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Background on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs)

CAFOs are large-scale animal feeding operations that house heavy concentrations of livestock, including hogs, poultry and cattle.  Missouri has 106,000 farm operations, about 500 of which are Class I CAFOs, with 1,000 to 7,000 animal “units.”  These large scale feeding operations have significant environmental and public health consequences.

Missouri currently has over 400 permitted Class 1 CAFOs. (click here or on map for more information).

Threats to Public Health There is a vast body of scientific literature documenting the threats to public health and the environment stemming from the heavy concentrations of animal wastes that leak from factory farms. The threats range from drinking water contamination in local wells, including arsenic, bacteria and nitrates; pathogenic contamination of surface waters; antibioticresistant bacteria in the air, water, and soil, as well as in consumer meat products; and hydrogen sulfide and ammonia emissions (a concern for workers, children and elderly residents who live in close proximity to CAFOs). The U.S. Centers for Disease Control, University of Iowa, and Iowa State agree that CAFO air emissions constitute a hazard to public health and worker health, finding increased nausea, headaches, brain damage, vomiting or diarrhea and even life-threatening pulmonary edema. In addition to the gases hydrogen sulfide (a neurotoxin) and ammonia (a respiratory irritant), airborne manure particles from CAFOs have been shown to carry bacteria.  A CAFO with 4,000 hogs is estimated to produces the same amount of waste as a city of 12,000 people (Great Plains Natural Resources Journal 2006).

Threats to Water Quality This is not merely a “rural issue,” but one that affects all Missourians. Toxic emissions of nutrients, fertilizers and pathogens from corporate agribusiness find their way into countless local rivers, streams and lakes, jeopardizing our drinking water, river quality and wildlife. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), pollution from agriculture contributes to poor water quality in more than 100,000 miles of rivers and streams in the United States, along with 2,500 square miles of lakes and 2,900 square miles of estuaries. These waters are so polluted that they are unsafe for fishing, swimming, or the maintenance of healthy populations of wildlife. (These figures greatly understate the impact of agribusiness pollution on America’s waterways, since they include only waterways whose quality has been assessed by state governments and those for which a cause of pollution was listed.)

Corporate Agriculture Need Strong Regulatory Oversight 

Many would like to believe that local, state and federal laws can address many of these concerns, but that’s hardly the case.  Missouri laws regulating factory farms are meager.  What’s more, they apply mostly to the largest (Class I) CAFOs, and are inconsistently enforced.  Indeed, many CAFOs operate “under the radar” as Class II operations, meaning they escape the scrutiny of the Department of Natural Resources.  Many of these are built right on stream banks or other inappropriate locations because DNR has no authority over them. All the more reason why we need stricter regulations governing these operations.


Local Control

One regulatory strategy is retaining local control laws, which protect the rights of landowners who are affected by these large feeding operations.

Missouri communities have responded to the state’s inadequate CAFO regulations and enforcement by passing their own health ordinances through county government or local health boards that require commonsense measures like increased setbacks for CAFOs near residences and schools.  In recent years, the CAFO industry has worked in the state Capitol to undermine these local laws, but Missouri citizens have so far managed to defeat these attempts and defend the right to local control.

Missouri Votes Conservation supports bills that strengthen the rights of county commissioners and health boards to retain local control, and opposes measures that jeopardize or compromise local control.  MVC also opposes tax incentives or other special favors for CAFOs, as well as laws that would limit our water quality standards to “no stricter than federal.”

In 2011, we and our partner organizations lobbied against legislation that severely restrict the rights of citizens to seek compensation for damages caused by CAFOs.  But unfortunately, lawmakers passed a watered-down version of the bill.