumed that nutrients were spread in
acceptable manner on available land, compared crop nutrient uptake and removal with
nutrients available from manure in each of the 3,056 counties in the contiguous United
States for three crop systems. Results are shown in Table 3.
Table 3: Number of Counties where Nutrients Available from Manure
Exceed 100% of Crop System Need
Non legume crops and hay
Non legume crops and hay, and pasture
Non legume and legume crops and hay, and pasture
Source: NRCS. Nutrients Available from Livestock Manure Relative to Crop Growth
Requirements. February, 1998, 8 p. plus maps and appendices. Resource Assessment and Strategic
Planning Working Paper 98-1.
Alternatives for disposing of manure other than by land application are receiving
increased attention. Many of these options have some promise in some situations, but
none can be viewed as a “silver bullet” that can solve most problems in most
locations. Many have large initial investment costs. The constituents and moisture
content of the manure are important qualities in determining which disposal
techniques to use. Shipping costs constrain many options because manure is of low
economic value on a volume or weight basis, so it is uneconomic to ship it long
distances unless it can be concentrated so as to decrease the volume or increase the
value. Scientists have looked at ways to increase the value, while economists have
prepared scenarios of the maximum shipping distances, given more specific
Options under study include composting, burning, and biotech changes to feed
that alter the characteristics of the waste.19 Composting uses microorganisms to turn
On February 25, 1999 Perdue, the largest poultry producer in Maryland, announced that it
would be developing a facility to turn as much as 120,000 tons of poultry litter into fertilizer
pellets annually. The project, which will cost between $5 and $6 million, was characterized
by Purdue as an effort to give farmers an alternative means of disposal. Washington Post,
February 25, 1999, p. B1 and B5.
Information in this paragraph is taken largely from presentations at a forum on phosphorus
and water quality in November 1997, convened by Representatives Wayne Gilchrest and
Charlie Stenholm. These options were discussed in the context of poultry waste, and its
wastes into relatively stable and odorless material that can be used or sold as a soil
amendment. Burning can be used to generate energy, but there are limitations. For
example, one ton of poultry litter contains about the same amount of energy as 80
gallons of home heating oil, but has the same volume as about 500 gallons. The
residue of burned manure is about 10% of the original volume, and contains little of
the original nitrogen and sulfur but most of the phosphorus that was initially present.
A biochemical change that has received considerable attention is adding phytase (an
enzyme) to feed. Some, but not all studies have shown that it removes 25% to 40%
of the phosphorus and 10% of the nitrogen excreted by causing the animals to use
nutrients more efficiently. Further, the nitrogen is volatilized and lost to the
atmosphere, but it may be redeposited elsewhere. (See discussion of atmospheric
deposition on page 15.) Phytase does have a cost and must be added to feed. Still
other options include converting the waste to fuel and energy, using industrial
processes to convert the waste to other useful products, and using it as a feed
There are some significant success stories of manure management on farms for
many of the options to using manure as a soil amendment. Ideas that go beyond these
successes for managing animal wastes abound; examples that have been publicized
recently are based on using duck weed or zebra mussels. But each approach is hard
to apply widely because of some combination of physical limitations, high costs, lack
of knowledge or management skills by the producer, unfamiliar or untested
technologies, and a host of other factors. The costs and difficulties of storing and
handling may be the most common constraints for these options.
Disposal problems. Even when farmers control adequate land, proper disposal
in ways that will benefit crops and not harm the environment can still be a problem.
The manure must be assessed for its nutrient value, then transported to the site, and
spread at the proper amounts and at the proper time; each of these steps is an expense
for farmers. (If these steps are not taken, any harm that results to the environment has
costs, but mainly for the affected public and not necessarily for the individual
farmers.) Inherent in these activities is a proper understanding of the value of manure.
This understanding can reduce the risk of contaminating surface and ground water.
Producers usually determine application rates based on crop needs for nitrogen.
But if application rates supply the needed nitrogen, in some instances the amount of
phosphorus or potassium will be excessive for crop needs, especially after several
successive years of application. Phosphorus can build up over time in soil, and this
buildup is thought by some scientists to be a source of conditions that led to the
Pfiesteria problems in Chesapeake Bay. (See Box 5, page 36). The National
Research Council has stated that “the use of phosphorus as the criterion for
determining manure loading rates may be appropriate, particularly in regions
containing surface waters where accelerated eutrophication can occur.”20 This
possible contribution to Pfiesteria problems in some drainage areas along the eastern shore
of Chesapeake Bay.
National Research Council, Board on Agriculture. Soil and Water Quality: An Agenda for
criterion is recommended because phosphorus is the limiting nutrient in most fresh
The data from the NRCS study shown in Table 3 indicate there is the potential
for excessive nutrients in some locations. This report includes maps showing the
counties for each simulation. However, the analysis does not convey a precise picture
since county boundaries are not barriers to moving nutrients, nor is all cropland
available for manure disposal, nor are any of the separate crop systems used on all
cropland in any county. The definition of what is in excess will depend on the actual
crops grown. Also, this data set is a snapshot that does not indicate change over time.
An important conclusion of this study is that counties with a nitrogen excess have
excess phosphorus as well, while the reverse is not necessarily true. While these data
are about potential rather than actual nutrient amounts, and do not account for the
ways that nutrients might be managed or used in alternative ways, the analysis does
indicate where problems are most likely to arise. Those counties are largely
concentrated in the southern tier of states from the Carolinas to California, with a few
counties with excess phosphorus in the upper Midwest, western Nebraska, and
eastern Colorado -- a pattern that is similar to the distribution of animal inventories
and the largest farms.
Disposal has become more difficult for producers because of two converging
trends within the livestock industry: (1) operations are larger which means that there
is more waste at a single site; and (2) less land is under the control of these operators.
For example, the largest 1% of the beef feedlots produce 71% of the fed beef, but
control only 2% of the cropland on fed beef farms, while the smallest 92% of feedlots
produce only 10% of the total but control 75% of the cropland.21 These relationships
between herd size and available land suggest that many of the largest farms lack the
capacity to manage their manure on the land under their direct control. These
difficulties have been compounded by increased concerns about water quality and
other problems that may originate with intense and concentrated livestock farms.
Livestock waste problems have led to some stricter state environmental
regulations and the threat of more to come. Agricultural interests argue that these
should be unnecessary because it is in the farmers’ own interest to maintain a healthy
environment. They also argue that the largest farms should have the capital and
knowledge to effectively adopt appropriate waste management technologies. But
operators of smaller farms, though likely to pose smaller problems individually (but
not necessarily cumulatively), may be less likely to have the knowledge and the
capital, and at least one analyst has argued that federal farm program assistance
should be targeted to help this segment of the farm population. According to a recent
review of the livestock sector in Agricultural Outlook, evidence suggests livestock
producers have improved their environmental protection efforts. Based on
experiences in North Carolina, where concentration has occurred rapidly, a large
Agriculture. (1993): 407.
Letson, David and Noel Gollehon. “Confined animal production and the manure problem."
Choices. Third Quarter, 1996: 19.
portion of violations were found to occur on smaller livestock operations.22 An
explanation for such a pattern of violations is probably tied to some combination of
economic opportunities, management skills, knowledge and training, and age and
condition of facilities.
Manure management problems appear less substantial in this country than in
some parts of Europe, especially the low countries. The process of recognition and
response there merits review for possible lessons as the United States tries to explore
options for addressing this problem. For example, the Netherlands has taken
aggressive action to address manure management.23 Phosphorus saturation is
generally believed to be the most serious problem. Programs to stabilize manure
production and application started in 1987, and since 1991, manure application rates
have been declining. The Dutch policy goal is to reach an equilibrium fertilization rate
by 2010, when the supply of nutrients from manure plus fertilizer are to be in balance
with crop utilization and other losses. Programs designed for the characteristics of
each region are important to this effort. Legislation that would impose fines on
farmers for excess nutrient levels in the soil was being considered as this article was
being prepared, and the authors of the article concluded that most producers would
rather pay the fines for small exceedances rather than risk lowering their crop
Public Health and Environmental Concerns: Water Quality
According to limited data submitted by states and compiled by the Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA), agriculture is now the leading source of water quality
impairments in United States rivers and lakes, affecting 70% of impaired river miles
and 48% of impaired lake acres. In estuaries, agriculture affects nearly 30% of
impaired acres.24 In 22 states that specifically assessed impacts of agricultural
activities on rivers and streams, animal operations (feedlots and animal holding areas)
were estimated to be the principal pollutant source in 20% of waters impaired by
agricultural practices, impacting 35,000 river miles; overall, they were the third
leading agricultural source affecting water quality, after nonirrigated crop production
and irrigated crop production.25
USDA, Economic Research Service. “Livestock manure: foe or fertilizer.” Agricultural
Outlook. June 1996: 35.
Information in this paragraph is summarized from: Van der Molen, Diederik T., Auke
Breeuwsma and Paul C. Boers. “Agricultural nutrient losses to surface waters in the
Netherlands: impact, strategies, and perspectives.” Journal of Environmental Quality. Vol
27 (1998): 4-11.
National Water Quality Inventory: 1996 Report to Congress. These water quality data are
limited, because they represent only conditions in waters assessed by states but do not include
all water bodies. For this report, states surveyed 19% of river miles, 40% of lake acres, and
72% of estuaries. Nevertheless, EPA believes that the data point to a major, continuing water
pollution problem coming from agricultural sources of all types — crop and pastureland,
rangeland and concentrated animal operations. The data should be used with caution.
Statement of Michael Cook, U.S. EPA. In: U.S. Congress. Committee on Agriculture.
Animal feeding operations
Box 1. Farm Runoff in California
have been shown to cause
significant environmental and
In California, a 50-square-mile area of western
San Bernardino and Riverside counties is home
including nutrient enrichment of
to 300,000 dairy cows. At 6,000 cows per
surface and ground waters,
square mile, the area has the nation's densest
contamination of drinking water
concentration of dairy cows. During severe
supplies, fish kills, and odors.
rain storms, manure and water flow off the
Animal waste, if not properly
farms and travel down the Santa Ana River.
managed, can be transported by
Higher than normal runoff from El Niño storms
water over the surface of
in 1998 (estimated to be the worst in 25 years)
agricultural land to nearby lakes
reportedly resulted in fish kills in lakes fed by
the Santa Ana River, as well as elevated nitrate
nutrients in animal waste can
levels both in surface and ground waters.
reduce the oxygen content of
Officials in nearby Orange County were
the water, leading to algae
concerned that farm runoff would elevate
blooms, fish kills, and threats to
nitrate levels in ground water above federal
other wildlife. Solids deposited
health standards. (Source: McCarthy, Jack.
in water bodies can accelerate
"Manure Flow Raises Worry." The Presseutrophication by releasing
Enterprise, Riverside, CA. Apr. 18, 1998: B3.)
nutrients over extended periods.
Leaching from manure storage
lagoons and percolation through the soil of fields when animal waste is applied has
resulted in nutrient contamination of groundwater resources, and also can contribute
to surface water pollution through subsurface groundwater recharge of lakes and
Although animal waste is not the only source of pathogens in surface waters, it
has been responsible for shellfish contamination in some coastal waters. Closure of
shellfish beds and recreational beaches can be necessitated by high fecal coliform
counts, both from animal waste runoff and discharge of improperly treated sewage.
