Proposed EPA Rules Will Fail to Control Factory Farm Pollution, Says NRDC

WASHINGTON (December 14, 2000) - A new Environmental Protection Agency proposal to regulate factory farm pollution, which the agency will announce tomorrow, is "grossly inadequate," according to a national environmental organization. Under a 1992 judicial consent decree between NRDC and EPA, the agency was forced to propose the rule by December 15.

"It will be business as usual for industrialized agribusiness under the EPA’s new rule," says Nancy Stoner, director of the Clean Water Project at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). "The Clinton administration missed the opportunity to stop the severe environmental degradation and public health threats caused by factory farms."

Over the past several decades, factory farms have replaced family farms for meat production. Factory farms raise thousands of animals in close quarters and dump millions of gallons of manure into the environment every year. In fact, they generate 130 times more waste than the entire U.S. population. Most factory farms store manure in lagoons that can be larger than football fields and then spray it untreated on land. Excess manure flows into nearby waterways, killing fish, polluting drinking water supplies, and spreading antibiotic-resistant bacteria into the environment. The manure also emits toxins, such as hydrogen sulfide, which pollute the air. The lagoons themselves are prone to breaking, spilling the animal wastes into surface water and leaching it into groundwater.

EPA has not kept pace with the exploding growth of factory farms, says NRDC. Although nearly 30 years ago the Clean Water Act identified large feedlots as a point source for pollution, the regulations implementing this statutory provision are riddled with loopholes, allowing some 70 percent of large factory farms to escape regulation. Even in cases in which EPA or states have required permits, the permits do not prevent untreated manure from reaching waterways.

Based on a draft of the EPA proposed rule, NRDC believes it will fail to:

  • require factory farms to phase out lagoons and spray fields;
  • require factory farms to adopt a sustainable approach to raising meat; and
  • eliminate the loopholes that have allowed factory farms to evade regulatory controls.

NRDC did find some positive provisions in the new EPA proposal. "EPA now plans to hold corporate owners of factory farms responsible for the waste," said Melanie Flynn, an attorney with NRDC’s Clean Water Project. "Large corporations, such as Smithfield, Seabord, Tyson and Purdue, have been generating huge profits from factory farms and forcing their contract growers to take responsibility for waste disposal. We are pleased to see that EPA has proposed to address this inequity."