A majority of animals are raised in industrial facilities, which generate 300 million tons of manure every year, but we don't know where it goes.
Cowboys have known for years to"always drink upstream from the herd. And although the lone, Stetson-wearing cowpoke roaming the prairie is becoming as rare as the jackalope, his advice is as poignant as ever: Animals defecate, and their manure carries bacteria, viruses, and other contaminants that pollute water and can make people sick.
Unfortunately, for most Americans, there is very little information available about where the herd is, or if their favorite swimming holes happen to lie downstream. A majority of animals are now raised in industrial livestock facilities, known in the regulatory world as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that these operations generate approximately 300 million tons of manure each year, more than the amount of trash produced by all Americans. However -- although some states collect piecemeal information about CAFOs -- there are no comprehensive data about the size, location, or waste management practices of the U.S. livestock industry.
Without key information about the industry, the federal government's watchdog, the Government Accountability Office, observed, the "EPA does not have the information that it needs to effectively regulate these operations." So, under pressure from NRDC and our partners, the EPA agreed to initiate an effort to get a handle on the industry's true risks to water, by proposing to collect some basic operating information from CAFOs. Unfortunately, the EPA, cowed by the livestock industry, chickened out.