Some animal diseases also can be transmitted to humans through contact with animal
feces. Concern about the health effects of growing antibiotic resistence, fostered in
part by widespread use of drugs in animal agriculture, is starting to attract more
Catastrophic events, such as spills from livestock waste lagoons, have occurred
in nearly every state; one of the most famous was in North Carolina in 1995. (See
Box 4, page 34) An incident of fish kills that occurred in Maryland coastal waters
in 1997 was attributed by some scientists, at least in part, to nutrients in poultry
Subcommittee on Forestry, Resource Conservation, and Research and Subcommittee on
Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry. "Activities of the Environmental Protection Agency Related
to Livestock Feeding Operations." Joint Hearing, 105th Congress, 2d Session. May 13, 1998:
60. Serial No. 105-50.
Committee on Drug Use in Food Animals, Board on Agriculture and Food and Nutrition
Board. The Use of Drugs in Food Animals: Benefits and Risks. Washington, D.C., National
Research Council, 1999. 210 p.
wastes discharged into the affected waters that stimulated a toxic microbe, Pfiesteria
piscicida. (See Box 5, page 36).27
Atmospheric deposition of nitrogen from animal operations is also an
environmental concern. This occurs when nitrogen in liquid waste is volatilized as
ammonia nitrogen (NH3) from anaerobic (oxygen-deprived) lagoons, causing
ammonia to evaporate. Volatilization also occurs after land application. Once in the
atmosphere, it is converted to forms which are redeposited within 50-100 miles on
land or in surface waters. These forms of nitrogen are water-soluble, meaning the
nitrogen can adversely affect water quality much like nitrogen fertilizer if it enters a
stream as direct surface runoff. Data from some locations is beginning to demonstrate
the dimensions of this problem. For example, in North Carolina, where concentration
and numbers of livestock have increased dramatically, data indicate that ammonia
emissions in 1995 from swine operations, mainly in the southeast portion of the state,
were 50% of the state total of nitrogen oxides-nitrogen emissions from either point
sources or highway mobile sources.28
Box 2. Animal Agriculture and Odor Problems
Odor is the most controversial nuisance problem associated with feedlots.
Complaints about odor come from downwind neighbors, for the most part. Odors
emanating from livestock production are generally related to manure handling, but
other potential odor sources include wet feed and the decomposition of dead
animals. The odors consist of gases, such as ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, methane,
and organic compounds produced during decomposition of manure. Although
some of the gases are known to be harmful or toxic in large amounts, the principal
effect upon humans is annoyance or nuisance. The rules and regulations
controlling livestock odors and air emissions are based primarily on the concept of
nuisance, not the regulation of pollution per se under the Clean Air Act or other
federal environmental laws. Solutions to odor problems generally involve
setbacks, buffers, and other land use planning tools which are applied at state and
local levels. The pork industry, in particular, appears to be working aggressively
to address odor concerns.
Agricultural interests, when discussing public health and environmental concerns,
emphasize that most farmers are diligent stewards of the environment, since they, like
their neighbors, directly experience adverse impacts on water and air quality. Part of
the problem is perception. For example, odor that may bother neighbors who are not
involved in livestock agriculture may be viewed as an acceptable side effect (if
recognized at all) by livestock producers. Like their non-farming neighbors and critics
of animal agriculture operations, farm groups claim they are concerned with
For additional information, see CRS Report 97-1047, Pfiesteria and Related Harmful
Blooms: Natural Resource and Human Health Concerns.
Aneja, Viney P., George C. Murray, James Southerland. "Atmospheric nitrogen compounds:
emissions, transport, transformation, deposition, and assessment." EM, vol. 4, April 1998:
identifying operators — whether big or small — whose activities do not fully protect
existing resources. However, for many farmers, the loss of agricultural nutrients in
runoff (beyond nutrient amounts needed for crop production) is not a consideration
that they typically take into account in their operations. In part, this may occur if they
lack information about what amounts of nutrients (manure and fertilizer) are needed
by plants and thus may assume that using more is preferable to using less. Farmers
become concerned with off-site impacts which affect them economically, i.e., if the
farmer is fined for a spill or is forced to purchase equipment to manage manure.
Federal Programs and Activities
Programs for Animal Waste at USDA
Agriculture resource conservation programs are voluntary and rely on the
combination of education, technical assistance, and cost sharing payments to attract
participation. Little information is available, however, on the cost-effectiveness of
this approach -- whether owners of the lands and resources that could benefit most
are participating in these programs. This question of who participates was less of an
issue when conservation programs revolved around helping landowners to protect
their soil and water resources so that they could increase their productivity and
profits. But as these programs have expanded to address resource degradation and
off-site environmental problems, as well, non-agricultural interests have raised more
questions about program effectiveness in reaching the right land (and landowners) and
addressing the most pressing problems.
Agricultural interests contend that much is being accomplished, especially with
the shifts in policy in the 1996 farm bill (P.L. 104-127, the Federal Agricultural
Improvement and Reform Act of 1996; the FAIR Act), which have led to active State
Technical Committees and “locally led conservation” to help ensure that the most
pressing problems are identified locally and receive priority attention at a state level.
Decisions that were largely made in Washington about priority problems and priority
areas in which to concentrate program efforts are now being made at the state level,
based on local involvement and input from a wide range of agricultural and other
interests. But this system is less than 3 years old, and there are few results to report.
Until the 1996 farm bill was enacted, no conservation programs dealt explicitly
with animal waste management issues, although many were used to address some
kinds of problems that might originate with animal waste, especially water quality
problems. It is difficult to discern what portion of the extensive USDA water quality
protection effort can be tied back to addressing animal waste management questions,
or what those programs have accomplished. However, one review of conservation
spending for selected programs between FY92 and FY94 shows that $89 million (out
of more than $525 million) was provided in cost sharing assistance to farmers for
manure management, primarily to build animal waste containment structures.29
U.S. General Accounting Office. “Briefing section 5: USDA conservation programs
providing cost sharing assistance for animal waste management.” Animal Agriculture:
The 1996 farm bill created the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP).
EQIP is a mandatory spending program authorized to receive $200 million a year. It
is the only conservation program to explicitly identify meeting the needs of animal
agriculture as a stated program purpose. Half the EQIP funds are to address
problems associated with livestock production. The law directs the program to
maximize environmental benefits in the installation of structural and land management
practices per dollar expended. The funds provide assistance through a combination
of cost sharing (up to 75% of project costs), technical assistance, and education. A
plan is required to participate. Payments per contract are limited to $10,000 annually
and to $50,000 over the life of a contract (5 to 10 years). However, exceptions to the
annual limit may be granted. A majority of the funds (70% to 80%) are to be spent
in priority areas, which are identified by each state based on an assessment of their
most pressing conservation needs. This is a major change from older conservation
programs, where funds and technical assistance were made available more uniformly
across the country.
EQIP funds to be spent on livestock production favor smaller operations, as the
law prohibits cost share funds from being used for construction of animal waste
management facilities on “large farms.” Congress left the definition of large farms to
USDA, which chose to use the EPA definition of CAFOs (see pages 19-20), with
some flexibility for adjustment at the state level. The Department has estimated that
half the $100 million for animal issues annually ($50 million) will be spent on animal
waste management facilities, so this limitation applies to a significant component of
Final regulations for EQIP were released in May 1997. Initial contracts were
signed during the early fall of 1997. There is a very limited record of accomplishment
as yet based on an evaluation of activities in 12 states and 35 counties. However, the
program is meeting a demand; according to USDA, as producers sought almost three
times the available funds during FY1997, and in FY1998, only 36% of the
applications could be funded. The Clinton Administration has proposed increasing
annual funding to $300 million in its FY1999 and FY2000 budget submissions, but
the request has not included a statement about how specifically additional funds
would be spent. Congress rejected this increase in FY1999, instead reducing funding
to $174 million.
The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) is less directly tied to animal waste
management, but can be important in several ways. It is used to retire highly erodible
and environmentally sensitive lands from production for 10 years (or longer under
certain circumstances). Successful bidders receive annual rental payments, and also
cost sharing and technical assistance to plant conserving vegetation. The program has
an enrollment cap of 36.4 million acres (almost 10% of the country’s cropland) and
currently has more than 30 million acres enrolled. In general, producers bid to enter
the program during enrollment periods. Bids are compared using an environmental
benefits index that includes six variables to ensure the maximum environmental
Information on Waste Management and Water Quality Issues. GAO/RCED-95-200BR June
benefits for the funds expended. One of those is water quality, so animal waste
concerns may be addressed indirectly, for a few bidders, through the credit given
under this factor.
CRP has two sub-programs, or initiatives, that may be more helpful in addressing
animal waste issues. One is the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP)
where states can supplement the federal program with a more focused state effort that
provides more money per acre to participants. Maryland was the first state to have
a CREP approved, in the fall of 1997, to address Pfiesteria-related issues on the
state's eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay. CREPs have now been approved for
Minnesota, Illinois, New York, Oregon, Washington, and North Carolina. These
states are using this program to address a number of water quality concerns, including
restoration of fish habitat and reduction of nutrients and sediment inputs in
watersheds. Agreements also are being developed in several other states. The second
initiative would protect 2 million miles of water bodies using buffers by 2002. The
most recent data show that a total of about 765,000 acres has been enrolled under
both initiatives. These initiatives are intended to protect water quality from numerous
problem sources, including animal wastes.
USDA initiated a Water Quality Program in 1990, with three other federal
agencies (EPA and the Departments of the Interior and of Commerce), to promote
sound farm production practices and protect waters from contamination originating
with agriculture. Farm chemicals and waste products, which can include animal
wastes, have been the focus of this effort. Through 1996, an annual average of about
$100 million was being spent by several agencies at USDA on this initiative. It has
been implemented through demonstration and watershed projects that include
research, information, and assistance components. This is a recent effort that builds
on a long history of interest in water quality. In this and earlier efforts, animal waste
has not been a focus, but the nutrients from animal waste sometimes have been
considered. Some observations on this initiative, which generally supports the
traditional approaches for assisting farmers, were offered by the Economic Research
Service after examining these water quality programs.30
Voluntary programs are most likely to succeed where farmers recognize that
agriculture contributes to local water quality problems.
Voluntary programs are more likely to succeed where recommended alternative
practices are likely to produce economic benefits.
Cost-effectiveness is enhanced by targeting to and within watersheds.
Flexible cost share programs to support conservation practices are more efficient
than those with fixed rates or limited to few practices.
Better local information on economic and physical performance of recommended
practices increases acceptance and participation.
More attention to monitoring and project evaluation could help to improve these
USDA, Economic Research Service. “Chapter 6.2: water quality programs.” Agricultural
Resources and Environmental Indicators, 1996-97. (1997): 281-83.
