Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

FACTORY FARMING SERIES PART III: Animal Waste, Waterways and Drinking Water

FACTORY FARMING SERIES PART III: Animal Waste, Waterways and Drinking Water

Pew Environment Group

By Karen Steuer

Animal Waste, Waterways and Drinking Water is Part III of a three-part series. Click here to read Part I. Click here to read Part II.

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.

Visit EcoWatch's FACTORY FARMING page for more related news on this topic.

 

A "trash tsunami" has washed ashore on the beaches of Honduras, endangering both wildlife and the local economy.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Long-finned pilot whales are seen during a 1998 stranding in Marion Bay in Tasmania, Australia. Auscape / Universal Images Group / Getty Images

More long-finned pilot whales were found stranded today on beaches in Tasmania, Australia. About 500 whales have become stranded, including at least 380 that have died, the AP reported. It is the largest mass stranding in Australia's recorded history.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A protest in solidarity with the Wetʼsuwetʼen's anti-pipeline struggle, at Canada House in Trafalgar Square on March 1, 2020 in London, England. More than 200 environmental groups had their Facebook accounts suspended days before an online solidarity protest. Ollie Millington / Getty Images

Facebook suspended more than 200 accounts belonging to environmental and Indigenous groups Saturday, casting doubt on the company's stated commitments to addressing the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less
The Västra Hamnen neighborhood in Malmö, Sweden, runs on renewable energy. Tomas Ottosson / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 3.0

By Harry Kretchmer

By 2030, almost a third of all the energy consumed in the European Union must come from renewable sources, according to binding targets agreed in 2018. Sweden is helping lead the way.

Read More Show Less
An Extinction Rebellion protester outside the Bank of England on Oct. 14, 2019 in London, England. John Keeble / Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

In another win for climate campaigners, leaders of 12 major cities around the world — collectively home to about 36 million people — committed Tuesday to divesting from fossil fuel companies and investing in a green, just recovery from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Read More Show Less

Support Ecowatch