The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
FACTORY FARMING SERIES PART III: Animal Waste, Waterways and Drinking Water
By Karen Steuer
From the backyard grill to the picnic basket, Americans seem to have a love affair with meat and poultry. To supply that demand, livestock production has turned to concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) as the new business model, growing high volumes of cows, pigs and birds within short time spans and in the smallest spaces possible.
These “factory farms” are designed to be efficient at producing meat, but they also generate enormous amounts of manure. Livestock animals create 13 to 25 times more of it than humans, on a per-weight basis, resulting in quantities from a single large CAFO that can surpass the sanitary waste production of a city as large as Philadelphia. Treatment is not required for animal manure as it is for human sewage, so where does all of that waste go?
A growing body of evidence indicates that CAFO-generated contaminants are ending up in the waters that we depend on for commerce, recreation and perhaps most importantly, drinking. Spills that occur during manure transport or when storage facilities fail can lead to easily discernible, significant impacts on water quality, as I explained in my previous blog entry.
More insidious though are the negative impacts resulting from the over-application of animal solid waste to crops. Spreading livestock manure in quantities greater than the plants can use or the soil can absorb can cause severe water quality problems and thereby harm human health. Although waste generated by the animal farm operator can be a valuable commodity when applied on land to help crops grow, the sheer scale of CAFOs distorts such usage.
Because CAFOs are often clustered within small areas and many farmers purchase livestock feed instead of growing it on adjacent land, the area available for manure disposal is rapidly vanishing. The U.S. Department of Agriculture brought this trend to light in 2000 when it found that the potential for water pollution from manure runoff was higher in those regions with the largest concentration of animals in confinement. More recent studies also point to CAFO density as a chief indicator of localized runoff and higher contaminant concentrations in water.
States must document the waters that have become degraded in order to comply with the federal Clean Water Act. These lists of impaired lakes, rivers, streams and aquifers illustrate that the manure generated from CAFOs is a significant contributor to decreased water quality in the nation’s watersheds—whether the source is production and waste management sites or manure-treated cropland. Unfortunately, that inventory does not fully capture the likely impacts of discharges from CAFOs because only 27.5 percent of rivers and streams and 45.5 percent of lakes nationally have been assessed.
We must recognize that CAFOs are among the substantial producers of pollutants to the waters we depend on. In my next blog entry, I’ll focus on the role that animal agriculture plays in one particularly troubled watershed: the Chesapeake Bay.
Karen Steuer joined Pew in 2008 as director of government relations for the Pew Environment Group. Steuer has extensive experience in environmental work in Washington, D.C., dating to 1991, when she served as deputy staff director for the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Subcommittee on Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation and the Environment. Since then, she has served as a special assistant to Rep. William Delahunt of Massachusetts; as director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Program on Commercial Exploitation and Trade in Wildlife; as an independent consultant on environmental and wildlife issues with Green Answers; and as vice president, government affairs, for the National Environmental Trust. Steuer holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from Goddard College.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Global Banks, Led by JPMorgan Chase, Invested $1.9 Trillion in Fossil Fuels Since Paris Climate Pact
By Sharon Kelly
A report published Wednesday names the banks that have played the biggest recent role in funding fossil fuel projects, finding that since 2016, immediately following the Paris agreement's adoption, 33 global banks have poured $1.9 trillion into financing climate-changing projects worldwide.
By Patti Lynn
2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."
England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.
By Jessica Corbett
A new analysis revealed Tuesday that over the past two decades heat records across the U.S. have been broken twice as often as cold ones—underscoring experts' warnings about the increasingly dangerous consequences of failing to dramatically curb planet-warming emissions.
By Madison Dapcevich
Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.
The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.
The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."
Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.
"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."
Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.
However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.
"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.
Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.
Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.
"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.
Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.