USDA also has undertaken a number of activities to more specifically address
the animal waste issue. They build on past water quality initiatives, but do not appear
to reorient them. Many of these activities, such as reviewing nutrient management
policies and technical standards, working with EPA to develop a unified national
strategy for CAFOs, and participating in the National Environmental Dialogue on
Pork Production convened by America’s Clean Water Foundation have been
completed or have moved forward during the past year (see discussion on page 37)
USDA also established an Air Quality Task Force (as required by the 1996 farm
bill) and in 1998 signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with EPA to
coordinate efforts to address air quality issues. While animal agriculture is not
specifically mentioned in the MOU, several broad areas of cooperation are identified
in which animal agriculture is likely to play a role.
Animal Feeding Operations and the Clean Water Act
Much of agriculture is not directly subject to the Clean Water Act (CWA), the
federal law that governs the quality of United States rivers, lakes, estuaries, and
coastal waters. The Act's traditional focus has been on controlling wastewater from
manufacturing and other industrial facilities, termed point sources. Most agricultural
activities are considered to be nonpoint sources of pollution, since they do not
discharge wastes from clearly identifiable pipes, outfalls, or similar conveyances.
Nonpoint pollution occurs as surface erosion of soil by water and as surface runoff
of rainfall or snowmelt from diffuse areas such as farm and ranch land, construction
sites, and mining and timber operations. Nonpoint sources are not required to obtain
discharge permits. Consequently, agricultural and other nonpoint sources are not
subject to the compliance and enforcement regime that applies to point sources.
Agricultural and other nonpoint sources have become increasingly prominent in
debates over water quality policy, however, because these types of diffuse sources are
believed to represent the largest remaining water pollution problem affecting United
States waters. To begin to address these issues, the 1987 CWA amendments directed
states to implement programs for managing nonpoint sources. Consequently, under
federal law, agricultural sources could be subject to state-developed plans requiring
operators to use management measures to limit pollutant runoff from their lands.
There is anecdotal information that state nonpoint pollution programs are addressing
agricultural runoff in various ways, including technical and financial assistance.31
Large animal feeding operations are an exception to the general approach to
agriculture in the CWA. Since 1972 (P.L. 92-500), the CWA has defined CAFOs as
point rather than nonpoint sources. They are subject to the Act's prohibition against
discharging pollutants into waters of the United States without a permit. Thus,
CAFOs are treated in a similar manner to other industrial sources of pollution, such
as factories and municipal sewage treatment plants. The Act is administered by EPA,
and in 1974 and 1976, EPA issued regulations defining the term CAFO for purposes
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Section 319 Success Stories: Volume II.
Highlights of State and Tribal Nonpoint Source Programs. EPA 841-R-97-001. Oct. 1997.
of permit requirements (40 CFR §122.23) and effluent limitation guidelines specifying
limits on pollutant discharges from feedlots (40 CFR Part 412). Discharge permits,
issued by EPA or qualified states (43 states have been delegated this responsibility),
implement the Part 412 requirements for individual facilities. Under the permit rules,
an AFO is a CAFO, and thus subject to EPA rules, if it meets all of the following
Animals are stabled or confined and fed for 45 days or more in a 12-month
Vegetation is not sustained during the normal growing season on any portion of
the lot or facility (i.e., animals are not maintained in a pasture or on rangeland);
Feedlots hold more than 1,000 animal units 32 (or between 300 and 1,000 animal
units if pollutants are discharged from a manmade conveyance or are discharged
directly into waters passing over, across, or through the facility). Also, animal
feeding operations that include fewer than 300 animal units may be designated
as CAFOs if they pose a threat to water quality or use. Based on the USDA
1992 Census of Agriculture, EPA estimates that 6,600 feeding operations qualify
as CAFOs, considering the number of animal units alone -- only 1.5% of the
450,000 operations nationwide that confine or concentrate animals.33
EPA's effluent limitation regulations apply to operations that raise beef and dairy
cattle, poultry, swine, sheep, and horses. The rules essentially prohibit discharge of
wastewater from CAFOs into navigable waters, except those caused by the worst 24hour storm that would occur in a 25-year period. These regulations do not specifically
address discharges that may occur from wastewaters or solid manure mixtures which
are applied to soil, nor do they address odor control or groundwater impacts from
animal agriculture operations. These topics, if regulated at all, are subject to varied
state and local authority, not federal law or regulation.
In addition to the CWA, the Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments of
1990 (CZARA) imposed waste management requirements on most livestock
producers in the coastal zone of the 29 states that participate in the Coastal Zone
Management Act. CZARA is the first federal program to require specific measures
to address agricultural erosion and runoff and other major sources of coastal nonpoint
As defined by USDA, an animal unit is 1,000 pounds of live weight of any given livestock
species or combination of livestock species. This term varies according to animal type; one
animal is not always equal to one animal unit. EPA's regulations cover AFOs consisting of:
1,000 beef cattle; 700 mature dairy cattle; 2,500 swine weighing over 55 pounds; 500 horses;
10,000 sheep; 55,000 turkeys; or 30,000 laying hens or broilers (with a liquid manure
Illustrating the concentration that has occurred in the animal agriculture sector are changes
over time in the number of CAFOs. When EPA's current CAFO regulations were proposed
in 1975, USDA analyzed the potential impacts. It reported that 95,000, or 13.6%, of the
700,000 animal feeding operations in the country would be subject to those rules. (Source:
U.S. Department of Agriculture. "Implications of EPA Proposed Regulations of November
20, 1975 for the Animal Feeding Operations." Washington, DC, Jan. 30, 1976. 26 p.) The
smaller number of total operations and smaller number of CAFOs today suggest that those
that are regulated currently are, on average, much larger than 20 years ago.
pollution. Its requirements are implemented by states through plans that they develop
under CZARA. Federal CZARA guidance for agricultural sources specifies minimum
management measures including retention ponds, solids separation basins, and
vegetative practices such as filter strips between production facilities and nearby
surface waters. CAFOs with as few as 50 animal units may be subject to these and
other requirements. Federal agencies have conditionally approved CZARA programs
in all 29 coastal states, and livestock and poultry producers there will begin to see
actual requirements in the near future. The law and the implementing regulations do
not specify a timeline for implementation.
Problems with CAFO regulation. A number of problems with the current
CAFO regulatory system under the CWA have limited its effectiveness in preventing
environmental problems from livestock production.
Fewer than 30% of the CAFOs with over 1,000 animal units had or have CWA
permits today (i.e., 2,000 out of 6,600). One explanation is the historic
emphasis by federal and state regulators on other large industrial and municipal
dischargers over agricultural sources, since most of agriculture is not subject to
the Act. EPA estimated that only 760 permits were current at the end of 1995.34
Another factor is disputes between regulators and agricultural operators on
whether particular facilities meet the regulatory threshold, such as whether the
regulations apply to feedlots that claim to have no discharge. Many states treat
animal feeding operations as non-discharging facilities (thus not requiring
permits or water quality monitoring) on the premise that lagoons do not leak and
that nutrients in land-sprayed waste are fully taken up by crops.
Disputes also arose and some sources went unregulated because the EPA rules,
now more than 20 years old, do not reflect more recent changes in animal waste
management technology. In particular, EPA defines feeding operations with
100,000 laying hens or broilers that use continuous flow watering systems and
facilities with 30,000 laying hens or broilers that use liquid manure systems as
CAFOs. However, the poultry industry has moved away from such wet systems
since the 1970s. Many broiler producers now use dry litter waste systems where
water is not applied and there is no discharge; they have argued that they are not
subject to the rules. Producers of layers generally still have liquid waste systems.
Federal regulations and guidelines contain no requirement for nutrient or manure
management plans. Most experts hold that plans which concern applying
manure at rates necessary for crops to utilize nutrients efficiently, without excess
runoff or leaching, can minimize damage to groundwater and surface water. The
federal CAFO rules cover manure spreading on-site, through the "no-discharge"
standard, but do not regulate spreading once the manure leaves the property
where it was generated.
Parry, Roberta. "Agricultural phosphorus and water quality: a U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency perspective." Journal of Environmental Quality. Vol. 27, no. 2 (1998):
CAFO inspections by federal and state regulators and compliance enforcement
activities have been limited, often occurring only after citizen complaints or
accidental releases following large rainfall events or equipment or facility
Recent Initiatives under the Clean Water Action Plan: The National
Animal Feeding Operations (AFO) Strategy
EPA has not lacked authority to address water quality problems associated with
animal feeding operations, but doing so was not an apparent priority.35 For several
years, Agency officials discussed the need to revise the CAFO regulations, and in
1997, plans were announced for two initiatives -- one dealing with CWA enforcement
against livestock producers and one dealing comprehensively with all sources of
nonpoint source pollution, including farm operations, but with few implementation
Several events combined to raise the priority of these topics. One was increasing
attention to pollution incidents resulting from or believed associated with animal
waste spills. Another was the growing number of lawsuits filed by environmentalists
against states and EPA (involving nearly 2 dozen states), seeking to compel action
against remaining sources of water pollution, including agriculture.36 A third came
in October 1997, the 25th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, when Vice President
Gore announced an initiative to address the nation's remaining water quality problems.
He directed EPA and other federal agencies to develop an Action Plan to improve and
strengthen water pollution control efforts across the country. That plan, released in
February 1998, identified controlling polluted runoff as one of the biggest remaining
water quality challenges and focused on agriculture's contributions.37
In September 1998 EPA and USDA jointly proposed a major program to
implement the Clean Water Action Plan: a draft unified national strategy for animal
feeding operations to minimize the water quality and public health impacts of AFOs.
Following a 120-day public comment period that included 11 "listening sessions"
around the country, the two agencies issued a final AFO strategy March 9, 1999.38
CWA section 304(b) requires EPA to review and, if appropriate, revise effluent limitation
guidelines at least annually. The CAFO standards have not been revised since they were
promulgated in the mid-1970s.
The lawsuits address federal and state implementation of CWA §303(d), which requires
states to identify and list waters not meeting water quality standards, then establish total
maximum daily loads (TMDLs) to allocate loadings of pollutants in those waters. For
information, see CRS Report 97-831, Clean Water Act and Total Maximum Daily Loads
(TMDLs) of Pollutants.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Clean Water
Action Plan: Restoring and Protecting America's Waters. Feb. 14, 1998. 1 vol. See:
http://www.cleanwater.gov. For additional information, see CRS Report 98-150, The Clean
Water Action Plan: Background and Early Implementation.
