Community Impacts And Responses

Two central community concerns associated with the existence and expansion of CAFOs are their environmental and economic impacts. In the case of the environment, the concentration of large numbers of livestock in relatively small geographic areas contributes to concerns about manure management, water quality, odor, and air quality.[4,5] Neighbor concerns about livestock odors, as they impact human health and quality of life, may be the most serious concern for the immediate neighborhood surrounding a large livestock operation, but scientific difficulties measuring and, in turn, regulating odor have limited the development of regulatory standards for managing it. As a result, much of the environmental concern about CAFOs focuses on water quality issues for which federal legislation, such as the Clean Water Act, and governmental agencies responsible for regulation and enforcement, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), exist. In response to concern about the water quality and health impacts of CAFOs, the

Unified National Strategy was developed in 1999 to guide EPA and USDA efforts to improve existing federal CAFO rules. In December 2002, new federal rules for CAFOs aimed at improving and protecting water quality were released.

Whether the new federal rules fully address water quality and related environmental concerns of citizens and communities is yet to be known, but citizen perceptions of risk associated with odor, environmental quality, and quality of life will likely persist until the rules are perceived as effective. An additional tool available to communities to help minimize conflicts related to environmental concerns is the use of zoning in agricultural areas. Through local zoning, a community might establish rules identifying where a livestock production facility could be located or establish buffers of sufficient distance from residential areas to mitigate odor and water quality concerns.[4] Unfortunately, zoning of agricultural areas is not an option for local governments in many states because such zoning is not legally permitted in the counties, municipalities, or townships of the state. The existence of agriculture-specific zoning would enable a community to separate livestock agriculture from rural residential areas by designating the permissible areas for each activity in separate areas of the countryside. When the landscape was dominated by relatively small, diversified family farms, zoning may have seemed unneighborly and unnecessary, but as the landscape has become populated with fewer, more intensive farms next to large numbers of residences or areas that may be developed into nonfarm residences, zoning may be necessary to separate potentially incompatible land uses.

A second set of community concerns is the economic and fiscal impacts of these facilities on the community. There is some debate as to whether the economies of communities, regions, or states are better off with the replacement of small, family farm livestock operations by large livestock operations that may or may not be locally owned.[6] Specific concerns include questions about the number and quality of jobs created and the total net change in economic activity when several small livestock operations are replaced by a large one. Of course, a difficulty with these questions is that costs and benefits vary according to the level of analysis.[3] For instance, there may be a nationwide benefit to consumers that outweighs the costs to small farmers and rural communities. In response to some of these economic concerns, however, some states have implemented corporate farming laws to limit corporate involvement in farming to preserve family farming agriculture and communities. Also, increased concern about the local economic and fiscal impacts of large-scale livestock production has led some communities to more carefully weigh the potential benefits and costs before providing incentives or encouragement for this type of economic development.[5]

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