USDA sued over exemptions for medium-sized CAFOs

A coalition of environmental and other activist groups is suing USDA over a 2016 rule that grants exemptions from certain rule-making procedures for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) that the agency deems as medium-sized.

The rule change allows exemptions from the usual process of notice, comment and oversight when the government provides taxpayer-subsidized loans to the operations, according to the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The groups contend that the action, adopted in 2016 by USDA’s Farm Service Agency, prevents rural communities from obtaining information about the impact of the operations on local air and water quality.

The policy promotes “factory farms” over family farms, the complaint alleges. “Medium-sized” CAFOs can hold about 125,000 chickens, 55,000 turkeys, 2,500 pigs, 1,000 beef cattle, or 700 dairy cows.

The groups say the rule violates the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act by failing to provide adequate notice of the change or to clarify why medium-sized CAFOs should receive the exemption. The government has allowed 40 such operations in four Arkansas counties and eight such operations in Iowa with no public comment period or environmental assessment, the lawsuit alleges.

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