District Court Strikes Down Carveout for Medium-Sized Factory Farms

For Immediate Release: April 4th, 2023

Media Contacts:
Masha Vernik,
Lucy Sears,

District Court Strikes Down Carveout for Medium-Sized Factory Farms

Medium-sized CAFOs are now subject to government oversight before receiving federal funding

Today in a victory for rural community, sustainable agriculture, and animal welfare groups, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the United States Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) must assess the environmental impact of medium-sized concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) before extending loans to them.

In 2016, the FSA passed a rule exempting medium-sized CAFOs, also known as factory farms, from the environmental impact review and community feedback process typically required before offering taxpayer-subsidized loans to such facilities. This carveout harmed communities living near such “medium-sized” CAFOs, which are industrial livestock facilities that can confine up to 125,000 chickens, 55,000 turkeys, 2,500 pigs, 1,000 beef cattle, or 700 dairy cows, subjecting neighboring communities to pervasive odors, noxious gasses, polluted waterways, and more.

In 2019, a coalition of groups sued USDA for failing to provide adequate public notice or evidence-based justification for the exemption. Thus, the groups argued that USDA violated the National Environmental Policy Act and Administrative Procedure Act.

Today, the district court sided with the community groups, ruling that USDA arbitrarily exempted major polluters from government oversight, and that medium-sized CAFOs must be subjected to the same oversight as large ones before receiving public funds.

In the case, USDA admitted that the agency failed to provide notice and comment before creating the exemption but asked the court to overlook the error. During the five years that the case has been pending, the agency failed to offer mechanisms for community feedback or evidence that medium-sized CAFOs lack environmental impact.

Animal Legal Defense Fund, Association of Irritated Residents, Citizens Action Coalition, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and Food & Water Watch are represented by ALDF, Public Justice, and Food & Water Watch. Dakota Rural Action and White River Waterkeeper are represented by Public Justice and Food & Water Watch.

“Our government has a duty to protect and invest in the health and wellbeing of people, our air, our water, and climate,” said Co-Chair of Dakota Rural Action Stacy Roberts, “Instead of propping up Big Ag, our government should invest in diversifying and strengthening a food system that supports independent family farmers, contributes to local communities, and heals the land, air, and water.”


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