New GAO Report Suggests EPA Doesn't Have a Clue on CAFO Toxics

September 24, 2008

A Congressional watchdog is saying efforts to exempt feedlot air emissions from standard EPA toxics reporting are based on little or no information. EPA, says the Government Accountability Office (GAO), doesn't have a clue how many "Confined Animal Feeding Operations" (CAFOs) there are — much less how badly they pollute.

"Because no federal agency collects consistent, reliable data on CAFOs, GAO could not determine the trends in these operations over the past 30 years," the report said. "However, using USDA data for large farms that raise animals as a proxy for CAFOs, it appears that the number of these operations increased by about 230 percent, going from about 3,600 in 1982 to almost 12,000 in 2002. Also, during this 20-year period the number of animals per farm had increased, although it varied by animal type. Moreover, GAO found that EPA does not have comprehensive, accurate information on the number of permitted CAFOs nationwide. As a result, EPA does not have the information it needs to effectively regulate these CAFOs."

GAO estimated that "Some large farms that raise animals can generate more raw waste than the populations of some U.S. cities produce annually." Animal manure can produce ammonia, sulfur dioxide, and other gases so toxic that they must be reported under federal law. Livestock producers have lobbied hard for exemption from these requirements.

The Society of Environmental Journalists has opposed an EPA proposal to exempt feedlots from laws requiring them to report their emissions of toxic chemicals.