Nation’s Biggest Meat Producers are Killing the Gulf of Mexico, Finds New Report

Factory Farming Causing Dead Zones in Gulf of Mexico
iStock/michaelbwatkins

Deadly algal blooms that have created the largest dead zone on record in the Gulf of Mexico, are the direct result of factory farming, says the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

According to recent research conducted by environmental group Mighty, the affected area of the Gulf is at least 8,200 square miles, “an expanse of water roughly the size of New Jersey,” reports the Guardian. Factory farming is also having a similar impact to a lesser extent on the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay.

Dead zones are oxygen-deprived regions created when algae die, killing or forcing marine life to seek out suitable water. The algae overgrow because of chemicals common in agriculture wastewater polluting waterways. When the algae die, their decomposition creates a lack of oxygen, called hypoxia, which is unsuitable for life.

“This problem is worsening and worsening and regulation isn’t reducing the scope of this pollution,” Lucia von Reusner, campaign director at Mighty told the Guardian. “These companies’ practices need to be far more sustainable. And a reduction in meat consumption is absolutely necessary to reduce the environmental burden.”

According to the report, the “highly industrialized and centralized factory farm system” is causing an uptick in soy and corn production. This results in the loss of native grasslands, which causes the chemically-loaded soil to wash into the nation’s waterways.  Smithfield and Tyson Foods are singled out two of the dominant sources of the pollution.

“Tyson, which supplies the likes of McDonald’s and Walmart, slaughters 35m chickens and 125,000 head of cattle every week, requiring five million acres of corn a year for feed,” which created 55 million tons of manure in 2016, notes the Guardian. That led to more than 100 million tons of pollutants winding up in the waterways since 2006.

The runoff is also cited in another recent report released by the Environmental Working Group, which found high nitrate levels in drinking water in 48 states. Nitrate consumption has been connected to an increased risk of developing certain types of cancer, notes the Guardian.

The report calls on the meat industry to demand its suppliers of corn and soy work to improve water runoff mitigation strategies.

“The corporate agriculture sector has shown it is responsive to consumer concerns about meat production,” said von Reusner, “so we hope that the largest meat companies will meet expectations on this.”

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.