CAFOs

Factory farms, also known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, are a major polluter of America’s waterways and a major cause of air pollution in rural communities. Unlike traditional agriculture, factory farms pack hundreds to hundreds of thousands of animals into confinement buildings.

Factory farms generate 500 million tons of manure annually.[1] But, unlike cities that must treat their sewage before discharging it to the environment, CAFOs store their liquefied excrement in large dirt cesspits called lagoons, or in piles of solids called “litter,” then spread the raw wastes on surrounding cropland. Ruptured waste pipelines resulting in large spills and polluted runoff after heavy rainfall washes the wastes into waterways, resulting in massive fish kills and dangerous bacterial water contamination. Air pollution from factory farms contains poisonous gases such as hydrogen sulfide and creates stupefying odors that sicken rural neighbors.

Factory farms are designed to maximize production at minimal costs without regard for public health, the environment, food safety, rural economies, animal health, or their surrounding communities.[2] But their “cheap food” isn’t really so cheap according to a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, and imposes enormous costs on society.[3] Corporate-owned factory farm systems and their slaughterhouses are a threat to food safety and are responsible for frequent huge food recalls. Up to 70 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used by factory farms to keep the animals alive in their filthy cramped confinements, contributing to a rising emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that threatens human health.[4] Heavily subsidized by taxpayers, factory farms drive down the property values of adjacent homes and farmland by as much as 70 percent in some rural counties.[5]

The independent Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production conducted a comprehensive, fact-based, balanced two-and-a-half year study of this industrial farm animal production (IFAP) system. Commissioners reported that the factory farm system often poses unacceptable risks to public health, the environment and the welfare of the animals, and recommended that significant changes be implemented immediately.[6]

The Sierra Club opposes all permits for new or expanded factory farms, and encourages consumers to find safe and sustainable sources for their meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products.


  1. Environmental Integrity Project, September 2010
  2. Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, September 2010
  3. Union of Concerned Scientists, April 2008
  4. Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, April 2008
  5. The Goldman Environmental Prize, September 2010
  6. Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, April 2008

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