Why are CAFOs widely used, and what are the major environmental problems associated with them?
Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are widely used because they lower costs but they produce a lot of animal waste that isn't treated.
Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are widely used because they lower costs. More animals can be raised in less space, and thus the output is maximized while costs are lowered.
In terms of environmental problems, CAFOs produce a lot of animal waste that needs to be handled properly. Whereas human waste is treated, animal waste or manure is not.
The manure produced by these animals includes whatever chemicals have been added to their feed, and these additions can result in nutrient concentrations that would not normally be found in the animals' manure or chemicals that wouldn't be present at all.
For example, because they are in such confined spaces, animals in CAFOs are at risk for diseases and may be given antibiotics in their food. Thus, if the manure is applied as fertilizer, this can pose a problem.
Waste can leach (dissolve into) into the soil and eventually contaminate the groundwater. Nearby lakes and streams can also be affected.
The image below shows waste ponds. If not carefully monitored, these ponds have the potential to contaminate the surrounding ecosystem through leaching and during particularly heavy precipitation events.