Stop Taxpayer Funding of Industrial Animal Agriculture

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Stop Taxpayer Funding of Industrial Animal Agriculture

Tax exemptions and abatements originally enacted to protect small and midsize farms have been exploited by large-scale concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) that operate more like a factory than a farm. These operations have industrial-scale environmental impact, but they continue to be defined as “agricultural” and are thus exempt from many rules that govern other polluting industries.

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Protest in Iowa StatehouseCAFOs, including manure storage, have a tax advantage over pasture-based livestock operations.

Tax exemptions reduce revenue to the state and county, while CAFOs themselves put extra strain on local resources, with additional wear on country roads, water use, and potential need for pollution remediation. Iowa has reported a loss of $4.5 million in county revenue due to CAFO property tax exemptions. State policymakers should consider sunsetting tax exemptions that disproportionately benefit CAFOs and implement exemptions that incentivize pasture-based livestock operations.

In many states, legislators with ties to agribusiness have passed laws to favor CAFO development and have dismantled provisions that give communities a voice in CAFO siting or that protect public health. For state policymakers wanting to slow or reverse this trend, perhaps the most important action is to be aware of any new or recent legislation proposing to exempt agriculture from regulation or tax – these are generally bills to promote CAFO development and should be opposed.

Environmental Protections

Lawmakers can push for stricter environmental protections to regulate air and water pollution from large-scale livestock operations; require setback distances from homes, schools, businesses. and roads; ensure that manure is responsibly managed; and increase public participation in CAFO permitting and siting.

In almost all states, responsibility for enforcement of the federal Clean Water Act has been delegated to the state’s environmental protection agency. The states should be issuing National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits for CAFOs over a certain size. Permits should protect surface and groundwater, include agency monitoring and inspections, have mechanisms for enforcement, and include robust public input. Unfortunately, the CAFO permitting process is often simply pro forma, and state agency budgets are often too low for effective inspection and enforcement. State policymakers can support adequate funding for the agencies that oversee CAFO permitting to cover inspection, compliance, and enforcement, as well as ensuring they have the authority to issue penalties for bad actors and repeat violators. If policymakers think that the enforcement agency is not properly doing its job with regard to CAFOs, they can advance legislation to require the state agency to report on the number of permits, inspections, violations. and enforcement actions that have been taken against CAFOs in the state.

Manure-to-energy projects are rarely economically feasible without public subsidies, particularly when construction and operation costs are taken into account. Additionally, they require an enormous volume of manure in order to operate. While manure-based biogas is touted as being environmentally sustainable, its development actually relies on CAFO expansion – which is definitely not sustainable. In fact, manure-to-energy projects are generally a way for CAFOs to externalize costs of productions onto the public. Further, since they are not renewable energy sources, they should not be included in state renewable energy portfolios or receive tax credits. State officials should work to strike any existing manure-to-energy components of a state renewable energy portfolio.

The Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) of the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) provides funds to farm operations to implement environmentally sustainable practices. CAFOs access millions of dollars of EQIP funds for pollution control measures such as upgraded manure storage, but mitigating manure pollution does not make these facilities environmentally sustainable. EQIP funding is distributed from the USDA through a state conservationist, advised by a technical committee of stakeholders. State policymakers could pass a resolution encouraging the state conservationist to direct all EQIP funding to pasture-based livestock operations to avoid subsiding CAFOs with public funding. State policymakers could also work to ensure impacted communities or pasture-based producers are seeking appointments to the state technical committee, which oversees the distribution of EQIP funds.

Animal Welfare

There are also animal welfare concerns with CAFOs. These include use of gestation crates for breeding female pigs that are too small for the pigs to turn around; battery cages for chickens that do not allow the hens to spread their wings; and the practice of docking the tails of dairy cows, which is painful and causes distress, as they are then unable to swat biting flies. There are no animal welfare regulations at the federal level, and because of this, some states have taken action to ban cruel farming practices.

Overall, the landscape of CAFO regulation in the states is bleak, in that community protections from CAFO pollution are inadequate at best. As a result, lawmakers in some states have proposed an outright moratorium on permitting of new and expanding CAFOs altogether.

Policy Priorities

  1. Federal: Pass the Farm System Reform Act.

  2. State: Pass moratoria on new and expanding CAFOs.

  3. State: Regulate CAFOs like any other pollution industry, and consider stripping agricultural operations over a certain size of agricultural exemptions from regulation.

  4. State: Ban inhumane farming practices such as gestation crates, battery cages, and tail docking.

  5. State: Direct public dollars such as tax exemptions and EQIP funds away from CAFOs and toward pasture-based operations.

  6. State: Stop subsidizing manure-to-energy projects.

State Examples

  • Missouri (2015 MO HB 141) has considered legislation to require that any increase of checkoff fees be subject to a vote by all producers of that commodity.

  • Oregon (2015 OR SB 289) considered conducting periodic legislative review of state boards and commissions, including commodity councils.

  • In Illinois (2019 IL SB 1481), legislators considered allowing county governments to have a binding recommendation in the approval process of a new CAFO permit.

  • Oregon (2017 OR SB 197) considered a bill to direct the State Department of Agriculture to regulate emissions from large-scale dairy operations.

  • North Carolina (2021 NC HB 913) legislators considered a bill to require large-scale poultry operations to submit an annual animal waste management plan.

  • In Maryland (2017 MD SB 773), which has many poultry operations, legislators considered a bill to direct the Department of the Environment to conduct a compliance assessment of itself and the state’s CAFOs with state and federal regulations.

  • Oregon (2021 OR SB 583), Iowa (2021 IA HF 440), Maryland (2020 MD HB 1312), Rhode Island (2021 RI SB 469), and Ohio (2021 OH HB 349) have considered legislation to pause the construction of new and expanding CAFOs until better laws are in place.

  • New Jersey (2021 NJ SB 3041) is considering a bill to ban gestation and veal crates and name restricting movement or providing inadequate space to farm animals a criminal offense.

  • Nevada (2021 NV AB399) passed a bill banning the sale of eggs from hens raised in battery cages and required all eggs sold in the state to be from cage-free facilities.

  • Iowa lawmakers considered a bill (2019 IA HF 186) to remove CAFO manure pits from a property tax exemption.

  • In Missouri, as a result of participation by pasture-based producers and advocates, the NRCS state technical committee implemented a rule that no new or expanding CAFOs in Missouri are eligible for EQIP dollars, which has reduced EQIP funds going to livestock waste management from 35 percent to 15 percent in recent years.

  • New York (2019 NY S 6599) recently passed a bill that would prohibit waste-to-energy projects to be included in its future renewable energy platform.

  • In 2021, Oregon allowed the expiration of a tax credit for manure, which was intended to promote manure-to-energy projects.