“Agricultural runoff is the single largest source of water pollution in the nation’s rivers and streams, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.). An estimated 19.5 million Americans fall ill each year from waterborne parasites, viruses or bacteria, including those stemming from human and animal waste, according to a study published last year in the scientific journal Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.”
– The New York Times
Back in 2009 (when this post was first published), the NY Times had recently printed an illuminating story about the pollution of Wisconsin drinking water caused by the run-off from neighboring animal farms.
“In 2006, an early thaw in Brown County melted frozen fields, including some that were covered in manure. Within days, more than 100 wells were contaminated with coliform bacteria, E. coli, or nitrates — byproducts of manure or other fertilizers… As parasites and bacteria seeped into drinking water, residents suffered from chronic diarrhea, stomach illnesses and severe ear infections.”
The Times states that the federal laws created by the EPA – intended to prevent pollution and protect drinking water sources – only apply to the largest farms, meaning those with at least 700 cows. According to the EPA:
“Thousands of large animal feedlots that should be regulated by those rules are effectively ignored because farmers never file paperwork.”
In other words, thousands of intensive animal farms do not comply with laws that require the responsible treatment of waste. And further (listen carefully folks), small farms – which are growing in popularity as a result of the increased awareness of the problems with factory farming – are not even obligated to comply with federal laws.
In Virginia, small animal farms make up approximately one-tenth of the 87,000 farms in the huge watershed of Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States.
According to The Washington Post:
“Manure that washes off their plots, which tend to be small and filled with livestock, causes harmful algae blooms in the Chesapeake.”
Amongst other things, algae blooms can lead to the development of ‘dead zones’. In 2005, scientists reported finding more than a third of Chesapeake Bay was a dead zone.
The problem is not confined to meat production either…
“In Brown County, part of one of the nation’s largest milk-producing regions, agriculture brings in $3 billion a year. But the dairies collectively also create as much as a million gallons of waste each day. Many cows are fed a high-protein diet, which creates a more liquid manure that is easier to spray on fields.”
Mmmmm… Liquid manure… Veganic agriculture is starting to sound better all the time.
The problem is not only with cows, and it’s not limited to Wisconsin and Virginia.
“In Arkansas and Maryland, residents have accused chicken farm owners of polluting drinking water. In 2005, Oklahoma’s attorney general sued 13 poultry companies, claiming they had damaged one of the state’s most important watersheds.”
A while back, I wrote a piece about the Smithfield pig factory in La Gloria Mexico, which was alleged to have given birth to the H1N1 Swine Flu virus. A reporter from Rolling Stone Magazine did an investigation into Smithfield’s US operations back in 2006.
“From 1991 to 1995, Smithfield’s North Carolina ‘lagoons’ spilled two million gallons of pig waste into the Cape Fear River, 1.5 million gallons into its Persimmon Branch, one million gallons into the Trent River and 200,000 gallons into Turkey Creek. In Virginia, Smithfield was fined $12.6 million in 1997 for 6,900 violations of the Clean Water Act — the third-largest civil penalty ever levied under the act by the EPA.”
Simply put, using animal agriculture to feed a vast human population brings with it the unavoidable problem of dealing with vast quantities of sewage. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council:
“As industrial-sized farms stagger under the vast burden of manure they are generating, environmental disasters are inevitable. The scale of this unprecedented outpouring of animal waste is staggering: 130 times the waste generated by humans in this country each year. “
In other words, as a result of our desire for animal products, we have the waste management problem of a population 130 times the size of what our population actually is. Here in the US, we might as well be managing the waste of 39 billion people.
In addition to hundreds of millions of hens and turkeys, approximately 60 million pigs and 10 million sheep, we have 100 million cows in this country. Each of these cows generates as much waste as 18 people, according to Bill Hafs, an official of Brown County, who asserts:
“There just isn’t enough land to absorb that much manure.”