Emissions from livestock operations will be among the air quality issues discussed by a USDA task force at a meeting later this month, according to USDA.

The panel will meet March 27 to map out its work for the year, including air quality research priorities and regulation of so-called factory farms that generate vast amounts of manure, the USDA said in a Federal Register notice.

Pork operations owned by Smithfield Foods were targeted in a series of lawsuits filed last month by a coalition of environmentalists and familiy farmers. The lawsuits contend that Smithfield, the world's largest pork producer, contaminates rivers and streams and fouls the air with manure. Smithfield has denied the allegations and says it uses state-of-the-art environmental controls.

Officials with the Environmental Protection Agency and a dozen states also are part of the USDA task force.

Congress created the task force as part of the 1996 farm bill to identify research needed to manage pollution and emissions from large livestock farms, known as concentrated animal feeding operations.

Reuters