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Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations

January 11, 2021
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WRITTEN BY Dr. Elena Bickell

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) as an intensive animal feeding operation (AFO) in which over 1000 animal units are confined for over 45 days a year. Missouri Senate Bill 3911 made it more difficult for local governments to block CAFOs. SB 391 was signed into law in 2019 and prohibits counties within the state of Missouri from implementing health ordinances that restrict activities or impose standards on AFOs and CAFOs that are stricter than state requirements.

Highlights

  • Despite increased consolidation in animal production in the U.S., most production continues to be carried out on family farms.
  • The benefits related to CAFOs are economic; for example, CAFOs make animal food prices less expensive.
  • Communities where CAFOs are located can experience an increase in local employment.
  • Negative impacts on communities near CAFOs include local environment pollution, health, noxious odors, water contamination and depreciation of property values.
  • CAFOs generate 335 million tons of waste annually, which is often managed inadequately.

Limitations

  • Currently, there are no empirical impact assessment studies showing the full costs of CAFOs when considering externalities. If CAFO operators were required to internalize the full costs of production, some CAFOs might be less efficient than the smaller farms they replace.
  • Steps to use animal waste in environmentally and economically sustainable ways have been undertaken (e.g. biogas injected to national natural gas pipelines), but they are still in early stages.
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