Factory Farm Moratorium Letter (with citations)

Dear Legislator,

I am writing to you about a very important and escalating concern: concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Also known as factory farms, these industrial facilities cause substantial health problems, as well as environmental and economic harm to communities nationwide. The characteristics of a CAFO vary by what animal is being raised and region of the country.  But the defining characteristic of such farms is that hundreds to thousands of animals (mainly cows, pigs, chickens or turkeys) are confined tightly together and provided little or no access to sunlight, fresh air or room for natural movement.  As a baseline, the EPA considers farms with over 1,000 beef cattle, 2,500 large swine, 55,000 turkeys, or 125,000 chickens (with dry manure handling) to be CAFOs.[1] 

As scientific research on CAFOs has grown, along with the scale and extent of these farms, the problems they create have become more apparent and severe. The American Public Health Association (APHA) recently reviewed the impact of CAFOs, which led them to issue a resolution urging “federal, state, and local governments and public health agencies to impose a moratorium on new Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.”[2]In light of the following information, I ask you to take immediate steps to ban new and expanding CAFOs.

Water Quality

A primary source of CAFO-related health and environmental problems is the vast quantities of manure they create. Livestock collectively generate 130 times more waste in the U.S. than humans.[3] CAFOs’ manure “lagoons” often leak and foul water sources, which impairs water quality, human health, and quality of life in rural communities. In one infamous case, in 1995 a North Carolina hog farm spilled 25 million gallons of manure into the New River- more than twice the oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez- killing 10 million fish and contaminating more than 350,000 acres of coastal shellfish habitat.[4] This led North Carolina to impose a statewide moratorium on new factory farms in 1997. Manure spills are exceedingly common; tens of thousands have occurred in the last twenty years. Manure runoff can also lead to outbreaks of pathogens (such as Pfisteria in MD or E.Coli 0157:H7) and increased costs to communities for drinking water treatments. Feedlot runoff has also contributed to the Gulf of Mexico’s “Dead Zone,” a sealife-killing algae bloom the size of Connecticut and Rhod Island combined[5], as well as a similar catastrophe in Lake Erie.[6]

Public Health

Antibiotic resistance created by CAFOs is of particular concern to public health professionals; the American Medical Association, APHA, and American Academy of Pediatrics are all opposed to antibiotics use in healthy farm animals. Because so many animals are packed together, factory farms use a high level of antibiotics to prevent disease and promote growth. More than 70 percent of antibiotics used in the U.S. are fed to livestock[7].According to APHA, the emerging scientific consensus is that antibiotics given to livestock contribute to antibiotic resistance in humans. Abuse of these drugs is unleashing mutant bacteria that are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics used to treat tuberculosis, pneumonia and other once-manageable human illnesses. These “superbugs” are a threat to public health and could have devastating consequences.

Air emissions from manure lagoons, which can release ammonia and hydrogen sulfide in addition to 400 other volatile chemicals, have been linked to respiratory problems, seizures, brain damage, and death. There is extensive literature documenting acute and chronic respiratory diseases among factory farm workers as a result of the foul air in their workplace. Alarmingly, about one-fourth of CAFO swine workers have bronchitis, asthma, and other respiratory problems.[8] [9] Growing evidence suggests that neighbors of CAFOs suffer severe consequences, including irreversible brain damage, from their emissions. To escape the stench and the health consequences, some have abandoned their homes.[10] 

Rural Communities

Factory farms negatively impact rural communities nationwide. As far back as 1983, a paper for the U.S. Congress’ Office of Technology Assessment concluded, “As farm size and absentee ownership increase, social conditions in the local community deteriorate.” [11]

Factory farms harm small producers because factory farms are designed to exist in a highly concentrated market system. Currently, 54 percent of U.S. livestock are now produced on five percent of livestock farms[12]. Factory farms crowd out smaller farms in every sector of U.S. livestock farming. From 1982 to 1997, the number of livestock farms fell from 435,000 to 213,000, with the decline occurring in the very small and small farm sectors. During that same time period, the number of CAFOs doubled from 5,000 to 11,200 or from 1 to 5 percent of all operations.[13] Now, corporations that own or control the factory farm may also own the feed company, slaughterhouse, and final stages of production (referred to as vertical integration). Many once-independent farmers have become “contract growers,” where a remote corporation controls raising the animals, and the farmer is left with the risk of the operation, such as debt and the cost of waste disposal.   Both these practices reduce the opportunity for smaller producers to sell their product in a competitive and fair market.

Due to the severe damage these facilities cause, I urge you to support and actively work for a moratorium on new and expanding Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. I also advocate that you seek more stringent pollution standards for existing CAFOs to protect public health, the environment, and rural communities.



[1] “Table 4d-1: Comparison of CAFO and AFO Size Definitions under the NPDES and CZARA Programs.” National Management Measures to Control Nonpoint Pollution from Agriculture. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, July 2003 http://www.epa.gov/nps/agmm/chap4d.pdf

[2] “Precautionary Moratorium on New Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.” American Public Health Association, 2003 Policy Statements. 2003. http://www.apha.org/legislative/policy/2003/2003-007.pdf

[3]Minority Staff of the U.S. Senate on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, Animal Waste Pollution in America: An Emerging National Problem, Washington, DC, December 1997, p. 1

[4]Williams, Ted. “Assembly Line Swine,” Audubon Magazine, March-April 1998, p. 28.

[5]“NOAA, Louisiana Scientists Issue ‘Dead Zone’ Forecast.” NOAA News Online, July 26, 2004.

[6]McDiarmid Jr., Hugh. “Scientists Delve into Lake Erie Dead Zone.” Knight Ridder Newspapers, April 25, 2005.

[7]Mellon M, Benbrook C, Benbrook KL. Hogging It! Estimates of Antimicrobial Abuse in Livestock. Union of Concerned Scientists: Cambridge, MA, January, 2001. Available at http://www.ucsusa.org/publications.

[8]Thu KM, et al. (Eds.) Proceedings, Understanding the impacts of large-scale swine production, June 29- 30, 1995, Des Moines, IA. Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Printing Service. www.publichealth.uiowa.edu/icash

[9]Donham KJ. The concentration of swine production: Effects on swine health, productivity, human health, and the environment. Veterinary Clin of North Amer: Food Animal Practice 2000;16:559-597.

[10]Lee, Jennifer 8, “Neighbors of Vast Hog Farms say Foul Air Endangers their Health.” New York Times, May 11, 2003.

[11]MacCannell, D. "Agribusiness and the Small Community." Background paper to "Technology, Public Policy and the Changing Structure of American Agriculture." U.S. Office of Technology Assessment, 1983.

[12]Gollehon N, Caswell M, Ribaudo M, Kellogg R, Lander C, Letson D, “Confined Animal Production and Manure Nutrients”, Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Information Bulletin No. 771, June 2001, http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/aib771