WASHINGTON—The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) joined a coalition of eight groups representing family farmers, sustainable agriculture advocates and concerned citizens across the country in filing suit against the United States Department of Agriculture today to stop a policy exempting industrial animal operations that receive federal loans from undergoing an environmental review or providing any notice of their planned operations to neighbors.
The USDA’s rule change, adopted in 2016 by its Farm Service Agency, grants exemptions from the usual process of notice, comment and oversight when the government provides taxpayer-subsidized loans to Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) considered “medium-sized.” Such facilities are authorized to hold nearly 125,000 chickens, 55,000 turkeys, 2,500 pigs, 1,000 beef cattle or 700 dairy cows. By failing to review the financing for these facilities under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Trump administration has helped cloak their planned operations in secrecy, preventing communities from obtaining information regarding the impact on local air and water quality.
“This factory farm model of animal production is linked to air and water pollution in states around the country, from North Carolina, to Iowa, to California,” said Ben Lilliston, IATP’s Director of Climate and Rural Strategies. “Rural communities directly bear these risks, from quality of life issues to loss in property values. Many of these operations would not exist without publicly backed loans, so we must ensure they serve the public good.”
Today’s lawsuit alleges that both the rulemaking process and the final rule now being implemented violate NEPA and the Administrative Procedure Act by failing to provide adequate notice of the proposed rule change and refusing to clarify why medium-sized CAFOs should be automatically exempt. Between the rule’s implementation in August 2016 and December 2017, the government allowed 40 such operations in four Arkansas counties alone, with no public comment or environmental assessment.
“The factory farm system is integral to the global meat and dairy industry and is linked to rising agriculture greenhouse gas emissions, making a system of strong environmental review of new operations even more necessary and urgent,” said Lilliston. “It’s troubling to see the USDA reverse basic protections that were in place for rural communities for decades.”
Earlier this year, IATP and GRAIN released the report Emissions Impossible, documenting the greenhouse gas contributions of global meat and dairy companies.
“Responsible agricultural operations that are committed to being both good neighbors and good stewards of their communities have nothing to fear from a notice to the community and an assessment of their operations,” the coalition said. They called on the USDA to look “out for family farms and rural communities, and not just the interests of giant corporations.”
With IATP, other organizations participating in the lawsuit include Dakota Rural Action (S.D.), Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Citizens Action Coalition (Ind.), Association of Irritated Residents (Calif.), White River Waterkeeper (Ark.), Food and Water Watch, and Animal Legal Defense Fund.