In the twentieth century, the American agricultural industry underwent significant changes—while most food animals were once raised on small family farms, now, over fifty percent are produced entirely inside concentrated animal feeding operations. These large‑scale farming operations house hundreds to thousands of cows, swine, or chickens, which collectively produce hundreds of millions of tons of waste per year. The primary method of waste disposal is land application, a process in which waste is sprayed or spread onto land with no required pretreatment. After land application, waste byproducts make their way into the surrounding air and waterways, posing significant threats to human health and the environment.
This Note challenges this industry‑accepted method of waste disposal. It argues that federal environmental and regulatory law and state nuisance law coincide to effectively protect large‑scale agricultural facilities from liability at a detriment to American health. This Note examines liability carve-outs for industrial farming in three federal statutory schemes: the Clean Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act. When federal environmental protections fail, affected parties often turn to common law tort redress. But state Right‑to‑Farm laws have effectively barred these claims as well.
Although the products of industrial agriculture are enjoyed by the many, the environmental and health impacts of the farms’ waste disposal systems fall on the few. This Note additionally seeks to highlight the communities most affected—primarily, low‑income communities and communities of color that neighbor the farming operations.
The most comprehensive solution to this health crisis involves an ideological shift in the way the American public conceptualizes the farm-to-table pipeline. This Note ultimately argues that this shift requires a catalyst—a robust federal initiative that disincentivizes hazardous agricultural waste practices and incentives sustainable farming.