WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency has released its latest proposal on how large, industrial feedlot operations should be regulated, and is now proposing that even smaller units be included in its permitting requirements.
Concentrated animal feeding operations are now considered by EPA to be one of the nation’s leading causes of water pollution.
The agency has been working for several years on formulating a policy on how it should deal with the changing face of the American livestock industry.
The way in which animals are fed and finished for market has undergone dramatic changes in the past 20 years.
Small feedlot facilities and farm feedlots have been disappearing as the industry consolidates into fewer but vastly larger feeding operations that result in greater and more concentrated generation of wastes. The EPA states that an estimated 376,000 large and small livestock operations that confine animals generate approximately 128 billion pounds of manure each year. Typically these facilities confine beef and dairy cattle, hogs, and chickens.
Nationwide, nearly 40 percent of surveyed waters are too polluted for fishing or swimming, the EPA claims.
The EPA also states that some 60 percent of river pollution comes from all kinds of agricultural runoff, including livestock operations.
And it points out that pollution from livestock has been associated with many types of waterborne disease, as well as problems like pfiesteria outbreaks which have plagued the Chesapeake Bay, red tides, algae blooms, and the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
It is this kind of language, in particular, included in the EPA statement of facts, that the American Farm Bureau has taken exception to.
In a letter to EPA Administrator Carol Browner, the American Farm Bureau has asked the agency to correct the stated inaccuracies and “make clear the actual facts.”
According to the letter, AFBF has “repeatedly pointed out to EPA that agriculture, particularly livestock agriculture, does not contribute 60 percent of all river pollution as EPA’s officials have repeatedly misstated in recent years.
Farm Bureau is requesting EPA to supply the scientifically produced numbers to support its statement.
In fact, the Farm Bureau objection states, the 1998 Water Quality Survey report indicates that “animal feeding operations are major contributors to only .3 percent of the 842,426 stream miles that were assessed.”
“Of all waters in the United States, (animal feeding operations) are major pollution contributors to only 0.1 percent of the 3.6 million total miles of streams and rivers.”
The new EPA requirements would apply to as many as 39,000 concentrated animal feeding operations across the country. These operations are now defined as those that include 1,000 or more animal units.
Today, only an estimated 2,500 large and small livestock operations have enforceable permits under the Clean Water Act.
Operations feeding less than 1,000 animal units may also be defined as concentrated facilities if they are a threat to water quality.
EPA today is co-proposing two options for a new CAFO definition.
One proposed definition could include livestock facilities with more than 500 cattle or other animal units. The other proposal would require operations with 300-1000 cattle to have a permit if meet certain risk-based conditions.
In addition to stricter permitting requirements, the proposal includes several new strict controls:
* Poultry, veal, and swine operations would be required to prevent all discharges from their waste storage pits and lagoons where wastes are collected;
* Potential exemptions from permits presently used in some states would be forbidden, and all large livestock operations would have to acquire permits
* EPA and the states would issue co-permits for corporations and contract growers to ensure financial resources exist to meet environmental requirements;
* The spreading of manure on the land owned by livestock facilities would be limited to protect water ways.
This proposal is meant to put into regulation the Unified National Strategy for Animal Feeding Operations issued EPA and USDA in March 1999.
But according to the American Farm Bureau, America’s farmers and ranchers have already made great strides to do an even better job to protect the quality of the nation’s streams, and livestock waste shouldn’t be singled out as the cause polluted waters.
The Farm Bureau say that farmers who raise livestock and poultry plan on voluntarily spending millions of dollars on conservation and water quality improvements.
“The agency’s public statements aside,” Farm Bureau said, “EPA’s own numbers show that agriculture is not the leading cause of pollution in the United States.”