U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "Unified National
The strategy itself is not a new regulation or substitute for existing regulations, nor
does it impose binding requirements on federal agencies, states, tribes, localities, or
the regulated community. It presents an overall approach and timetable for curbing
pollution from livestock operations. However, many of the details — and, hence,
many of the specific impacts on operators, states, and others — will only become
clear with the issuance of guidance and regulatory changes in the coming months.39
The strategy consists of multiple elements and is based on a national performance
expectation that all AFO owners and operators — regardless of the size of their
operations — will develop and implement site-specific Comprehensive Nutrient
Management Plans (CNMPs) by 2009. With the exception of large AFO operations
which are considered to be CAFOs and thus are subject to CWA requirements (about
5% of total AFOs nationwide), the agencies expect that the vast majority of CNMPs
will be developed and implemented voluntarily. In general terms, a CNMP will
identify actions or priorities to meet clearly identified nutrient management goals at
an agricultural operation and typically will address manure handling and storage, land
application of manure, land management (such as tillage, crop residue management,
and other conservation practices), recordkeeping, and other utilization options (for
example, when manure is sold to other farmers). Plans will be developed by qualified
specialists. NRCS estimates that at least 330,000 AFOs need to develop CNMPs or
revise existing nutrient management plans to meet the performance expectation of the
strategy. The strategy recognizes that technical and financial assistance will be needed
both to develop and to implement CNMPs, and it discusses additional resources in the
Administration's FY2000 budget to be directed at such assistance.40
The strategy views regulatory programs as complementary to voluntary
approaches that will apply to 95% of AFOs. Under existing CWA authority, the
strategy says that the NPDES permit program will be used to address the relatively
small number of AFOs that cause water quality or public health problems or that pose
a significant risk to water quality or public health. It identifies the following priorities
for permitting and enforcement:
Strategy for Animal Feeding Operations." March 9, 1999. 46 p. Text of the strategy is
available at [http://www.epa.gov/owm/afo.htm].
Prior to issuance of the national AFO strategy in March 1998, EPA released a compliance
assurance implementation plan for CAFOs to enhance compliance with existing CAFO
requirements. It includes elements to increase compliance assistance to operators, strengthen
federal-state enforcement partnerships, and strengthen federal and state compliance monitoring
programs. Text is available at: [http://es.epa.gov/oeca/strategy.html]. This plan is
incorporated in the March 1999 national strategy. Ibid.: 36-37.
The President's FY2000 budget requests an additional $126 million (for $300 million total)
for the EQIP program and $20 million in USDA assistance to existing AFOs for development
or revision of CNMPs. In FY1999 EPA received an additional $95 million (for $200 million
total) for the Section 319 nonpoint source management grant program, with the increase
directed to priority watersheds under the Clean Water Action Plan. The President's budget
asks for $200 million for this grant program for FY2000 and also proposes to allow states to
use up to $160 million of clean water State Revolving Fund monies (generally limited to
municipal wastewater treatment projects) as grants for nonpoint source projects.
! Large facilities (those with greater than 1,000 animal units) which produce
quantities of manure than can be a risk to water quality and public health.
These already are considered to be CAFOS and therefore are "point sources"
already subject to NDPES permit requirements.
! Some facilities with fewer than 1,000 animal units which can pose a risk of
water pollution or public health problems, because the facilities have a
manmade conveyance to discharge manure and wastewaters into streams.
! Other individual facilities or collection of facilities with fewer than 1,000
animal units that, based on water quality monitoring, are contributing
significantly to impairment of a water body or watershed; such facilities will be
designated as CAFOs and will be a priority for permit issuance and
EPA expects that the total number of CAFOs meeting at least one of three
priority conditions for NPDES permits will be 15,000 - 20,000 facilities. These
facilities will be required to develop and implement CNMPs, and their permits will
include specific performance measures, monitoring, and reporting. Under the
strategy, states and EPA should identify the universe of CAFOs and inspect all
CAFOs in watersheds with vulnerable waters by 2001 and all other CAFOs by 2003.
Permitting will occur in two phases. First, between 2000 and 2005, EPA and
authorized states will issue NPDES permits under existing regulations to priority
facilities. EPA expects that this will occur mainly through general permits (either
issued on a statewide basis or for specific geographic areas, such as watersheds), but
that individual permits will be issued to exceptionally large operations, new operations
or those undergoing significant expansion, operations with historical compliance
problems, or operations with significant environmental concerns. By August 1999,
EPA will issue permitting guidance and model permits as assistance to states.
EPA also will initiate revisions to the existing CAFO permitting regulations and
effluent guidelines, using input from USDA, states, tribes, other federal agencies, and
the public. EPA currently is under a court-ordered schedule to revise the effluent
guidelines for poultry and swine by December 2001 and for beef and dairy cattle by
December 2002. In the second phase of NPDES permitting, from 2005 to 2010, EPA
and states will reissue permits from the first round and will incorporate any new
requirements that could result from regulatory revisions completed in the interim.
The final strategy vs. the draft. The final AFO national strategy is similar to
the September 1998 draft, but has two key additions. First, it differs from the draft
in how it addresses corporate integrators, owners of livestock that contract out to
farmers to raise the animals or poultry. The final strategy recommends a copermitting system, in which permits would cover not just the grower or farmer, but
also the corporate owner. In such a system, liability for handling the animal waste and
for any environmental violations would extend to the corporate owner that exercises
substantial operational control over a CAFO, as well as the farmer. Such copermitting would be new in the field of federal environmental regulation.
Environmental groups in particular have urged such co-permitting, arguing that it
could go a long way to improving waste management by involving integrators in
ensuring that their contract growers are environmentally responsible. While some
states already recognize that corporate owners share responsibility with farmers,
industry groups have generally opposed including formal requirements in permit
programs. In their view, it is inappropriate to hold the corporate entity responsible
for an environmental violation when that entity does not own the farm, its buildings,
the land, or the waste produced by the animals.
In another change from the draft, the final strategy allows states that can show
they meet the requirements of the NPDES program to be recognized by EPA as
functionally equivalent to requirements of the federal program. This part of the
strategy recognizes that some states are implementing permitting programs under
state law that meet or exceed the requirements of the NPDES program (see the
following section of this report, State Programs and Legislative Activity). States will
have to go through a review and public notice in order to have their programs
recognized as NPDES equivalent. EPA promises in the strategy to act on program
proposals within 45 days so that states can meet the goal of issuing permits for large
CAFOs by January 2000. The early reaction of state officials to this part of the
strategy was positive, although they said that the details of demonstrating functional
equivalency, when issued by EPA, will require careful review.
Reactions and response to the strategy. EPA and USDA received more than
1,800 public comments on the draft strategy. The strongest reactions, both to the
draft and final form, have come, not surprisingly, from farmers and farm groups.
During the public comment period on the draft strategy, they raised concerns about
regulations that drive up the cost of production and whether financial assistance will
be available to lessen costly impacts, especially on small operations. The expense of
compliance could increase the cost of food, make U.S. farming less competitive, and
put farmers out of business, they say. A number of farm groups and individuals have
expressed a fear that a national AFO strategy will enable EPA, through clean water
rules, to control economic activity and land-use decisions of farmers.41 Most would
prefer that any animal waste program focus on voluntary approaches that encourage
owners and operators to utilize good environmental practices, with regulation and
enforcement limited to only known problems of poor resource management.
At the same time, some operators consider a more pronounced federal role as
an opportunity to harmonize conflicting federal, state, and local policies — a view of
the pork producers' industry, for example, which believes that minimum nationwide
standards could bring stability to livestock industries and level the playing field where
states and counties are adopting a patchwork of requirements. However, support by
livestock groups for federal efforts is likely to hinge on whether federal rules are
viewed as unduly restrictive or impose unrealistic deadlines, and whether they include
incentives such as financial and technical assistance.
Farm groups argue that the water quality data on which EPA bases the need for
regulatory action are flawed. Because the data reflect monitoring and assessment of
only a small portion of all waters, they should not be used to assert that agriculture
and feedlots are linked to a water quality crisis, these groups contend. EPA believes
that while it is difficult to determine the exact contribution of any particular category
of pollution source on a national basis (e.g., agriculture or municipal point sources),
it is widely recognized that AFOs can pose a number of risks to water quality and
"Farm Groups Fear Regulatory Intrusion." Land Letter, Jan. 28, 1999: 2.
public health, mainly because of the amount of animal manure and wastewater they
generate.42 (See footnote 24, which discusses data on waterbodies monitored and
assessed by states.)
From the states' perspective, many have questioned the need for a national
program. States agree that animal feeding operations have a significant impact on
water quality, yet because many have acted legislatively and administratively to
address animal waste problems (see discussion in the next section), they fear (as do
farm groups) that a national program would attempt to impose a "one size fits all"
approach to a problem that is diverse and complex. However, supporters of federal
regulation point out that there is great variability among state programs and say that
a national approach is necessary to provide a more even economic playing field by
requiring minimum national standards.. For states, a key concern has been that many
already have difficulty providing resources for feedlot inspections and enforcement;
thus, they are wary of new regulatory requirements that could impose additional
resource burdens. States also say that they need flexibility to coordinate and
prioritize implementation of the federal strategy with other equally important state
environmental quality programs. EPA's concern is to balance the states' desire for
flexibility with the federal agency's desire to have state programs be accountable by
meeting minimum federal standards and provide an opportunity, if needed, for federal
Environmentalists' reactions to the final strategy were mixed. While applauding
the fact that the strategy addresses the waste management responsibility of corporate
owners, some have said that the proposed timeline to implement the strategy (7 years
to issue permits for all CAFOs) is too slow. Many are critical that EPA failed to act
on this problem sooner. Environmentalists often are skeptical of voluntary
approaches to managing animal waste, particularly where there is no requirement for
water quality monitoring or reporting, and little or no public involvement in siting,
permitting, or similar decisionmaking. Variability among existing state programs has
been a concern to environmental groups. Some have favored a federal moratorium
on new or expanded feedlots (for 2 years, for example) to give EPA and states time
to develop and implement new programs and, thus, were disappointed that a
moratorium was not included in the final strategy.43
"Unified National Strategy for Animal Feeding Operations:" 5.
"Farmers, Environmentalists Blast EPA Plan to Control Polluted Runoff," Inside E.P.A.,
March 12, 1999: 13.
State Programs and Legislative Activity
State Laws and Programs44
While most states have some form of livestock waste regulation, state laws and
programs vary widely in approach and implementation. For example, nearly 30 state
departments of agriculture administer some type of program to regulate animal waste
and manure, and 43 states are responsible for administering Clean Water Act permit
requirements for CAFOs, usually through an environmental agency No single model
encompasses the approaches of all states. Which state agency is in charge, or whether
responsibility is shared, varies. In many states, regulatory programs are limited to
some livestock sectors but not others.
Requirements of state programs differ. For example, in Minnesota, permits are
required for facilities with as few as 50 animal units, while many states only require
permits for facilities with more than 1,000 animal units (the EPA threshold). In
Nebraska, operations of any size require a permit if they have potential to discharge.
As noted previously, many states do not issue CWA permits to CAFOs, on the
premise that the facilities do not discharge wastes. Several states use letters of
approval to authorize livestock operations; others use general permits or licenses.
Critics fault these systems, concerned that they typically do not afford public
involvement or provide for enforceability, compared with permits. General permits
take a "one size fits all" approach which does not consider site-specific requirements
for individual facilities, critics say.
Some states (Iowa, for example) require permits for construction of waste
lagoons and other facilities, but not for operation. Others such as Nebraska require
permits for both, but only in areas where operations are believed to pose
environmental risk. Some states (California, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, and Oklahoma,
for example) require operators to follow design standards, including use of liners for
waste lagoons, but many have no such standards. A small but growing number of
states require training and certification of operators for manure application and
In March 1999, Maryland became the first state to require that corporate poultry
producers take responsibility under their own NPDES clean water permits for the
waste generated by the operations of farmers who raise the poultry. As NPDES
permits for the corporations come up for renewal, they will be modified to require
producers to buy poultry only from those growers who have an approved
comprehensive nutrient management plan. State officials see this as a way to require
companies to take responsibility for the way their contract growers dispose of waste.
