CAFOs

WELCOME TO THE SIERRA CLUB'S INFORMATION CENTER ON CAFOS

If you have accessed this site, we assume you have concerns about animal factories, where livestock are forced to live in tight, filthy, unnatural spaces in what the USEPA has defined as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs that pollute our air and water and threatened neighbors' health. There are several ways whereby one can challenge CAFOs:  individually, as a member of a Sierra Club Group or Chapter, or as part of a community directly threatened by a CAFO. Please click on the link(s) below that best fits your needs.

1. Take individual action to avoid inadvertently supporting CAFOs especially through grocery shopping and restaurants dining - How to Avoid Supporting CAFOs;

2. Directly oppose a CAFO through local organizing & participating in state or local site and permitting proceedings by quickly learning about CAFO technology & pollution - See our Fact Sheets;

3. See how CAFOs are (or are not) regulated, and how BIG AG's political power can frustrate environmental justice Bull Sheets

4. Participate in the state and federal political process especially the Farm Bill & advocating for bills in Congress that propose to limit CAFOs through Farm Bill and Industrial Agriculture Accountability Act (IAAA) activities;

5. Sometimes we win.  See our Success Stories.

 

 

 

 

 

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What Are CAFOs?

CAFO is a commonly used acronym originally defined by the EPA and used by the states that have delegated authority to enforce the Clean Water Act.  Its use may vary according to state laws, but in general, refers to confined livestock operations that exceed a certain threshold in animal population.  Operations smaller than this threshold are referred to as animal feeding operations or AFOs, but may be defined as CAFOs under state law under certain circumstances.

A CAFO confines at least this many animals:

  • 700 mature dairy cows, whether milked or dry
  • 1,000 cattle (other than mature dairy cows or veal calves), including heifers, steers, bulls, and cow/calf pairs
  • 2,500 swine, each weighs 55 pounds or more
  • 10,000 swine, each weighs less than 55 pounds
  • 55,000 turkeys
  • 30,000 laying hens or broilers, if the AFO uses a liquid manure handling system
  • 125,000 chickens (other than laying hens), if the AFO doesn't use a liquid manure handling system
  • 82,000 laying hens, if the AFO doesn't use a liquid manure handling system
  • 30,000 ducks, if the AFO doesn't use a liquid manure handling system
  • 5,000 ducks, if the AFO uses a liquid manure handling system

The EPA also coined the term animal unit designed to roughly correspond to the amount of manure produced by a species of livestock.  An animal unit is calculated by dividing 1000 by the above threshold animal populations.  For example, hogs weighing 55 lb. or more are considered 0.4 animal units each, calculated by dividing 1000 by 2500.  Thus, a CAFO is also defined as 1000 or more animal units. States may set certain requirements for the location of CAFOs according to their size in animal units, which is a (very rough) surrogate for the potential for pollution and odor.  For example, a state may require a minimum separation distance to surface water or to neighboring homes according to total animal units.

In Kansas, a cattle feedlot is permitted for 140,000 cows and a dairy for 35,000 cows. Another confines 198,000 mature hogs just a few miles from one holding 132,000 hogs. In Iowa, an egg factory complex confines 5 million laying hens.

Large, high density CAFOs have reduced the number of livestock farmers in the US by 80%. Other terms used to describe a CAFO are mega farm, animal factory, factory farm, hog motels, poop factories, or animal concentration camps. The quantity of urine and feces from the smallest hog CAFO (2,500 animals) is equivalent to the urine and feces produced by 10,000 humans. Unlike animals in pasture, manure from CAFOs is often collected and stored in liquid form that creates serious problems with proper disposal.

 

Why are CAFOs cause for our concern?

  • CAFOs are responsible for multiple and significant well-documented public health and environmental harms. They threaten the air we breathe, the water we drink and recreate in, soil health, and biodiversity.
  • Rural communities suffer socioeconomic losses and environmental injustice.
  • Current regulations and laws do not adequately protect the environment and public health.
  • CAFOs receive substantial taxpayer support.
  • Generally, there are no CAFO size or density restrictions within communities, even those located within watersheds already impaired by agricultural pollution. CAFO expansions and new constructions amplify the associated harms. "Right to Farm" laws leave CAFO neighbors and their communities with little to no say.
  • States may also set their own animal unit values.  For example, Kansas recently assigned a lower value of 0.003 animal units per broiler chicken to encourage production in the state. This meant a new producer could permit some 330,000 chickens at a single location without qualifying as a CAFO, thereby enjoying much weaker standards for its separation from neighbors.

Check Out Our CAFO Fact Sheets