Featured Waste Water

The Need to Regulate Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs)

Sydney Welter is a senior majoring in Environmental Earth Sciences. She enrolled last fall in the Environmental Studies community internship program allowing her to work directly with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment (MCE) as a River Protection Intern. To mitigate the dramatic impacts that Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) have on human, animal and environmental health, MCE has been advocating for the adoption of policies and regulation at the State level.

Sydney  recounts her rewarding experience developing MCE’s educational and legal strategy on CAFOs as part of her internship. 


Concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, pose a significant threat to the well-being of Missourians. These industrial livestock farms, with thousands of cows, hogs or poultry housed in small areas, poison our waterways and wells, pollute the air, reduce home values, contribute to antibiotic resistance, and threaten small farmers. All of these problems are exacerbated by the lack of regulations on the operations of CAFOs in Missouri. Missouri Coalition for the Environment (MCE) is fighting back against CAFOs, working to ensure they comply with the law and to educate Missourians on their impact.

In my work, I have researched and analyzed CAFOs in Missouri, submitted Sunshine Law and FOIA requests for public records, written a letter to the University of Missouri Extension debunking misleading information released about CAFOs, submitted a public comment to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources on a proposed weakening of standards for water quality, and more.

This work has been incredibly exciting and helped me take more effective environmental action. It has also reinforced for me the importance of grassroots environmental advocacy. Many Missourians do not have someone to fight on their behalf when they are harmed by environmental issues in their communities. I also discovered that many of the persistent issues with CAFOs in Missouri have been unexplored, which makes it even more difficult for communities to defend themselves.

Approximately 450-500 CAFOs currently operate in Missouri. The application of manure from these animals on fields is an unregulated practice that can have dramatic impacts. CAFO manure tends to run off into waterways, which degrades the water quality and creates e.coli and nutrient contamination.

This is just one example of the threat of CAFOs in Missouri. Overall, regulation on Missouri CAFOs is insufficient to protect our environment. Inspections of CAFOs in some parts of the state are rare, and state and local authority over CAFOs has drastically weakened over time, while CAFOs continue to expand.

Poultry CAFOs are concentrated in the southwestern part of the state, due to their proximity to Tyson processing plants. Tyson has been previously found guilty of illegal dumping and killing thousands of fish in Missouri waterways.

Hog CAFOs are concentrated in the northeastern part of the state. Smithfield Hog Productions, a Chinese-owned company and the largest pork producer in the United States, operates many of these CAFOs. Smithfield houses as many as 130,000 hogs on each of its farms and has been successfully sued over numerous water and air quality violations.

It is evident that CAFOs pose a threat to the well-being of Missouri and much more action needs to be taken to mitigate their impacts. With increased knowledge of the effects of industrial agriculture and increased environmental advocacy, I believe CAFOs can be challenged. I am passionate about the work MCE is doing to address CAFOs. I hope my work has contributed to the start of a drastic shift in agriculture in Missouri and I will keep advocating for the movement from an agricultural system dominated by unregulated CAFOs to an agricultural system that emphasizes local, diversified food sources.