According to the Environmental Protection Agency there are 1.3 million livestock farms in the U.S. About 238-thousand of those farms are considered "animal feeding operations or "AFO's", enterprises where the livestock are kept and raised in confinement.
AFOs annually produce more than 500 million tons of animal manure that if not handled properly can be a threat to the environment and to public health. Indeed, the existence of such operations has become a volatile issue in many parts of farm country.
To ward off the hazards AFOs pose, the EPA is now issuing new rules to govern the conduct of the largest of the operations, so-called CAFOs an acronym for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.
The Bush administration announced new standards for the nation's large-scale livestock operations this week, claiming the new guidelines will lead to a 25-percent reduction in water pollution from America's farms.
The new rules target concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFOs -- feedlots with more than 1,000 head of cattle, 700 dairy cows, 2,500 hogs or 125,000 chickens. The new standards require all CAFOs to obtain permits ensuring their protection of the nation's waterways from pollution.
Typically, animal waste contains nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous, which can be beneficial as fertilizer when applied in appropriate amounts. But when excessive levels end up in the nation's waterways, the nutrients can cause too much enrichment leading to fish kills. Manure also contains pathogens, salts and heavy metals.
Christie Whitman, EPA Administrator: "This new rule will apply to about 15,500 of the largest livestock operations in the country. As a result of the actions we're taking today, the amount of phosphorous released into America's environment will be reduced by 56 million pounds, while nitrogen releases will be slashed by more than 100 million pounds."
Administration officials claim the centerpiece of the new guidelines is a mandate that cattle, hog and poultry producers devise "nutrient management plans" limiting how much manure can be applied on fields. The operators have four years to develop the plans and submit them for state approval.
Spokesmen from the hog, cattle and chicken industries have said, generally, they are pleased with the new guidelines. But critics claim the new rules establish no minimum standards and do not allow public review of the plans on individual farms.
The new rules are significantly weaker than those proposed during the Clinton administration that would have applied to 39,000 operations. Nevertheless, the new standards represent the largest changes in water quality regulations to affect manure management since the Clean Water Act was signed into law 25 years ago.