Today's animal agriculture is continually changing and national guidelines on handling animal manure should reflect those changes.

That’s where a group of animal scientists and agricultural engineers from land-grant universities come into the picture. The industry experts are rewriting guidelines to provide a science-based reference point for livestock producers with concentrated animal feeding operations, as well as the state and federal environmental agencies that regulate them.

The revised standards, due out later this year, are a joint research project of the American Society of Agricultural Engineers and the Federation for Animal Science Societies.

New manure and air emission standards are long overdue, says Todd Applegate, a Purdue Extension poultry specialist. Applegate heads the ASAE/FASS project's poultry team.

"The standards haven’t been updated since the early 1970s," says Applegate. "CAFOs served as an impetus for revising the standards. Modern animal facilities utilize more high-tech equipment than animal buildings did in the past. Also, improvements in genetics and nutrition have shortened production time, as well as reducing total waste volume.”

There are "holes in the database" for all animal species. The new ASAE/FASS guidelines will attempt to fill those information gaps, he says.

Although CAFOs are regulated, little is known about the potential threat the facilities pose to human health. One of the least understood areas is air emission. If enough data is accumulated, it would allow the ASAE/FASS team to "develop recommendations that regulators can use as they try to develop policy for air quality areas," says Al Sutton, animal scientist, Purdue University. "Also, it would allow us to provide good best management practices for producers, to help them stay in compliance."

Either way, Sutton believes it is only a matter of time before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issues regulations aimed at controlling air emissions at CAFOs.

"Some of the individual states already are acting and have some air quality-type measurements in proposed legislation,” notes Sutton. “That's why we're working to try to get some baseline emission values from different size operations. We also need to show how we can minimize those emissions."

Sutton adds that the revised guidelines could have the greatest impact on nutrient management planning and the size of manure storage facilities.