BOSTON, MASS. – Tyson Foods, one of the world’s largest meat and poultry producers, dumps more toxic pollution into the nation’s waters than any other agribusiness, and produces the most animal manure of five major companies assessed nationwide, a new report said today.
The Environment America Research & Policy Center study documented pollution from Tyson and four other major agriculture conglomerates, responsible for an estimated 44 percent of the pork, chicken, and beef produced in the U.S.
“When most people think of water pollution, they think of industrial pipes spewing toxic chemicals,” said John Rumpler, senior attorney with Environment America and author of the report. “But this report shows how, increasingly, corporations like Tyson are turning farms into factories and ruining our rivers and bays in the process.”
By concentrating thousands of animals on factory farms, corporate agribusinesses create industrial scale pollution with disastrous consequences for waterways across the country.
Agriculture is the probable cause for making more than 145,000 miles of rivers and streams across the country too polluted for swimming, fishing, drinking, or maintaining healthy wildlife, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Based on available livestock production data, today’s report calculates that Tyson’s supply chain alone generates more than 55 million tons of manure per year -- manure that too often ends up untreated, ultimately fouling rivers, streams, and drinking water.
One example cited in the report: When chicken manure contaminated two sources of drinking water for Tulsa, Oklahoma, Tyson and other poultry processors agreed to pay the city $7.5 million.
Gabby Cammarata, a Salisbury, Maryland resident who joined Environment America on a call with reporters to discuss the study, is worried a proposed Tyson facility near her home could cause similar problems for her community’s drinking water supply.
The 3.1 million chicken factory farm “would be placed right on top of the underground aquifer which supplies all of the drinking water to the city of Salisbury and the town of Delmar,” Cammarata said. “There's a real risk that manure could enter into our water table and ultimately our aquifer. Like most rural communities, our drinking water treatment system isn't up to the task of dealing with all that pollution.”
From slaughtering plants run by the company or its subsidiaries, Tyson discharged over 20 million pounds of toxic pollutants to the nation’s waters in 2014 --- more by volume than even Exxon Mobil or Dupont -- according to data the company reported to the federal Toxics Release Inventory. Most of the company’s toxic discharges are nitrates, which are linked to blue baby syndrome and some forms of cancer.
In Iowa, nitrate pollution from agribusiness operations have so badly polluted the Raccoon River that Des Moines is now suing three counties for failing to stop contamination of its main drinking water source.
In addition to those of Tyson Foods, Environment America examined pollution records for:
- the Brazilian meat giant JBS, with over 45.8 million tons of manure and over 37 million pounds of toxic pollutants over a five-year period;
- Minnesota-based private company Cargill, a major cattle producer, with 39 million tons of manure annually and over 50 million pounds of toxic pollutants over a five-year period;
- Chinese-owned Smithfield Foods, based in Virginia, which claims to be the world’s largest hog producer, with over 18.9 million tons of manure and 27 million pounds of toxic pollutants over five years; and
- the chicken-producer Perdue Farms, based in Maryland with over 3.7 million tons of manure and 27 million pounds of toxic pollutants over five years.
The Socially Responsible Agricultural Project (SRAP), who joined Environment America to release the report, said the solutions to curb agribusiness pollution -- such as buffer zones, reduced concentration of livestock, and hauling waste out of endangered watersheds -- are feasible and well-known to the industry.
“I raise my cows on rotational pasture to help keep our waterways clean,” said Terry Spence, a Missouri farmer who consults with SRAP. “Companies like Tyson should do the same.”
“These corporate agribusinesses have the knowhow and the resources to implement better, more sustainable ways of producing America’s food,” concluded Rumpler. “It’s time to hold them accountable for their pollution of our environment – just as Americans a generation ago did with industrial polluters.”