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Corporate Agribusiness and America’s Waterways Report Highlights 8 Companies’ Role in Pollution

For Immediate Release

As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and several states consider action on factory farm pollution, Environment America released a report, Corporate Agribusiness and America’s Waterways, examining the role of corporate agribusiness in the pollution of waterways from the Chesapeake Bay to the Mississippi River. The group called for industrial firms like Perdue, Tyson and Cargill to be held accountable for the waste from their livestock.

“As Thanksgiving approaches, we are thankful for America’s beautiful waters, just as we are thankful for the food on our table,” observed John Rumpler, senior attorney for Environment America. “But the industrial giants that now produce much of that food are not keeping their waste out of our waterways.”

In the case of the Chesapeake Bay, Environment America found that the 568 million chickens raised on the Delmarva Peninsula—many of them owned by Perdue—generate an estimated 1.1 billion pounds of chicken litter every year.  When chicken manure runs off into nearby waters, it contributes to the staggering dead zone that plagues the Bay. Perdue is the third-largest chicken producer in the nation, with $4.6 billion in annual sales.

Farmer William Morrow of Emmitsburg, Md., joined Environment Maryland (the group’s state affiliate) in releasing the report:

“I’m a small farmer raising sheep, goats, hogs and chickens. To make sure that none of my animals’ waste winds up in nearby waters, I compost the manure, and I plant winter cover crops and buffer strips. If I can clean up after my animals, then a big company like Perdue certainly can do it too. That’s why these companies need to embrace straightforward policies to reduce the pollution their operations generate,” added Morrow.

Perdue and its chickens are hardly alone. The report also examines the role of other agribusiness giants in polluting America’s waters—including Tyson, Cargill, JBS, Smithfield and Archer Daniels Midland. 

Across the country, agribusiness contributes to making 100,000 miles of rivers and 2,500 square miles of inland lakes too polluted for swimming, fishing, drinking and/or wildlife habitat.

The Environment America report comes as the EPA and several states consider action to curb pollution from industrial agribusiness:

  • The cleanup plan for the Chesapeake Bay will be finalized by the end of the year; if the plan requires pollution reductions from agribusiness, it would set a national precedent; 
  • Wisconsin is developing new rules to curb manure pollution, as the state has watched the number of factory farms double in the last decade; and
  • In Illinois, the state’s failure to protect rivers and streams from factory farms is so grave that citizens have petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take over enforcement of applicable clean water laws there.

The report recommends these and other uses of existing clean water laws to begin curbing pollution from factory farms.  

“A company like Cargill should guarantee that not one pound of poop from its pork winds up in our waters,” concluded Rumpler.  “But until industrial agribusiness makes good on that pledge, let us be thankful for strong clean water laws, and use them well.”