Tyson, Perdue among top water polluters in Virginia, country

Media Contacts
John Rumpler

Clean Water Director and Senior Attorney, Environment America

Environment Virginia

Richmond, VA – Tyson Foods, one of the world’s largest meat and poultry producers, dumps more toxic pollution into American waters than any other agribusiness, and produces the most animal manure of major companies surveyed nationwide, a new report released today said.

The Environment Virginia Research & Policy Center study documented the “water pollution footprint” of Tyson, Perdue and three other major agriculture conglomerates, responsible for 44 percent of the pork, chicken, and beef produced in the U.S. Regionally, Perdue Farms has a large footprint in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, accounting for more than one-quarter of the chickens raised on the Delmarva Peninsula.

“When most people think of water pollution, they think of industrial pipes spewing toxic chemicals,” said Sarah Bucci, State Director with Environment Virginia. “But this report shows how, increasingly, corporations like Tyson and Perdue are running our farms like factories and putting the recovery of the Chesapeake Bay at risk in the process.”

By concentrating thousands of animals on factory farms, corporate agribusinesses create industrial scale pollution with disastrous consequences for waterways in Virginia and across the country.

Based on available livestock production data, the report calculates that Perdue’s supply chain generates more than 3.7 million tons of manure per year — manure that too often ends up untreated, fouling rivers and streams in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Perdue has taken some positive steps to handle excess manure, though our report cites that “the Perdue Agricycle pelletizing plant took only 7 percent of the manure ‘exported’ off-site from chicken operations on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in 2013.” And, the massive concentration of chicken operations only continues to grow. In 2015, officials approved roughly 200 new poultry houses on the Delmarva Peninsula.

Additionally, Perdue directly discharges a significant amount of pollution from its processing plants. The Accomac Processing Plant on Virginia’s Eastern Shore discharged over 1.2 million pounds of toxic pollution in 2014 according to the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory. Most of the company’s toxic discharges are nitrates, which are linked to blue baby syndrome and some forms of cancer.

“Livestock manure remains a major source of pollution contributing to the Chesapeake Bay’s deadzone,” said Bucci. “Factory farms need to be held accountable as we work to meet our clean up goals for the Bay.”

In addition to those of Tyson and Perdue, Environment Virginia examined pollution records for Smithfield Foods, Cargill and JBS:

  • Tyson, Inc., based in Arkansas and one of the world’s largest producers of meat and poultry, with over 55 million tons of manure annually and 104 million pounds of toxic pollutants over a five-year period;

  • 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, based in Maryland with over 3.7 million tons of manure and 27 million pounds of toxic pollutants over five years.

According to the report, 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.

“These corporate agribusinesses have the know how and the resources to implement better, more sustainable ways of producing America’s food.” said Bucci. “It’s time to hold them accountable for their pollution of our environment – just as Americans a generation ago did with industrial polluters.