Majority want more oversight of CAFOs, poll finds

A majority of Americans say they want more stringent oversight of large-scale livestock operations, according to a national poll by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for a Livable Future released Tuesday. The polling follows a recent recommendation from the nation’s leading public health association to temporarily halt the creation of new concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, and increase their oversight and regulation.

The poll surveyed 1,000 registered voters across the country, and another 400-plus voters each in Iowa and North Carolina, both of which have a high concentration of CAFOs. Fifty-seven percent of all voters surveyed said that there should be more oversight of large animal farms, and 43 percent favored a national moratorium on the creation of new CAFOs. More than 80 percent of respondents said they were concerned about air and water pollution caused by CAFOs and worker safety risks at large-scale animal farms.

Bob Martin, program director for food systems policy at the Center for a Livable Future, says that this polling demonstrates a “growing interest in halting the establishment and the expansion of [CAFOs] until we get a better handle on regulation of them.

“There’s an increased dialogue about how meat is produced and the health and environmental effects of the different systems,” Martin says. “More people are talking about it. More advocacy groups are talking about it. And that’s something that shows up in our polling.”

Some major farm states are debating whether to change regulations on existing CAFOs or even whether to approve new operations. In Wisconsin, a top agriculture regulator’s support for new regulations on animal farms contributed to his ouster from his position in November. In Missouri, a new state law stripped counties of their ability to impose more stringent regulations on CAFOs than the state requirements.

Additionally, new operations like Costco’s poultry processing plant in Nebraska have introduced confinement livestock agriculture to states and communities where previously there were few or no CAFOs. Martin says that his center has received a growing number of requests for support from communities that are impacted by large-scale animal agriculture.

In many states with large-scale animal farming, confinement operations face low regulatory barriers that communities say don’t go far enough to protect them from the smells and pollution that the farms can bring. One tool that communities have used to address these concerns is a temporary or permanent moratorium on new CAFOs.

Multiple counties in Wisconsin, for instance, have implemented short-term moratoriums so they can research the potential environmental impact of proposed CAFOs. North Carolina has had a moratorium on new and expanded hog CAFOs since 2007. The Johns Hopkins polling found that 57 percent of respondents in North Carolina favor the state’s moratorium.

National policymakers and advocacy groups have also supported moratoriums on new confinement operations. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who is a presidential candidate, included a CAFO moratorium in his newly-released platform on rural America. And the American Public Health Association in November recommended a moratorium on CAFOs and stronger regulation of the pollution they generate from animal waste.

The poll, which was conducted in October by the polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, is the first to examine public opinion on potential policy restrictions on CAFOs. Forty-eight percent of polled voters identified as Democrats and 41 percent identified as Republicans.

Full poll data and demographic information can be found here.