Massive Dead Zone In Gulf Of Mexico Blamed On Meat Industry

A dead zone larger than New Jersey is expected to appear in the Gulf of Mexico later this year. Similar dead zones are found in the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay. A report by Mighty, a global environmental group headed by Henry Waxman, a former US Congressman, claims the dead zones are the result of algae blooms caused by massive amounts of fertilizers and animal manure that finds their way into America’s rivers, which then carry them to the ocean.

Mighty dead zone report
Source: Mighty.org

The algae use up most of the dissolved oxygen in the water. Unable to breathe, fish and other marine life either suffocate or are forced to go in search of other habitats. Using sophisticated mapping technology, Mighty lays the bulk of the responsibility on the meat industry. The study shows that factory scale animal farms and the growers who supply them with feed as the leading contributors to t the pollution. Because of the size of their operations, Tyson Foods and Smithfield — two of the largest meat producers in the country — are nominated as the worst offenders

The Mighty report analyzed supply chains of agribusiness and pollution trends and found that a “highly industrialized and centralized factory farm system” was resulting in vast tracts of native grassland in the midwest being converted into soy and corn to feed livestock, as reported by The Guardian. Stripped soils can wash away in the rain, bringing fertilizers into waterways.

Tyson Tops The List

Tyson Foods, based in Arkansas, is a “dominant” contributor to the pollution, according to the report. Each week, it slaughters 35 million chickens and 125,000 cattle to satisfy the needs of its largest customers, McDonald’s and Walmart. It takes the output from 5,000,000 acres of cropland to feet all those animals each year. 55 million tons of animal waste was generated by Tyson’s operations last year according to the EPA.

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

“Large parts of America are being plowed up for corn and soy to raise meat,” says von Reusner. “There is very little regulation so we can’t wait for that. The corporate agriculture sector has shown it is responsive to consumer concerns about meat production so we hope that the largest meat companies will meet expectations on this.” (Note to Lucia von Reusner: Hope is not a plan.)

Tyson and Smithfield, of course, disagree. And regulation has become a nasty word, thanks to the Koch Brothers funded network of ultra-libertarians who hold that a company can do any damn thing it pleases just so long as the interests of stockholders are served.

Demand For Meat Is Rising

According to the US Department of Agriculture, beef and pork production is forecast to grow significantly over the next decade, driven by lower feed costs and healthy demand. By 2025, the average American is expected to eat 219 pounds of meat a year. Just 3% of Americans follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. This appetite for meat has driven the loss of native forests and grasslands in the US and abroad, releasing heat trapping gases through deforestation and agricultural practices. Agriculture produced 9% of US greenhouse gas emissions in 2015, according to the EPA.

A Tyson spokesperson says, “We don’t agree with the group’s characterization of our company but share its interest in protecting the environment. It’s true the livestock and poultry industry is a major buyer of grain for feed, however, the report fails to note that a large percentage of corn raised in the US is used for biofuel and that a significant portion is used for human consumption. Tyson Foods is focused on continuous improvement. We are constantly looking to improve and lead the industry, so that we can deliver sustainable food to people every day at a scale that matters to the world.”

Drawdown Touts Plant Rich Diet

In the book Drawdown, the fourth most important way to limit carbon emissions is by transitioning to a “plant rich diet.” Switching to electric cars is way down the list at number 49. Reducing deforestation to grow animals and crops to feed animals also makes the top 10 list. The issue is not whether someone should enjoy a rare cheeseburger on occasion. The issue is that humanity is using the earth as a public toilet and we are drowning in our own effluent.

Paying For Pollution

It does no good to argue incessantly about whether government regulation either can or should solve the problem. The nub of it is that our current version of hyper-capitalism assigns no monetary cost to the waste products of our industrialized society. That, quite frankly, is insane.

If your neighbor was flushing his toilet onto your lawn and telling you to clean up after him, you would be incensed. Why is pumping millions of tons of pig shit into the environment any different, just because some people like bacon in their cheeseburger? Does the fact that someone is “in business” excuse behavior that endangers everyone on the planet? Does capitalism convey a license to pollute to the industrialist?

Perhaps regulation is not the answer. But a fresh look at the burdens and dangers of unfettered capitalism may be indicated. ‘

Source: The Guardian







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writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island. You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter.