What Is A Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO)?

What is a CAFO?

What Does CAFO Stand for?

CAFO is an acronym for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. Over 96% of milk protein supplements (whey & casein) sourced & sold in the United States originates from these factory farms. At this point, you may be thinking, "well, my protein says grass-fed"; therefore, this CAFO article doesn't pertain.

Unfortunately, unless the product you are referencing is accredited and verified, you may be part of the problem and are most likely supporting (unknowingly) the existence and demand for CAFOs. Currently, under the Dietary Supplement Health Education Act (DSHEA), the government doesn't regulate the claims on powered protein supplements before coming to the market. The law calls this "post-market regulated."

At AGN Roots, we encourage all health enthusiasts to stay away from any products that claim legitimacy under this FDA faction (DSHEA). All Dietary Supplements are legally bound to disclose the supplement designation on the primary macro nutrition label, "Supplement Facts" (rather than "Nutrition Facts").

What is a CAFO?

A CAFO represents human evolution over the last 50 years and showcases our planet's parasitic destructive source along with our current morality. If you want to know where that tub of "grass-fed" whey protein on sale on Amazon truly comes from within the U.S., look no further; in this article, we hope to spell it out.

The sad thing is, with just a few changes in the labeling laws of whey protein, when given a transparent option, most consumers will select the best options for the wellbeing of both the planet and it's animals.

Not too long ago, our plates were full primarily with produce and animal products from small, family-owned, and operated farms. Farmers lived on and ate from their land with their livestock and produce.

CAFOs became the norm in the mid-twentieth century. In the 1950's we started with poultry, spreading to swine in the '70s, and the remaining meat markets and dairy industry followed suit shortly after.

Today's consumer living in the U.S.A. sources food in the following and staggering percentages from factory farms (in most cases unknowingly) –

  • 70% of beef
  • 98% of pork
  • 99.8% of turkeys
  • 98% of eggs
  • 99.9% of chicken
  • 96% of milk

    CAFO Definition

    The USDA classifies and regulates CAFOs in two category classes -

    1. "Large" operations use a liquid waste disposal system and have over 1000 head of cattle, 2500 swine, or 125000 broiler chickens.
    2. "Small" operations are those with less livestock and who use solid waste disposal. In both cases, animals are confined for a minimum of 45 days a year in an area devoid of vegetation to fit the "factory farm" category.

    CAFOs are inherently unsustainable operations. At the most basic level, the land that houses these animals literally cannot sustain them. Their food must be sourced and shipped from other farms, and their excrement must be collected, processed, and distributed to collection facilities else it overwhelms the animals themselves.

    Why Does Whey Protein Contain Heavy Metals?

    Feeding dairy cows grain on a Total Mixed Ratio (TMR) system, as opposed to these animals' natural diets, changes their waste's chemical composition and represents the primary cause of heavy metal contamination of the soil, groundwater, and surface water.

    As CAFOs have increasingly clustered closer together, this impact has expanded from their immediate neighboring communities to their states' more significant areas.

    Learn More: What is a TMR Feed System
    Learn More: Heavy Metals in Your Whey Protein

    This directly impacts us and our health as humans. For example, excessive nitrates in our water supply can cause excessive nitrates in our blood, which interferes with our blood’s ability to carry oxygen. Low blood oxygen is associated with congenital disabilities, miscarriage, poor general health, blue baby syndrome, and even death in infants.

    The animal load present in a factory farming operation so thoroughly strips the surrounding land of its vegetation that factory farms are categorically either concrete slabs or mud plots. Even the smallest CAFOs produce as much excrement as 16,000 humans annually. The entire factory farming system has thirteen times as much waste as the whole US human population.

    Intern, this produces a massive waste removal and treatment problem. In our sewage system, wastes are cleanly collected and treated to reduce or eliminate our environmental impact as much as possible.

    In functioning sustainable ecosystems, the land and vegetation absorb and repurpose animal wastes in the food chain, nourishing the soil, plants, and animals in turn.

    Do CAFOs Destroy Local Ecosystems?

    Yes, In CAFOs, the sheer onslaught of animal waste, carcasses, and the constant stamping of animals overcrowded into relatively small spaces destroy this chain.

    CAFOs “treat” the waste problem in several ways, all of which have their drawbacks. In dry waste management techniques, the wastes are collected, deposited in trucks, and then sprayed out the backs of these trucks over “fields”. Videos and images of this process show how the land essentially turns into massive dumps where little lives. With liquid waste disposal, the wastes are collected and combined with water, usually in massive human-made lagoons or lakes.

    The combination with water is the end of the waste “treatment” and does not neutralize pathogenic or environmental concerns. Not only do these waste/water retention ponds pose their problems, as waste by-products can leach into the groundwater, but these liquid waste solutions are then repurposed and utilized as fertilizer spray to blanket over crops and vegetative fields.

    Do CAFOs Contaminate Local Water Supplies?

    Yes, the unabating volumes of waste far exceed what the land can absorb, and nutrients from the manure runoff into downstream waterways. An overabundance of nutrients may not sound like a problem; however, it results in an overgrowth of algae in surface water.

    The algae blooms consume all the oxygen in the water, killing fish, other aquatic plant life, and the animals that depend upon them. In the Gulf of Mexico in 2015 alone, the runoff dead zone drained from the Mississippi floodplain was over five thousand square miles.

    For scale, that is equivalent to the combined landmass of Connecticut and Rhode Island.

    Do CAFOs Contaminate the Air?

    Yes, CAFO pollutants are not limited to the soil or water. Animal waste generates air pollutants such as ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, methane, and particulates. Much like the soil, the air becomes overloaded with these contaminants and poses human health risks.

    Health concerns range from relatively mild symptoms such as irritation and inflammation, all the way through bronchitis, chemical burns, olfactory neuron loss, organic toxic dust syndrome, and death. Furthermore, while not harmful to humans, methane is a greenhouse gas associated with climate change, which has farther-reaching consequences than we can fully quantify.

    CAFOs have natural ties to increased insect disease vectors, with higher populations of flies and mosquitoes supported by factory farms. Additionally, CAFOs provide a breeding ground for pathogens themselves; over one hundred and fifty pathogens detrimental to our health exist in ordinary manure.

    Most of the ailments caused by these pathogens are digestive and relatively mild when introduced to an otherwise healthy host.
    However, in immunocompromised individuals (who account for approximately 20% of the population), their respective diseases can lead to death.

    Some of the most dangerous pathogens spread to humans through accidental ingestion of contaminated water or inhalation of contaminated air. Furthermore, as if a CAFO raised animal's quality of life wasn't low enough, their close quarters increase their risk of contracting infectious diseases amongst themselves and potentially giving rise to novel viruses, a growing concern in our present landscape.

    What Does CAFO Mean? AGN Roots Grass-Fed Whey

    Does Whey Protein Contain Antibiotics?

    Yes, most whey protein sold in the United States contains some level of antibiotic residue. The concentrations, however, most likely fall below the tolerances dictated by the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) as per their 2010 announcement to begin sampling milk across the country and analyzing for various residues including antibiotics, antihistamine, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

    Antibiotic use on CAFOs is so widespread that seventy percent of all antibiotic use in the US is feed additives for livestock, a staggering statistic.

    This is problematic on many levels; not only are the antibiotics not fully metabolized in the animal tissues themselves, but the antibiotics also leach into the environment through waste as detailed above. Both contribute to the proliferation of antibiotic resistance bacteria both in animal vectors and in human hosts.

    The disease is so endemic to animals raised in CAFOs that the addition of low-level antibiotics is routinely part of the feed. These antibiotics are often remarkably similar or borderline identical to therapeutic antibiotics used to treat humans.

    We live in scary times, and COVID-19 has defined the year 2020 in the history books. Although the human body is incredibly sufficient at adaptation, we must give credit to bacteria that are just as efficient to evolve, if not quicker.

    If the term "antibiotic-resistant" does not resonate with the general population now, we are only a single pandemic away from every major media outlet across the globe, making this a house-hold term.

    These concerns mentioned above are just a brief overview of some of the most pressing health and environmental problems presented by CAFOs, factory farms, and other large-scale animal farming practices where the land cannot sustain its animal load. This brief paper barely scratches the surface of the far-reaching, under-studied, and under-documented effects of these large-scale operations.

    For more information, we implore you to read the references to appreciate the magnitude of the problem. While technologies extensively being developed to mitigate these concerns, the truth remains that housing animals on land that are insufficient to feed their numbers and naturally process their waste are unsustainable.

    What are the Tolerances for Drug Residues in Milk?

    First, let's establish some of the units we referenced in the chart:

    • Parts per Billion (ppb) -
      • equivalent to nanograms per gram (ng/g)
      • equivalent to micrograms per kilogram (μg/kg)
    • Parts per Million (ppm) -
      • equivalent to micrograms per gram (μg/g)
      • equivalent to milligrams per kilograms (mg/kg)
    • Parts per Trillion (ppt) -
      • equivalent to picograms per gram (pg/g)
      • equivalent to nanograms per kilogram (ng/kg) 

    Here's a list of the more common Antimicrobial drugs (Antibiotics) and the tolerances stated per FDA found in milk - 

     Drug Name CFR 21 Code

    Milk Concentration Tolerance (ppb)

    Amoxicillin 556.38 10
    Neomycin 556.430 150
    Ampicillin 556.40 10
    Novobiocin 556.460 100
    Bacitracin 556.70 500
    Penicillin 556.510 0
    Cephapirin 556.115 20
    Pirlimycin 556.515 400
    Ceftiofur 556.113 100
    Sulfadimethoxine 556.640 10
    Cloxacillin 556.165 10
    Tetracyclines 556.720 300
    Dihyrdrostreptomcyin 556.200 125
    Tylosin 556.746 50
    Erythromycin 556.230 0


    The takeaway: The common claim "No-Antibiotics" is outrageously fraudulent by the vast majority of whey protein brands out there.

    When considering that just about all brands are sourcing from these factory-type farms, the claim around antibiotics means nothing. It would otherwise only have credence if the resolution of the testing is disclosed.

    Furthermore, the claim refers only to testing finished product and does not cover the animal's diet on the CAFO.

    At AGN Roots, if an animal requires medicines for extraordinary circumstances not related to the horrid conditions of confinement, they are taken out of milking circulation until that milk is commensurate with the herd in terms of purity.

    What Legislation is Fighting Against CAFOs?

    In late December 2019, Senator Cory Booker presented a bill calling for agriculture and farming reform to phase out CAFOs entirely!

    The proposal is known as, The Farm System Reform Act of 2019 and, among other things, would put an end to CAFOs by 2040 will full enforcement of the EPA. Although gained little traction the bill has been reintroduced in 2021 on the back of executive orders.

    Although we don't like to dabble in U.S. politics and understand the corruption on all sides, AGN Roots loves the this bill calls for the complete restoration of country-of-origin labeling requirements on proteins.

    Under the bill's enforcement, 99% of tub-whey protein sold in the United States would need to rebrand with greater transparency and would no longer be able to market in the current fashion with falsity after falsity.

    We recently wrote an article on the pea protein market; within the blog, we mention that even though >99% of pea protein utilizes china for processing, it is all still labeled - "from U.S. and Canadian farms." If the public is set on ingesting a protein supplement like clockwork, we need to demand more from the health & nutrition community regulators.

    Rosane, Olivia. “Factory Farming: Everything You Need to Know.EcoWatch, EcoWatch, 23 Mar. 2022, https://www.ecowatch.com/what-is-factory-farming.html.
    Chris Dall | News Reporter | CIDRAP News  | Dec 22, 2016. “FDA: Antibiotic Use in Food Animals Continues to Rise.CIDRAP, 22 Dec. 2016, www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2016/12/fda-antibiotic-use-food-animals-continues-rise.
    CFR - Code of Federal Regulations Title 21.Accessdata.fda.gov, www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?CFRPart=556.
    Animal Feeding Operations.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 Oct. 2016, www.cdc.gov/healthywater/other/agricultural/afo.html.
    Matt ZampaMatt is the lead reporter with Sentient Media. Follow him on Twitter at @matthewzampa. “99% Of U.S. Farmed Animals Live on Factory Farms.” Reporting on Animals, Animal Rights, and Human Choices, 16 Dec. 2019, sentientmedia.org/u-s-farmed-animals-live-on-factory-farms/.
    Why Are CAFOs Bad?” Sierra Club, 18 Mar. 2019, www.sierraclub.org/michigan/why-are-cafos-bad.
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