Poultry industry representatives oppose the Maryland plan and question the state's
authority to impose such restrictions in NPDES permits.
This section is based on information from a number of sources, including: National
Association of State Departments of Agriculture. State Survey on Waste & Manure
Management Regulations (draft). December 1998. 29 p.
Some states currently require some or all CAFOs to develop a nutrient
management plan or waste utilization plan, as contemplated in the national AFO
strategy (e.g., California, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, and Maryland). But like other
aspects of state programs, they too vary widely, for example in whether state approval
of the plan is required. Elsewhere, such plans are voluntary (e.g., Connecticut,
Delaware, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio).
Few states have air quality regulations related to CAFOs; New Jersey does have
regulations, and Oklahoma requires an odor abatement plan, but most states either
have no requirements or specifically exempt agriculture sources. In 1998, Missouri's
Air Conservation Commission created a task force to study farm odor pollution issues
and to close a loophole in state law that exempts very large farms from odor emission
rules. Also in 1998, Colorado voters approved a constitutional amendment which,
among other things, will require odor control measures at swine operations. State
laws and programs also vary in the amount of public notice or participation that is
required or allowed in connection with permitting. Many states do not require
inspection before permit issuance or waste management plan approval or routinely
thereafter. In such cases, violators are identified only upon citizen complaints. Only
a few require groundwater or other monitoring to determine if lagoons leak and
contaminate water resources.
According to a review of state regulation of agricultural nutrients, in most cases,
state authorities closely follow or only modestly expand upon federal requirements.
Where they do vary, enforceable state laws relating to CAFOs may expand on federal
requirements in at least three ways.45 First, some impose siting requirements and
limitations (North Carolina, South Dakota, and Iowa, for example). Second, a
number of states require enforceable nutrient management plans and/or best
management practices (such states as Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Vermont, Ohio
and Florida). Third, some states expand on federal rules by regulating CAFOs that
are smaller than the EPA definition (Mississippi, Kansas, and Connecticut, for
example). More generally, several states have laws with enforceable requirements
concerning nonpoint source pollution from agricultural nutrients (both manure and
fertilizers), particularly if such material threatens ground or surface water pollution
(such as Nebraska, Michigan, Montana, and Arizona).46
In some areas, management of animal waste is market-driven, as much as it is
regulated by government. For example, in Pennsylvania, banks that faced large
liability costs for manure spills into waterways, have taken steps to protect their
investments by requiring agricultural loan applicants to supply nutrient management
plans.47 At the same time, Pennsylvania is now implementing a law passed in 1993
that requires farms with more than 1,000 pounds of animal (i.e., 1 cow) per acre to
prepare a plan with Best Management Practices to prevent nutrient releases to the
McElfish, James M., Jr. "State Enforcement Authorities for Polluted Runoff." The
Environment Law Reporter News & Analysis. Vol. 28, no. 4 (April 1998): 10181-10201.
"States Tackle Animal Waste Problem to Improve Water Quality." Environmental Science
& Technology, vol. 30, no. 12 (1996): 529A-530A.
environment. About 8,000-10,000 existing beef, dairy, swine, poultry, and horse
farms in Pennsylvania meet the law's animal density criteria. The plans must meet a
performance requirement that limits application of nutrients to plant uptake levels.48
Many states have so-called "right to farm" laws that protect agricultural activities
by creating a presumption that, unless explicitly addressed through local zoning,
farming activities are deemed permitted if they are conducted in accordance with
accepted practices and all applicable laws and regulations. These state laws often
exempt agricultural activities from nuisance laws, thus preventing or limiting nuisance
action lawsuits against odors and noise of normal farming operations. (See Box 3,
Despite "right-to-farm" laws and others that bar local governments from
adopting zoning or similar restrictions on agriculture, there is a growing trend to use
local zoning, land use, and health department controls that are more stringent than
state and federal rules. For example, in South Dakota, Colorado, Utah, Georgia,
Michigan, and Kentucky, counties may adopt zoning regulations to restrict
agriculture. In Indiana, counties may impose CAFO requirements more stringent than
state rules. In North Carolina, counties may issue special use restrictions. Groups
representing livestock interests have generally opposed the proliferation of rules that
can result from locally-imposed controls.
A key limitation for many state programs, regardless of their statutory
requirements, is oversight and enforcement. How diligent a state is in enforcing laws
and rules (federal and state) may be reflected in the resources it provides for such
activities. Typical of many states, in 1998 Minnesota had a staff of 22 inspectors to
regulate 45,000 animal feeding operations that require permits, meaning that with that
level of staff, it would take 20 years to inspect every feedlot in the state once,
according to an official.49 Oklahoma had six inspectors to enforce state laws that
regulate more than 200 licensed swine farms and 1.7 million swine. Washington state
had three inspectors responsible for more than 800 dairy farms. At the same time, one
response by a number of state legislatures that addressed animal waste issues in 1998
(see following section) was approval of additional staff and resources for feedlot
regulatory and enforcement activity. For example, the Washington legislature
approved a budget to increase inspectors for the state's dairies to eight persons. In
California, the state water quality control board quadrupled the number of inspectors
for the Central Valley's 1,600 dairies — from one inspector to four. Nebraska
enacted legislation with an industry fee provision that is expected to provide resources
to increase the number of livestock inspectors from four to 16.
Critics of this law point out that it contains substantial loopholes. One is that it requires a
large swine farm to submit a manure management plan, but does not require a similar plan for
farms that import manure. Also, plans do not need to disclose all of the interested parties in
the farm, only the local operator; thus, there is no way to know whether the corporate owners
have a history of environmental violations. DeKok, David. "Laws Largely Friendly to
Industry; State Rules on Manure Were Delayed, Modified." Harrisburg Patriot-News. Nov.
22, 1998: D-3.
Ison, Chris. "Agency Lags in Policing Feedlots; Regulatory Board Accused of Favoring
Hog-Farm Owners." Minneapolis Star-Tribune. March 8, 1998: 1A.
As a general matter, states vary in their commitment to protecting the natural
environment, depending on a
number of variables, including
severity of environmental
Box 3. Swine Operations in Iowa
problems, economic resources,
and political pressure from
Iowa is the most intensely farmed state in the
interest groups. Reportedly,
nation. Iowa's human population is 2.8 million
one reason for the variation in
persons, while its swine population is about 14
million. Almost 95% of land in the state is
programs is that some have
considered to be rural, and more than 75% is
aggressively sought to attract
considered cropland. The state has 16,000
animal agriculture companies
cattle and swine farms of all sizes, including
into their jurisdictions, and
1,300 cattle and swine operations bigger than
used state policies and laws to
2,000 animals. Iowa is the leading swinedo so, hoping that the
producing state, producing nearly one-quarter
of the nation's total. In part to develop and
significant economic benefits to
protect its leadership status, the state passed a
the state. Some offered tax
law which made it difficult for people to bring
abatement for new livestock
nuisance lawsuits against swine operations that
operations or associated job
move into their neighborhood. Critics said that
creation. Some promoted the
no other Iowa business is protected from
fact that their environmental
lawsuits brought by people when a newly
laws and enforcement on
arrived enterprise creates problems for existing
livestock operations were less
residents. In September 1998, the Iowa
stringent than their neighbors.
Supreme Court ruled this law unconstitutional,
In the early 1990s, for example,
saying that by creating areas with a grant of
Oklahoma, Texas, and Missouri
immunity from nuisance suits, the law created
were among the states that
an easement over neighbors' property without
compensation - a taking that violates the U.S.
livestock expansion. North
and Iowa constitutions. This was the first
Carolina's swine population
ruling in the nation that has been upheld against
grew from 2.5 million animals
an agricultural immunity law, and legal analysts
in 1990 (seventh place,
are debating possible broader implications.
nationally) to 9.7 million in
(Source: "Iowa Supreme Court Invalidates Law
1998 (second place, nationally).
Immunizing Farms from Nuisance Suits." Daily
Other states where taxes on
Environment Reporter, no. 194, Oct. 7, 1998:
agriculture were perceived to
be high saw livestock
producers relocate elsewhere;
this occurred in Wisconsin, for example, where the dairy industry began losing its
share in 1991 (taxes were one of several variables, in this case), while California has
become the nation's leading milk producer.50
At the same time, some states that are not necessarily unfriendly to agriculture
have enacted anti-corporate farming statutes, primarily in order to prevent certain
corporate legal structures from engaging in farming within state borders. Often, these
Freese, Betsy, and Rod Fee. "Livestock-Hungry States." Successful Farming, Jan. 1994:
restrictions arise from concern that large corporate-style operations owned by out-ofstate entities will squeeze out small family farm operations and disrupt the economic
infrastructure that supports agriculture in the state, as well as altering the character
of the social and economic framework that supports large numbers of operators and
residents across the landscape in rural areas Anti-corporate farm laws do not develop
out of concern for environmental issues in a state. Rather, they are part of a set of
pressures that confront concentrated agriculture operations. It is unclear at this point
whether or how anti-corporate farm issues will come together with animal waste
management issues in policy debates.
Anti-corporate farm restrictions do arise from concern that large corporate-style
operations owned by out-of-state entities will squeeze out small family farm
operations and disrupt the economic infrastructure that supports agriculture in the
state. Nine states currently have such prohibitions. Several have done so by statute
(Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin).
Nebraska has done so by a constitutional provision, and Oklahoma has both
constitutional and statutory provisions. In 1998, South Dakota voters amended the
state constitution to prohibit corporations from owning or controlling farmland or
engaging in agriculture in the state. Supporters say this will effectively prohibit the
practice of companies contracting with farmers to raise crops or livestock.
However, most of these state restrictions or limitations on corporate farming
contain numerous exceptions to the general rule. For example, many of them do not
prevent the operation of very large corporate-style farms managed by domestic (instate) entities under a "family farm corporation," "authorized farm corporation,"
"cooperative," and other legal structures provided for in the statutory exceptions.
Some states distinguish U.S. domestic and foreign (non-U.S.) ownership, as well.
Several states provide exceptions in the form of grandfathering farms owned prior to
certain dates. Some states also provide exceptions for certain types of livestock
operations. For example, while Kansas law limits corporate farming, it also permits
a county option to approve use of land for swine production facilities. Under
Nebraska's constitutional provision, agricultural land operated by a corporation for
the purposes of raising poultry is exempt from corporate farming restrictions.
Missouri law provides an exception to anti-corporate farming limitations which
applies to swine production facilities in three particular counties.51 The South Dakota
constitutional amendment adopted in 1998 allows family farm corporations and some
types of cooperatives.
Hipp, Janie Simms, "Sustaining the Family Farm: Old and New Tools for Survival in a
World of Contracts and Corporations," Thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the
requirements for the degree of Master of Laws, University of Arkansas School of Law, Aug.
