CAFOs & Clean Water Act


Large-scale concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) can cause significant environmental and public health threats. In addition to emitting air pollutants such as hydrogen sulfide and volatile organic chemicals, CAFOs are also a significant source of water pollutants, including nitrogen, phosphorus, pathogens, antibiotics, pesticides and heavy metals. The EPA reports that the waste generated by large-scale conventional hog, chicken, and cattle operations has polluted over 35,000 miles of river and has contaminated groundwater in 17 states.

Many CAFO operators give antibiotics to animals to make them grow faster and prevent diseases that are caused by the extreme crowding and other stresses on the animals. An estimated 70 percent of antibiotics and related drugs produced in this country are used in animal agriculture for these nontherapeutic purposes. This amount is estimated to be more than eight times the amount of drugs used to treat human illness. Many of these antibiotics are the same antibiotics used to treat diseases in humans. The use of these antibiotics in CAFOs contributes to the development of antibiotic resistance in disease-causing pathogens. The result is fewer effective antibiotics for medical doctors to use against human diseases.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) works against CAFOs by:

  • advocating for proper enforcement of existing rules for CAFOs and the development of tougher federal regulations regarding their establishment and operation;
  • opposing the use of farm bill conservation funding and other federal funding to support the proliferation of CAFOs at public expense by subsidizing the cost of CAFO infrastructure such as huge waste lagoons and waste effluent sprayfields;
  • working for agricultural policies and programs that help our member groups provide outreach, education and information to farmers, ranchers and the public about sustainable livestock and poultry production systems.

NSAC is a leading organization in the Clean Water Network and has a major role in the Network’s Feedlot Work Group, which seeks to strengthen regulation of large-scale CAFOs under the Clean Water Act and other federal laws that can be used to reduce water pollution from CAFOs.

In addition, NSAC’s Policy Associate, Martha Noble, serves on the EPA Farm, Ranch and Rural Communities Advisory Committee, which advises the EPA Administrator on agricultural issues within all environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act. The initial agenda of the EPA Committee includes developing recommendations for the EPA Administrator in the next administration on managing waste from CAFOs and on production of biofuels from agricultural feedstocks. NSAC is working for strong recommendations that will promote long-term sustainable agricultural systems that protect the nation’s agricultural resources, natural resources, and public health.