EFFECTS OF ANIMAL FEEDING OPERATIONS (AFOs)
WATER RESOURCES AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Fort Collins, Colorado
Wednesday, September 1, 1999
Moderator: L. Rod DeWeese - USGS
Facilitator: M. Betsy Daniel - USGS
An open forum was held at the close of the Nutrient Session to allow a free
flow of information, questions, and discussion among attendees. Approximately
120 attendees participated in the 2-hour Open Forum Session. The forum did not
restrict or program any topics of discussion, but five questions (listed below)
were posed to meeting attendees. Responses to these questions and major points
in the ensuing discussion are summarized below in italics. These comments
express the opinion of the participant and do not represent a position of the
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).
- What are the major scientific questions/topics lacking information that
could significantly add to the overall understanding of the environmental
implications of AFOs?
- Wildlife and habitat health: environmental assessment
- Characterization and measurement of the occurrence and magnitude of
nutrient, pathogen, and pharmaceutical concentrations and their relation
to AFOs and effects on wildlife (amphibian, fish, bird, mammalian) health
and habitat viability.
- Effects of specific AFO management practices (such as lagoons for waste
storage, feed storage, and feed amendments) on the health and habits of
migratory birds and other animal species.
- Manure and other animal-residuals management
- Study of the efficacy and efficiency of various lagoon- and other AFO
manure-management strategies and the potential risk of surface-water or
- Research on use of solar or wind power for aerobic or other types of
treatment of animal residuals.
- Assessment of and research on handling animal carcasses.
- Pathogens and other microorganisms
- Environmental assessment – Microbiological profiles of surface
water and ground water receiving AFO wastes.
- Research – Antibiotic resistance in pathogens associated with AFO
solid/liquid manure in soil, air, and water bodies.
- Methods development – Develop standardized methods for detection
and monitoring of source, transport, and fate of microorganisms.
- Pharmaceuticals (antibiotics, hormones, endocrine disruptors)
- Environmental assessment – Occurrence, distribution, concentration,
loading of animal pharmaceuticals in streams, ground water, soil, and the
- Research and methods development – Analytical methods for
identifying pharmaceuticals at environmental concentrations.
- Methods development – Standardized field methods for monitoring
source, transport, and fate of animal pharmaceuticals.
- Nutrients and trace elements
- Methods development – Standardize identification of nutrient/trace
element sources; i.e., distinguish among land uses.
- Research – Export/transport fluxes and cycling processes of
nutrients and trace elements from AFOs to streams, ground water, air,
soil, and vegetation.
- Methods research and development – Scientific methods to
characterize and quantify gaseous emissions from AFOs.
- Environmental assessment – Effects of gases and other emissions
from AFOs on air quality and human and animal health.
- Integrated, multidiscipline site studies: environmental assessment
- Holistic approach at multidiscipline sites – Multidiscipline data
collected at the same location to understand contaminant transport
processes that link biology, microbiology, hydrology, chemistry, geology,
and the atmosphere.
- Tools – Development and application of new or existing tools to
understand sources, sinks, and processes governing contaminant mobility,
concentration, and toxicity: for example, use of isotope geochemistry,
ribotyping (RNA and DNA) of microorganisms, analysis, computer models,
organic and inorganic tracers.
- Human health – Incorporate in environmental studies the
data-collection strategies needed to address human health issues.
- Economics – Economic data and analysis should be a component of
environmental and human health studies
- Pollution treatment and prevention: methods research and development
- Effluent control and treatment.
- Research and development of effective remediation programs for existing
large-scale AFO-generated pollution of ground water and soils.
Provide examples* of successful interagency (State and Federal) and
government/ private collaborative efforts concerning AFOs.
The California Dairy Quality Assurance Program (CDQAP) that trains
dairymen in environmental stewardship was cooperatively developed by the
California Department of Food and Agriculture, various State, Federal, and
regional agencies, and University of California-Davis.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the USGS have worked
together to identify problems of dairy, poultry, and pigs.
* Although these were the only examples described in the Open Forum session,
several other examples were mentioned in the course of the meeting which cited
collaboration with university researchers and among agencies such as the USGS,
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC), U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency (USEPA), various agencies within the U.S. Department of Agriculture
(USDA), various State environmental and health and natural resources
departments, Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), National Park Service (NPS), and
National Forest Service (NFS).
What things do you see as inhibiting collaborative efforts on AFOs?
- Poor communication among scientists doing similar work.
- Lack of networking to include different areas of expertise.
- Lack of awareness of expertise within and among agencies.
- AFO operators tend to mistrust government and have a perception that
pro-environment agendas necessarily result in anti-business regulation.
- Agricultural trade groups fear government intervention and environmental
controls. The Agriculture/Dairy industry, for example, has enormous
economic and political clout that can target scientific efforts if such
efforts have not been adequately explained.
