When it comes to the pollution of our nation’s waterways, some companies are bad, and some companies are much, much worse. Factory farming has been linked to water pollution for decades, and the problem is only getting worse. The concentration of animals in factory farming facilities is not only horrifically inhumane, it leads to a MASSIVE amount of feces, the runoff of which often ends up in our waterways. In the United States, factory farmed animals currently produce 3 to 20 times the waste of the country’s entire human population. Large factory farms often produce more waste than some U.S. cities, with a farm operation of 800,000 pigs producing over 1.6 million tons of waste annually. The difference between human waste and animal waste? Legally, human must be treated. But animal waste? Currently, zero treatment plants exist to treat animal waste.
What about Water Waste and Storage?
To clean all that manure out of the concrete storage facilities and cages where the animals are confined, huge amounts of water must be used. According to a recent study by the CDC:
[factory farms’] manure contains a variety of potential contaminants. It can contain plant nutrients suchas nitrogen and phosphorus, pathogens such as E. coli, growth hormones, antibiotics, chemicals used asadditives to the manure or to clean equipment, animal blood, silage leachate from corn feed, or coppersulfate used in footbaths for cows.
The waste water is so filled with antibiotics, fecal contaminants, hormones and pesticides that it technically cannot be dumped directly into the water ways but is instead stored in large basins many times the size of football fields. These basins tend to leak into the surrounding waterways. When farmers need to lower the levels of water in the drainage pools, they often spray the contaminated water onto nearby fields. (hey, it’s not dumping, it’s WATERING!) According to the CDC: “Ground application of untreated manure is one of the most common disposal methods due to its low cost…other manure management strategies include pumping liquefied manure onto spray fields.“
According to Farm Sanctuary, an advocacy group for farm animals:
Between watering the crops that farm animals eat, providing drinking water for billions of animals each year, and cleaning away the filth in factory farms, transport trucks, and slaughterhouses, the animal agriculture industry has a huge impact on the water supply. Producing one pound of beef takes an estimated 1,581 gallons of water, which is roughly as much as the average American uses in 100 showers.
Inevitably, contaminated water ends up in the waterways, whether due to leakage or over-application of “liquified manure” onto fields, which exceed the ability of the land to absorb it. The excess nitrogen and phosphate in these contaminated water ends up causing massive algae blooms which prevent sea beds from receiving sufficient sunlight, and which also consume the water’s oxygen. This causes severe harm to marine life.
The contaminants also end up in our groundwater, which impacts human health. Pathogens linger much longer in groundwater than surface water because groundwater is not exposed to sun and has a lower temperature. Elevated nitrates in drinking water are of particular concern to infants and children leading to blue baby syndrome, but are also of concern to pregnant women and fertility. Studies have linked nitrate levels to higher rates of certain types of cancers.
So Who’s the Worst?
Well, the absolute worst corporate polluter of our waterways is a company called AK Steel Holdings, which dumped 107 million pounds of contaminated discharge into our waterways between 2010 and 2014.
But guess who was RIGHT behind them, dumping a whopping 104 million pounds of contaminated discharge? Tyson. Not Exxon, not Cargill, not Koch Industries. Tyson. Wait, All-American, family-loving Tyson? The Tyson that produces so-called “all-natural” chicken nuggets? The company that’s so in tune with what America wants they produced a gluten-free chicken nugget?
In the company-produced promotional video below, Tyson (they’re “stewards of the environment”!!) discusses their “sustainability” and their commitment “to finding lasting solutions that protect and conserve the environment.” Yes, she actually says those words on the video. A rep from a company that is the 2nd worst water polluter in the country talks about how much they “care”. This is the sort of thing that really, really ticks me off. Tyson, like most companies, is focused on their bottom line. And Anytime they can get away with polluting and not getting too much flack from the public about it, they will do just that.
Personally, I don’t think a company that is rated as the second worst water polluter in the country (and hey, they’re almost #1) should ever get to use the word natural as a selling point on their products. Of course, if you’ve followed this blog for a while, you know that the word “natural” when used on food or personal care products means NOTHING. But it’s a slap in the face for a company as egregious as Tyson to claim their foods are “all-natural” as in–“we’re one with Nature!” “We’re nature-loving just like Rachel Carson!” because it’s clear the company does not actually give a shit about the natural world.
What Can You Do?
First off, sign the following petitions at change.org
Stop Pig Industry from Spraying Fecal Waste on Our Homes: People of color in this North Carolina community are suffering from the toxic effects of fecal waste in the air and the water. They are asking the EPA to investigate this farm and its discharges.
Keep the Buffalo River Free of Hog Waste: Water quality results have shown that there is a high level of E. coli in the tributary of the Buffalo National River that is directly adjacent to the hog manure fields.
Second, you can reduce or eliminate your consumption of meat products of all kind. If and when you do eat meat, choose local, sustainable farmers. Their products can often be found at local farmer’s markets or you can visit Eat Wild to find a local provider.
Mail Order Options for Sustainable Meat
In the event you don’t have a local farmer and you still want to buy meat, your next best bet is to buy sustainable and environmentally-responsible meat from a vendor such as Butcher Box . Butcher Box provides a monthly subscription box of grass-fed beef, organic chicken and heritage pork for a set fee. Butcher Box was initially funded by a Kickstarter campaign and now provides three different monthly boxes: beef only, beef and chicken, beef and pork & beef, pork and chicken.
If you’re looking for sustainable seafood, I highly recommend Vital Choice. I recently purchased 8 pounds of their wild Oregon pink shrimp and their sustainable tuna-fish and I am very pleased.