The American Public Health Association recently issued an official policy statement recommending that local, state and federal governments place an immediate moratorium on all new and expanding concentrated animal feeding operations.
The association did so on grounds that moratoriums are needed until more scientific research data is collected and concerns about possible threats to human health are addressed.
The blanket recommendation, which is sure to draw the ire of producer groups, appears to be a case of putting the cart before the horse. It is unwise to create a moratorium because conditions and situations are different from one state or region to another.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that approximately 450,000 CAFOs operate in the United States. The EPA says that operations with at least 1,000 animal units – 1,000 beef cattle, 700 dairy cows, 2,500 swine weighing more than 55 pounds, 125,000 boiler chickens, or 82,000 laying hens or pullets – are CAFOs.
All are mandated to have approved plans in place to handle waste, feed storage and water quality issues. Those who oppose the standards argue that they are far too lax and provide operators with too much wiggle room.
If that is the case, the problem is found with the regulations and not the producers.
Proposals to construct CAFO operations have caused bitterness within communities since the 1980s, when new technologies allowed greater concentrations of livestock and poultry in any operation.
Minnesota and Iowa have struggled to create permitting systems that work for both producers and communities. The permitting process has, to an extent, been streamlined, but has done little to stifle controversy.
Additional research into the impacts that CAFOs can have on human and environmental health should continue at full speed. And it is understood that research should be based on sound science and not motivated by raw emotion.
A moratorium would stifle a livestock industry that must continue to grow to meet the world's growing and changing food needs in the 21st century.
It's true that bad actors who aren’t good neighbors within the communities they operate must be held accountable for their bad acts. However, conscientious owners who follow the letter of the law ought not be punished.
If current regulations are unacceptable, lobby lawmakers to change them.