- Negative attitudes/mistrust/misunderstanding among industry, the public,
and government agencies is prevalent and problematic. Outreach and
education efforts are inadequate.
- The USEPA Clean Water Act language requiring "no discharge" is
inhibiting innovative solutions. The USEPA should work with the
agricultural industry when drafting sections of the Clean Water Action
What changes or improvements do you recommend to increase collaborative
partnerships among government and non-government interests in AFOs?
- Funding barriers exist across agency/institution lines.
- Competition for money among researchers both in and out of government.
- Restrictions on funds by the USEPA and by State regulations.
- More information and education is needed on the real and complete
economic costs of AFOs.
- Build trust through partnerships among individual scientists, managers,
regulators, and operators, instead of with groups/agencies who are
associated with competing agendas or positions. Mistrust can be avoided when
the core of collaboration is between scientists dedicated to understanding
the issues and the systems being studied.
- Try involving environmental managers on the State level.
- Get early involvement of AFO/CAFO owner/operators on environmental or
human-health issues that will require scientific investigation and possible
regulation. Communicate that it is not the agenda or desire of government
agencies, nor is it in the national interest, to put owner/operators out of
business, but rather to help them operate in an environmentally friendly
- Develop incentive and reward programs for operators who implement
practices to protect the environment; encourage collaborative efforts
between AFO operators and scientific investigators; offset economic loss
from conscientious efforts to implement environmentally friendly practices.
- Policies regulating agricultural industries should follow the same
regulations for accountability as that dictated for other industries.
- USGS should redouble efforts to achieve the state-of-the-art in
microbiological sampling and to incorporate microbial data collection and
analysis as routine components of water-quality studies.
- Disseminate the information presented at this conference to members of
the industry as well as to other stakeholders.
- Work toward getting support from industry groups and advocates
(fast-food industry, Pork Producers Association, Cattlemens Association,
National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, etc.).
Where do we go from here?
- Follow-up workshop(s) and/or training
- Continue to hold meetings such as this one periodically. Additional
topics should include mortality, protein recovery, rendering issues.
- As part of a future workshop, hold a session on medical issues and how
environmental studies can help in collecting the data needed to make
assessments with regard to human health.
- Develop primers, courses, and forums to help learn about and address
subtopic issues, and enhance interdisciplinary exchange.
- A USGS course on microbial source tracking would be very useful.
- A forum is needed on tracer technology.
AFO e-mail list and web site – Develop an e-mail list and/or
maintain the current web site for updates on AFO activities and to promote
information sharing and dialog. Publish the proceedings from this meeting on
the web site and provide links to data sources.
AFO interest group – An AFO multidisciplinary interest group
could be established, modeled after that of the USGS-sponsored Abandoned Mine
Lands interest group. This could provide a foundation for trust building.
Analytical methods – USGS should keep an up-to-date web site that
provides information about the analytical methods that are approved and that
are being developed for emerging contaminants (such as pesticides, pesticide
degradation products, antibiotics, hormones, mercury, arsenic, and selenium),
the method detection limits, and who is developing the method or providing the
analytical services. This should include USGS work being done by its National
Research Program scientists; Water, Geology, Biology, and Mapping Division
scientists; as well as that of its National Water Quality Laboratory.
- Multidiscipline collaboration and outreach
- Identify 2 to 3 geographic study locations that could be used as a point
of focus and collaboration for a consortium of stakeholders, including
government scientists. Possible locations with monitoring infrastructure
and/or ongoing studies: Delmarva Peninsula paired watersheds; the
Arkansas-Savoy watershed study area; Shoal Creek, MO investigation; or
National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program study site.
- Use the Department of Interior (DOI) National Irrigation Water Quality
Program as a model to set up a similar effort for CAFO/AFOs.
- Open efforts to jointly fund studies among agencies specializing in
different and complementary areas of expertise.
- Multi-agency collaboration is needed to identify problems associated
with AFOs and the actions needed to address the problems. For example,
work with the Federal Drug Administration to help prevent problems
resulting from feed additives.
- Implement the suggestions listed in question 4 (above).
- Work for funds, legislation, and public awareness that will bring about
a change in attitudes between public and private sectors. Focus on
outreach education for local politicians and the public, showcasing
specific areas of expertise (for example, hydrologic modeling).
- Develop contaminant remediation technologies and prevention strategies.
- Develop a multi-agency plan to address the scientific questions and
needs identified in question 1 (above).
- Do not reinvent/re-research. Examine the literature and learn from
investigations, research, and practices implemented in Asia and Europe.
For example, there is a huge database and wealth of information from the 7th
International Symposium on Animal, Agricultural, and Food Processing Waste
(American Society of Agricultural Engineers (ASAE)).
- A mechanism, such as Superfund, should be considered by the regulatory
agencies to address remediation of sites that already are heavily