1996. Stout, Jan, "The Missouri Anti-Corporate Farming Act: Reconciling the Interests of
the Independent Farmer and the Corporate Farm," 64 University of Missouri in Kansas City
(UMKC) Law Review. Summer 1996: 835.
State Legislative Activity on Animal Waste Issues52
While many states have rules and laws for regulating livestock production,
public pressure for additional restrictions is strong in many locations. During their
1998 legislative sessions, a number of state legislatures (at least 20) considered bills
on the topic. Proposals fit in three broad categories: bills to establish moratoria on
siting and licensing of large-scale animal operations in the state; bills concerned with
which level of government shall control the siting of livestock operations; and
regulatory bills. The swine industry was a dominant, but not exclusive, focus of state
legislation. Issues debated in the states may presage issues that could arise at the
federal level, as well.
In most states where these issues were active in 1998, there were competing
proposals under consideration, representing alternative views of key interest groups.
In some cases, strict state legislation was proposed by the Governor (in Maryland and
Kentucky, for example), but elsewhere, the Governor's office opposed proposals for
new regulations that were advocated by lawmakers and some interest groups
(Minnesota and Wisconsin).
In many of these debates, environmentalists and small farm operators formed
alliances and urged legislators to regulate the entrance and operation of large-scale
farming operations which these groups believe pose great environmental risks and
great economic threats to the viability of established small, family farming operations.
In many states, these two groups have argued that wastes, discharges, and air
emissions from large livestock operations are manifestations of changes that not only
threaten environmental quality, but also tourism, recreation, fishing, boating, property
values, and economic development.
Moratorium proposals. North Carolina enacted bills in 1995 and 1996 to
strengthen permit and regulatory requirements but went further when it adopted a
statewide 2-year moratorium on new and expanding swine farms (larger than 250
swine) in 1997 and later extended it through October 1999. Its purpose was to
prevent expansion or start-up of new operations until new regulations are developed.
(See Box 4, page 34) In 1998, other states where large-scale farms are attempting
to move in and expand also considered moratorium bills to allow time to identify
waste management policies, options, and rules.
Oklahoma also enacted a 1-year moratorium on the expansion of large swinefarming operations in 1998, based on support by the Governor and legislative leaders.
It prohibited the state Agriculture Department from authorizing or even processing
an application for a new or expanded large swine-feeding operation during the
moratorium. Mississippi enacted a 2-year moratorium until January 2000 on new
swine farm applications. Minnesota enacted a 2-year ban on new open-air waste
lagoons, but stopped short of enacting a comprehensive moratorium, as the Minnesota
House had approved previously. Moratorium bills also were proposed in 1998 in
This section is based on information from a wide variety of resources, including regional and
national newspapers, personal conversations, and State Capital Strategies Alert Services,
Issue Analyses (Environment), Feb. 4-Apr. 29, 1998.
Alabama, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. Industry groups in
all of the involved states have actively opposed moratorium bills.
State versus local control. One of the most controversial issues in several
states has been the question of who will control the location and zoning of large
animal production operations -- the question of state versus local control. Localities
desire to impose their own requirements for permits, zoning, monitoring and
inspections, and pollution prevention, while industry groups generally argue that, if
such requirements are called for, they should be uniform and statewide, to minimize
potential confusion and burdens that could result from a patchwork of differing
county-by-county rules. Bills that favor local decision-making would either expressly
give county governments some control over where, and if, swine farms can be located
(Illinois and Nebraska debated but did not enact such bills) or require a county
referendum to approve siting of large-scale swine operations (enacted in Kansas in
A bill enacted in Mississippi which established a 2-year moratorium also allowed
counties that acted by June 1, 1998, to impose their own regulations on farms. Other
states considered bills to pre-empt local zoning of large-scale farming operations
(Indiana, for example, where such a bill was enacted, and Colorado, where legislation
was debated but not enacted) or a hybrid approach (Iowa, which enacted a bill giving
county officials the right to appeal state permits for livestock operations, but prohibit
A related issue is whether the lead responsibility should lie with the state agency
charged with environmental management (departments of environmental quality or
public health), as environmentalists favor, or with the one likely to provide advice and
technical assistance to farmers, but not regulate them (departments of agriculture), as
industry generally favors. Legislators in several states debated this issue, including
Colorado, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, and Ohio. In Maryland, the legislature
approved a bill in 1998 that requires poultry producers to use a phosphorus-reducing
enzyme called phytase in chicken feed as a way to limit phosphorus discharges from
agricultural operations. One contentious issue was resolved when legislators agreed
to let the state agriculture secretary, not the department of environmental quality,
monitor compliance with the mandate.
Regulatory proposals. Bills to regulate, or impose stricter regulation on, animal
feeding operations were proposed in many states. Proposals varied widely in their
coverage and approach, differing in which segment of animal agriculture would be
covered by new requirements; size thresholds (covering all operations, those with as
few as 50 animal units, or those with no fewer than 3,000, for example); and details
of permits, siting, and inspections. They included the following:
Require implementation of comprehensive manure management plans (bills were
enacted in Washington, Maryland, and Virginia).
Box 4. North Carolina's Experience
Since 1990, North Carolina's swine population has quadrupled, from 2.5
million to nearly 10 million animals. Most of the state's animal agriculture
production is located in the southeastern third of the state, an area comprised
of sandy soils, high water tables, shallow drinking water wells, and extensive
networks of rivers and streams. To some observers, it was not surprising when,
in mid-1995, spills from swine waste lagoons occurred. The extent was more
surprising: one 8-acre lagoon spilled 22 million gallons of waste into the Neuse
River, killing 10 million fish and closing nearly 365,000 acres of coastal waters
to shellfish harvesting and commercial fishing. Other waste lagoon spills also
occurred that year, drawing public attention to some of the environmental and
economic consequences of concentrated animal farming operations in the state.
But even before those events, the 200-mile long Neuse River had for several
years experienced algae blooms and fish kills during summer months due to high
levels of nutrients from rural and urban runoff and industrial and municipal
discharges. In 1997, the environmental group American Rivers declared the
Neuse one of the most 20 threatened rivers in the United States.
In response, the North Carolina legislature enacted bills each year since
1995 to address animal waste problems. A 1995 law mandated buffers between
swine houses or lagoons and residential property, public buildings such as
schools and hospitals, and streams or rivers. It established a Blue Ribbon
Commission which presented recommendations that the legislature addressed
in 1996. That year, the state required general permits and fees for all animal
feeding operations, mandated annual inspections, increased buffers for
residences, and required poultry operations to develop waste management plans.
Recognizing that animal wastes were not the sole problem, the legislature also
appropriated funds for water quality improvements at sewage treatment plants.
The legislature went further in 1997, enacting a 2-year moratorium on new and
expanding swine facilities throughout the state (not just coastal counties);
further increased buffers for residences, streams, and wells; required the
Division of Water Quality to adopt odor control standards; required a plan to
phase out anaerobic swine lagoons and sprayfields; called for a plan to bring
integrators into the management and liability of animal waste; and restricted
most waste management systems from 100-year flood plain areas. In 1998, the
moratorium was extended for 6 months, to October 1999.
In 1998, much of the North Carolina policy attention shifted from the state
level to counties, because the 1997 law allowed for local zoning of large swine
farms (those with 600,000 pounds or more of swine, or about 4,400 animal
units). In Randolph, Dulpin and Moore counties, for example, opponents and
defenders of swine farms pressed their case as county commissioners debated
imposing stricter future local regulation of swine farms. ("Randolph Board Sets
Stricter Hog Standards," Greensboro News & Record. March 24, 1998: B1)
Strengthen state inspection, specify design criteria (such as requirements on
waste lagoons) and siting restrictions (including setbacks from neighbors and
buffers), and tighten permit requirements (bills with some of these elements were
enacted in Washington, Nebraska, and Virginia and were debated elsewhere,
including South Dakota and Tennessee). A bill to impose mandatory farm-byfarm limits on farmers' use of fertilizer and manure to curb nutrient runoff from
animal wastes, together with funding and tax incentives for farmers was
approved in Maryland. (See Box 5, page 36).
Require regulation of farm odor (measures were enacted in 1998 in Kansas,
Colorado, and Oklahoma) or study regulation of odor (a Nebraska bill, also
enacted in 1998). Proposals to regulate air quality and odor were unsuccessful
Laws that make past violation of state rules a factor when facilities want to
expand or build (debated but not enacted in Iowa and Ohio).
Impose legal responsibility and tort liability for environmental damage caused by
livestock operations (South Dakota bill, enacted in 1998).
Impose or increase fees for permits and inspections (measures were enacted in
Nebraska, Colorado, and Oklahoma).
In Oklahoma, public concern about both swine and poultry CAFOs has been growing
for phosphorus levels, sets standards for poultry waste application to land and
mandates annual certification of applicators, requires water quality monitoring, and
allows penalties for violations. The second bill, dealing with swine operations,
modifies existing state requirements to establish restrictions on location of swine
farms (including new setback standards) in relation to drinking water supply and
recreation or ecologically significant sites, requires odor control plans for new or
expanding farms, and imposes fees to offset the cost of regulation.
The Colorado legislature considered competing bills to impose more stringent
controls on animal operations. At issue were two bills, one to regulate swine only,
the second to regulate all livestock operations, including swine. The swine-only bill,
which was endorsed by a coalition of cattle ranchers and environmental groups, also
would give localities authority over air quality and zoning, issues not addressed in the
latter bill, which was endorsed by swine farmer groups. The legislature did not pass
either bill, and proponents subsequently managed to put both proposals on the ballot
for voters' consideration in November 1998. In the fall election, voters adopted by
a wide margin the proposal to regulate swine operations and rejected the competing
proposal. The measure passed by voters amends the state constitution and requires
permits, groundwater monitoring, and soil testing for large-scale swine operations
(those with about 3,500 or more animals), as well as control of odor. Supporters of
the defeated measure said it is unfair to give advantage to some livestock industries
in the state (i.e., cattle) that would not have to comply with expensive rules, as the
swine industry must now do.
Box 5. Maryland Debates Animal Waste Impacts on Its Waters
In the summer of 1997, fish kills occurred in certain tributaries of the
Chesapeake Bay in Maryland (primarily in the Pocomoke River drainage basin).
These fish kills, like some that occurred previously in North Carolina and other
coastal waters, were attributed to the presence of Pfiesteria piscicida in the
affected waters. Some scientists believe that nutrient enrichment of the waters may
play a role in Pfiesteria outbreaks, although the mechanisms and linkages are
unclear. Because of the large number of poultry facilities adjacent to the affected
Maryland waters, animal feeding operating were targeted for research and
management of nutrients.
Maryland took a number of actions to address Pfiesteria-affected waters and
nutrient concerns. Citing human health risks, the Governor closed almost all of the
estuaries where fish kills were observed to fishing and recreation. The state
surveyed agricultural activities in the affected watersheds, centering on the use of
best management practices and agricultural nutrient management plans. The state
offered financial assistance to encourage farmers to grow cover crops to reduce
soil erosion and catch nutrient runoff. Maryland became the first state approved
by USDA for the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). A blueribbon panel made recommendations about reducing nutrient loadings from upland
sites generally and from agriculture in particular; responding to public health
concerns; and conducting future research and monitoring.
