Uncontrolled Factory Farm Manure Causes Pollution and Threatens Health
December 3, 1998
Reggie James or Rafael Ayuso
Consumer Union Southwest Office
AUSTIN, TX – The unchecked growth of factory farms-and their resulting mountains of untreated livestock manure-are fouling drinking water and causing a public health risk in Texas and at least 29 other states according to a new report released today.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Clean Water Network on Thursday released the report America’s Animal Factories: How States Fail to Prevent Pollution from Livestock Waste nationwide.
The report details how corporate-owned “factory” farms in these states are poisoning drinking water supplies by fouling rivers, lakes, streams and underground aquifers. Moreover, these mountains of manure are releasing toxic fumes into the air, making them a major source of air pollution in rural areas. In most states, according to the report, polluters face minimal regulation and lax enforcement of existing laws.
Facing a general reluctance at the state government level to tackle the farm waste problem, citizens in Colorado and South Dakota passed ballot initiatives this year to hold factory farms accountable for the pollution they cause. The issue also played a major role in at least two Congressional races and several local elections.
In October, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a draft strategy to better regulate factory farm waste. As part of the government’s practice of collecting public comment, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman and Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) will join senior EPA officials in Des Moines for a public hearing on the issue December 4. EPA officials will hold a similar public hearing in Ft. Worth, Texas on December 10.
“The scale of the problem is enormous,” says Robin Marks, NRDC senior resource specialist and a principal author of the report. “Factory farms are producing stadiums-full of manure every day, and most simply let this waste pollute drinking water supplies. It’s outrageous.”
In Texas, manure from dairies applied to fields in Erath County significantly contributed to the degradation of the Bosque River, which feeds into Lake Waco. Massive new factory pig farms-with their huge wastewater lagoons and odors-continue to spark controversy throughout the Panhandle. Farmers and ranchers in Perryton, Spearman and elsewhere complain that the odors and flies significantly devalue their homesteads, while the lagoons pose a threat to the region’s critical water supply.
“These animal factories like to present themselves as the ‘new’ American family farm,” said Reggie James of Consumers Union, Southwest Regional Office, which assisted with research on Texas factory farming. “They come into the state promising economic growth, and are welcomed with taxpayer-subsidies. But this isn’t Farmer Jones we’re talking about with his ties to the community.. Rather, they’re factory farms run by remote corporations.”
The NRDC / Clean Water Network documented-for the first time in one report-how little the states do to protect their citizens from factory farm pollution. Most states have few regulations, and current laws are poorly enforced. At the same time, federal rules do little to fill in major loopholes left by the states. The result is unchecked pollution leading to contaminated well water, fish kills, sickness from toxic gases in the air, and plummeting property values for neighboring land owners.
As large corporate entities have come to dominate the nation’s farm landscape (10 corporations produce 92 percent of the nation’s poultry), animal factories have been built that raise thousands more animals than a family farm would raise on the same acreage. In many cases, pollution problems occur when shopping mall-size storage “lagoons,” filled with manure, overflow in heavy rains or leak into groundwater. In other cases manure, over-applied to crops as fertilizer, runs off saturated fields into rivers or lakes.
America’s Animal Factories offers several recommendations to control factory farm pollution. They include:
* Issuing a moratorium on Clean Water Act permits for new and expanding animal factories;
- Allowing local residents to participate fully in decisions allowing new factory farms in their communities;
- Banning open-air cesspools for factories;
- Banning the spraying of manure and urine;
- Eliminating manure run-off from land;
- Protecting the nation’s water supplies from poultry manure and regulating chicken factories under the Clean Water Act;
- Making corporate factory farm owners responsible for bearing the cost of waste disposal and cleanup.
The entire report is available at the Natural Resources Defense Council’s website at
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 400,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco. More information on NRDC is available through its website, at www.nrdc.org. The Clean Water Network is an alliance of more than 1,000 organizations that endorse its platform paper, the National Agenda for Clean Water, which outlines the need for strong clean water safeguards to protect public health and the environment.