Based on the panel's recommendations, the Governor presented legislation to
the 1998 legislative session containing both incentives and mandates to address
animal waste problems associated with Pfiesteria. The Governor's bill sought to
require farmers to adopt and implement nutrient management plans and limit
nutrient application (fertilizer and manure) to amounts needed for crop uptake, to
control the flow of nutrients into state waters. Maryland would be the first state
to require such plans for phosphorus, as well as for nitrogen. Farmers would be
subject to fines up to $5,000 for noncompliance. The proposal also contained $45
million over 3 years in aid to farmers and tax credits to offset program costs.
While environmentalists supported the Governor's bill (and others that would
establish liability for integrators/corporate owners), Maryland farmers favored
competing legislation that would make controls purely voluntary and would not
impose timelines for compliance that they characterized as unreasonable. In April
1998, the legislature agreed to a compromise bill that requires most farmers to
implement runoff control plans but gives them additional time to comply and
imposes milder penalties for noncompliance.
Not all states have attempted to strengthen controls. In Mississippi, for example,
as part of a moratorium bill enacted in 1998, the legislature included a provision that
exempts swine farms and other agricultural operations from air pollution permits,
despite vigorous lobbying from groups which had sought air pollution control of
farms. The Vermont legislature approved a bill that revises requirements and permit
procedures for large farm operations by eliminating public participation in the
permitting process. The New Hampshire legislature considered a "right to farm" bill
like similar laws in a number of other states.
Recent Livestock Industry Activities
Each segment of the livestock industry is represented by at least one group that
promotes its activities, ranging from market promotion, to producer education, to
lobbying for favorable legislation and policies. The National Pork Producers Council,
one such group, initiated a dialogue to bring together major interests, including
opponents of concentration, to address animal waste issues that arise from activities
of its members. Working through America’s Clean Water Foundation, it organized
a national dialogue to promote sound environmental activities by pork producers.
The dialogue started in May 1997, and participants met on eight occasions. Both
EPA and USDA were involved and have endorsed the process. While two interests,
environmental groups and local governments, chose not to participate fully, the
dialogue process received positive comment from many who are concerned with the
environmental effects of animal agriculture. It resulted in a set of recommendations
and proposals issued in December 1997.
One purpose of the dialogue was to develop a nationally-consistent
environmental strategy that would replace the patchwork of responses to major new
or expanded proposals and actions at state and local levels that could affect them,
including moratoria and nuisance lawsuits. At a congressional briefing to describe the
recommendations, a representative of the Council stated that the industry wanted to
avoid some of the kinds of problems that the timber industry encountered as it
attempted to deal with the spotted owl issue in the Pacific Northwest old growth
forest areas. It was stated that a major challenge for the Council would be to get the
full participation of all producers in this program.53
Implementation of the group's recommendations would not require any
congressional action; all of these recommendations, as envisioned in the final report,
would be implemented through enactment of state and local legislation, and as a result
of initiatives undertaken by individual producers. Implementation would start when
states adopt a framework which would apply immediately to new and expanding
facilities and would be phased in by existing facilities over 5 years. The Council
expects that EPA will make recommendations to states regarding adoption of the
recommendations in the strategy. One component that will receive considerable
attention is a more sophisticated way to determine setbacks for odor, using a formula
that the Council representatives say was developed and is used in Austria.
Comments of Jim Moseley, National Pork Producers Council, at congressional staff briefing,
Dec. 17, 1997.
The pork industry dialogue resulted in a report54 with more than 20
recommendations that include the following:
The framework should apply immediately to all new or expanding commercial
operations, and be phased in over 5 years for existing operations.
All producers should register manure and wastewater facilities with regulatory
authorities within 2 years.
New manure and wastewater facilities at new or expanded farms should be based
on an evaluation of cumulative effects of environmental conditions at the site,
and the presence of neighboring pork production facilities.
Setbacks should be used for new facilities, and existing facilities should carry out
protective measures but should not have to relocate to meet setback
New or expanded manure or wastewater storage facilities should be able to
handle 6 months of waste, and accommodate the greater of either a 25-year, 24hour or 10-year, 10-hour rainstorm.
Manure should be applied only to lands with adequate soil sampling, nutrient
testing, and an approved nutrient utilization plans, and application rates should
be based on phosphorus requirements.
All operations should prepare a current emergency response plan and should
keep manure and nutrient management information for at least 3 years.
Operators and contractors should be certified, and employees should be trained.
Abandoning earthen basins and lagoons should be prohibited, and a program to
finance the costs of closure for new and expanded facilities should be in place in
In November 1998, EPA and the pork industry announced agreement on a Clean
Water Act Compliance Audit Program (CAP) providing incentives for pork producers
to undertake voluntary on-farm assessments by reducing penalties for any Clean
Water Act violations promptly disclosed and corrected under the program. Audits are
to be conducted by trained and certified independent inspectors at no cost to the
farmer. Producers that report and correct violations within a specified timetable and
otherwise comply with a CAP agreement are eligible for reduced penalties ranging
from $1,000 to $10,000 per violation, capped at $40,000 per facility, and EPA retains
the flexibility to waive penalties altogether. The pork industry and EPA see the
program as helping to protect public health and water quality by identifying and
correcting existing or potential violations, while giving certainty to industry
concerning EPA enforcement. Industry officials say the program could cost about
$50 million and that resources to support it could become an issue. Initially, the cost
of the program is being supported by grants from EPA and America's Clean Water
Foundation and by funds from an industry check-off program.55
America's Clean Water Foundation. Comprehensive Environmental Framework for Pork
Production Operations; The Recommendations of the National Environmental Dialogue on
Pork Production. Washington, DC, Dec. 17, 1997. 30 p.
National Pork Producers Council. Briefing for House Agriculture Committee. Dec. 12,
The pork producers dialogue and followup activities are a significant effort
within the livestock community. It demonstrates the willingness of one sector of that
community to pro-actively seek solutions that are workable within the industry and
acceptable to outsiders. The Council asserts in the dialogue that many of the
recommendations are little more than sound business practices that should be adopted,
if they are not already followed, by all producers in the swine industry. The dialogue's
recommendations provide a baseline of expectations for those who raise pork (and
potentially for others who raise other types of livestock). Whether pork producers
can meet those expectations, and whether they will be acceptable to critics of pork
production, who may have more substantial expectations, are the two questions that
will be debated in the future.
Also in 1998, the poultry industry initiated a process similar to the pork
producers' dialogue, in hope of avoiding new federal and state rules. In December,
the Poultry Industry Environmental Dialogue announced a framework calling for most
poultry producers to prepare voluntary litter management plans by January 2001.
Plans will be developed in the context of "whole-farm nutrient management," which
considers chemical fertilizers, nutrients from other animals on a farm, and nutrient
needs of crops planted on a farm. Under the framework, farmers would make annual
reports to state agencies on the amount of litter produced, amounts applied to land,
and amounts transferred to alternative use. Integrators are expected to ensure that
producers have litter management plans and that producers make the annual reports.56
The group did not achieve consensus on some issues, such as who will pay for
research and educational programs and on the need to control phosphorus runoff, as
well as nitrogen.
Environmental groups have criticized the exclusively voluntary nature of the
pork and poultry industries' efforts, saying that national standards are needed to
address the industries comprehensively, because state standards vary greatly. They
are especially critical that the industry groups do not support requiring corporate
owners to take responsibility for the waste produced by animals.57
105th Congress. In the 105th Congress, Members of Congress responded to
increased attention to animal waste management issues. Two bills introduced in 1998
took different approaches. No action was taken on either bill, although they
generated considerable discussion.
H.R. 3232, introduced by Representative George Miller, proposed to amend the
Clean Water Act with CAFO-specific provisions. Currently, feedlots are subject to
permit requirements in the law that apply to all industrial facilities. The bill would
"Comprehensive Plan Adopted for Poultry Litter Management," Meat and Poultry Online,
Dec. 11, 1998 [http://neews.meatandpoultryonline.com/industry-news/19981211-6888.html]
"Poultry Framework to Address Runoff; Others Call for Stronger Standards." Daily
Environment Reporter, no. 239, Dec. 14, 1998.
define in law which CAFOs are required to obtain discharge permits, tightening EPA's
current regulatory threshold by halving the number of animal units triggering
regulation. It would require all CAFOs to have CWA permits within 18 months and
require EPA to revise existing CAFO regulations within 2 years. Regulated feedlot
operators would have to submit comprehensive nutrient management plans to state
or federal permitting authorities. The bill would require a CWA permit for land
application of animal waste in excess of amounts needed for agronomic uptake of
plants. Feedlot operators who cease operations would be required to remove and
dispose of all animal waste at the facility.
A second bill in the 105th Congress, S. 1323, introduced by Senator Tom Harkin,
took a different approach. The focus of this bill was on USDA, not EPA. It directed
USDA to establish minimum required elements and technical standards for animal
waste management plans. CAFO owners would submit such plans to USDA in order
to operate lawfully, and USDA would conduct on-site inspection as part of its review
and approval process. It defined CAFOs in terms of "animal weight capacity,"
meaning feeding operations with capacity of more than 400,000 pounds for cattle or
more than 200,000 pounds for other livestock, rather than number of animal units.
This definition would extend regulatory coverage to many additional facilities (for
example, animal feeding operations with about 400 beef cattle, compared with 1,000
under current EPA rules).
S. 1323 called for USDA, in consultation with EPA, to establish maximum
permitted levels for application of animal waste to land, based on quantities necessary
for efficient crop nutrient requirements (taking into account all sources of nutrients)
and quantities which do not pose a risk of increased soil toxicity or surface or ground
water pollution. It would be unlawful to apply wastes in excess of such quantities.
If more waste were produced, it would have to be treated (for example, at an off-site
wastewater treatment plant). Finally, S. 1323 proposed to make development and
implementation of waste management plans eligible for EQIP funding and to increase
total EQIP funding from $200 million to $600 million annually through 2002.
Both bills specifed minimum elements for waste containment systems, as well as
minimum distance standards for aerial spraying of wastes. Both bills proposed to hold
owners of animals (integrators) jointly liable with the feedlot operator for application
of animal waste in violation of a management plan or CAFO discharge permit.
The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee held a hearing on S.
1323 on April 2, 1998.58 In May, the House Agriculture Committee held an oversight
hearing on recent EPA activities affecting animal agriculture.59
U.S. Congress. House. Committee on Agriculture. Subcommittee on Forestry, Resource
Conservation, and Research, and Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry. "Activities
of the Environmental Protection Agency Related to Livestock Feeding Operations." Joint
Hearing, May 13, 1998. 105th Congress, 2d Session. 121 p. Serial No. 105-50.
Administration and interest group views. In recent months, interest groups
have presented their views on animal waste management topics in connection with the
EPA-USDA national strategy (discussed above) and federal legislation.
Administration views. At the April 1998 Senate Agriculture Committee hearing
on S. 1323, witnesses from EPA and USDA said the Administration opposed the bill
because it would lead to regulatory duplication and overlap by their two agencies. At
this hearing, held before proposal or issuance of the national strategy, USDA said it
prefers working with farmers on a voluntary, cooperative basis (through
implementation of EQIP, for example) and does not have the resources to take on a
new regulatory role. Under the bill's expanded coverage, USDA said, the department
would be responsible for inspecting 40,000 animal feeding operations nationwide.
(Under the March 1999 final national strategy, EPA and states jointly have
responsibility for inspecting AFOs, beginning with CAFOs in priority watersheds
which are part of the estimated 15,000 to 20,000 that will eventually be required to
obtain clean water permits.)
Interest group views. In commenting on federal legislative proposals, interest
groups have repeated many of the points also made in connection with the
Administration's unified national strategy for AFOs. For example, several industry
groups said that federal legislation is not needed at this time, in view of the
Administration's initiatives, together with ongoing state and local activities and
voluntary measures that the industry itself is implementing. Industry groups say that
they do not need regulation, but could use technical and financial assistance.
Many state officials have argued that, with the extent and range of legislative and
regulatory activity occurring in states, there is little need for federal legislation that
could prove disruptive and duplicative of state efforts. As on issues related to the
national AFO strategy, state environmental and agricultural officials do not necessarily
object to minimal national uniformity, but strongly believe that states and localities
should not be preempted from imposing tighter controls, where they choose to do so.
Environmental and conservation groups support strong national baseline
standards for permitting of waste storage facilities and operations and waste
application. A strong federal program based in law, they say, would provide for more
accountability than programs run by state and local jurisdictions and is more likely to
ensure that permitting and decisionmaking includes public participation. Responding
to industries' emphasis on using voluntary measures, these groups often say that
voluntary measures are not enough to prevent harmful nutrient runoff. Moreover,
they say, while many voluntary manure management plans are being developed and
implemented--and comprehensive nutrient management plans will be developed under
the EPA-USDA national strategy, there is little information on how they are working.
106th Congress issues. In the 106th Congress, legislative attention to animal
waste issues could occur in connection with reauthorization of the Clean Water Act.
Representative Miller has introduced legislation (H.R. 684) similar to the bill he
sponsored in the 105th Congress, H.R. 3232. Like that bill, H.R. 684 would amend
the CWA to tighten EPA's regulatory programs for AFOs. Other specific proposals
may be introduced, as well. Moreover, reviewing the Act's current provisions that
deal with management of nonpoint source pollution (including contributions from
agriculture) is likely to be a closely related prominent issue if and when
reauthorization occurs. However, no comprehensive reauthorization bills have been
introduced in the 106th Congress, and congressional committees have not scheduled
hearings or other legislative activity.
The March 1999 release of the national AFO strategy by EPA and USDA could
prompt a variety of congressional activities, such as oversight hearings or specific
proposals to modify the Clean Water Act or other existing laws.
Legislative attention also could occur in connection with the Administration's
request for funding to implement the Clean Water Action Plan. The President's
FY2000 budget request includes a total of $458 million in additional funds to
implement this water quality initiative, including $126 million more for USDA's EQIP.
How the President's priorities will fare in Congress depends both on support for the
funding requests themselves and on whether the requests are viewed as taking funds
away from other programs or projects having congressional priority. In 1998, the
President's FY1999 budget sought $568 million in increases to fund the Plan, but
Congress passed appropriations bills that provided less than 15% of the increased
Conclusion: Policy Questions
Social and political pressure to address the environmental impacts of livestock
production has grown to the point that many federal policymakers today are asking
what to do, not whether to do something. The setting is one where agricultural policy
and environmental policy, which traditionally have separate agendas and priorities,
come together on some points. A major direction of inquiry is what strategies will be
effective and attainable, who should be responsible for developing and implementing
strategies to address known and future problems, and who should bear the burdens
of new strategies. Animal waste management issues are one set of concerns, along
with a number of others, that currently face animal agriculture generally. Underlying
the current discussion is a broader debate, as well: should evolving policies deal
primarily with residues of livestock production, or should policies also seek to
influence the ongoing trends in the industry towards concentration of animals among
smaller numbers of producers? Consideration of the following questions is likely to
shape policies that are developed to address the waste management issues,
irrespective of how other societal concerns also are addressed.
What is the federal role today? Federal, state, and local governments currently
have numerous programs and policies in place that address animal waste issues. At
the federal level, policies include EPA's existing regulatory programs implementing
water quality requirements and USDA's technical assistance and incentive payment
programs to farmers, especially through the new EQIP. With release of the national
AFO strategy, both will be coordinating their activities to implement that plan. Both
also will be coordinating activities to address agricultural pollution generally under the
For additional information, see CRS Report 98-745, Clean Water Action Plan: Budgetary
Administration's Clean Water Action Plan. One question, in terms of EPA program
changes resulting from the national AFO strategy, is whether and, if so, how it will
propose to modify the current regulatory threshold of 1,000 animal units and possibly
bring more animal feeding operations clearly under EPA's rules. Many other
questions will be raised as EPA develops revised feedlot rules, including what type of
water quality monitoring requirements and land application standards should be set
at the federal level, versus, by state and local governments. One issue to watch over
time is the availability of funding and staff for both EPA and USDA, as they
implement new programs and initiatives.
What should the federal role be vis a vis state and local roles? State and
local governments implement a variety of regulatory, siting and zoning, technical
assistance, and cost share programs. A key question, especially in view of the varied
state and local policies that also now exist, is what degree of federal leadership and
national consistency is appropriate and how federal policies will blend with those of
states and localities. As discussed previously, some groups and individuals favor a
strengthened federal role that holds states to minimum national consistency. For
example, the National Pork Producers Council advocates minimum national standards,
which it has recommended through its dialogue. Others would prefer that states have
the lead role in policy formulation, based on their knowledge of geographic, climatic,
economic or other unique factors, while limiting the federal role to providing guidance
and financial assistance. A related question is how the federal role might change over
time, because of legislative and administrative actions by a growing number of states.
Further, there are questions about additional aspects of the federal role generally
in addressing animal waste issues. For example, is there a role for government in
supporting efforts to facilitate exchange or transfer of manure to lessen imbalances
between areas with intense animal production and areas with fewer livestock farms
where the nutritive value of manure can be used? Is there need for government to
encourage certain manure management practices with potential for increasing the
nutrient value while reducing off-site damages?61 What levels of financial assistance
can and should the federal government provide to farm operators and/or states for
implementation of waste management planning? How should federal funds to
operators be provided — directly from federal agencies, routed through states which
determine high-priority needs, or some other system? Also, because current federal
environmental programs do not deal with animal waste impacts on groundwater or
air quality, there is a question of whether federal policy should address these
concerns, which are beyond the Clean Water Act regime.
A related question concerns how to balance the roles of EPA and USDA, in
terms of federal responsibility and policy direction. This split was reflected by the two
legislative proposals introduced in the 105th Congress, one emphasizing EPA's role
under the Clean Water Act (H.R. 3232, reintroduced in the 106th Congress as H.R.
684), the other focusing on enhanced responsibility for USDA (S. 1323). Implicitly,
this question asks whether animal waste is viewed primarily as an environmental
For example, commercially available amendments such as slaked lime or alum can reduce
ammonia nitrogen volatilization and phosphorus solubility of poultry waste but may not be
considered affordable or economically justified by farm operators.
pollution problem, or primarily as an agricultural resource management problem.
Answers may not represent either-or policy choices, but could involve better
coordination of the agencies' differing roles, which is a key goal of the
Administration's Clean Water Action Plan.
What balance of federal regulation and voluntary approaches is needed?
This question is closely related to those concerning the appropriate federal role and
the way in which animal waste management is viewed as a policy matter. If it is
viewed as a point source pollution problem, EPA's traditional regulatory tools of
standard setting, permitting, compliance deadlines, and enforcement are the key
available tools. Alternatively, if viewed as an agricultural resource issue, the desired
policy tools might be those most familiar to the agriculture community: nonregulatory, incentive-based approaches.
Here, too, solutions are unlikely to be exclusive either-or determinations.
Solutions are more likely to be broad-based, along the lines and consistent with
evolving policies which view resource management problems, especially those
involving water resources, at the scale of watersheds. Some view watershed
management as the next generation of both pollution control and resource
management policies, since it is a concept centered on addressing the highest-priority
problems within geographic areas that encompass multiple economic and resource
activities and multiple ownerships. It seeks to move beyond focusing on individual
chemical contaminants or their sources to a broader assessment of all sources of
impairment within the watershed, including habitat degradation, air quality impacts,
biological factors, or polluted runoff. In many watersheds, agricultural sources
(cropland and livestock) will be part of the mix. Solving problems on a watershed
basis may involve a mix of policy tools: funding (grants and loans), land use
management, regulation, technical assistance and education, market-based approaches
(such as trading of effluent reduction requirements by point and nonpoint sources),
and coordination among federal, state, and local levels of government. These are the
kinds of policy and program tools that EPA, USDA, and other agencies are using
today; whether they will be the correct or exclusive tools to address future problems
remains to be determined.
What kinds of additional research and evaluation are needed? Experts
identify a number of areas of research needed to inform current and new animal waste
management policies. First, many believe basic research on using and disposing of
manure is crucial. Odor management is a key air quality concern, although this topic
may be a higher priority to industry, states, and localities, than to the federal
government which has no regulatory interest as of now. Other research needs include
improved soil tests to determine nutrient application rates and methods, improved
systems to identify water resources at risk from manure and fertilizers (i.e., those
where geology, soils, and climate create potential for runoff and erosion), and a better
understanding of the possible effects of concentrated animals and their waste on air
quality. Broader federal issues in which research on animal agriculture could be a
useful component include the role of concentrated animal populations in global
warming and patterns of atmospheric deposition, and possible effects on human
Two related questions are who should take the lead on research questions
(government or industry, for example) and whether some research must precede
implementation (for example, studies on crop uptake of nutrients and application of
phytase or other nutrient-reducing enzymes in feed). How the results of relevant
federally funded research and technology development will be transferred to the public
and private sectors and the commercial marketplace also is an issue. Efforts to
educate and assist farms in understanding the value of manure as a soil amendment
and the use of alternate disposal techniques seem likely to be a priority.
Further, one part of a research agenda is likely to be more complete evaluation
and monitoring of programs, both ongoing and new. What programs (i.e.,
governmental and private sector) are underway and how effective they are in
addressing animal waste issues could be examined. Evaluation activities will provide
accountability, especially where federal dollars are spent, and will aid in determining
what steps are needed to address remaining problems.
Is federal legislation needed? This, finally, is the question of how Congress
will choose to address national policies on animal waste management. Legislation has
been proposed to guide EPA and/or USDA activities, and thus, influence states and
livestock producers. At issue is whether current federal policies, especially the EPAUSDA national AFO strategy, alone will be adequate to address animal waste
problems nationally and encourage improved management practices. Congress could
likewise guide the agencies' activities through the appropriations process, by either
limiting or expanding funding for specific programs and initiatives or, more broadly,
for the Administration's Clean Water Action Plan.