Dead Zone Bigger than Ever - Report Reveals America’s Largest Meat Companies’ Role in Polluting Gulf of Mexico

2017 Gulf Dead Zone
2017 Gulf Dead Zone Measurement. Courtesy LSU and LUMCON

Today, researchers from Louisiana State University (LSU) and the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON) announced that the 8,776 square mile (New Jersey-sized) Dead Zone is the largest Dead Zone on record. The Dead Zone is fueled by fertilizer pollution flowing down the Mississippi River from the American heartland, which causes massive algae blooms that use up oxygen sea life needs to survive. This historically large Dead Zone measurement comes on the heels of a new report, released by Mighty Earth, which identifies the companies responsible for much of the animal waste and fertilizer pollution that contribute to the Dead Zone.

”This massive Dead Zone shows that current efforts from States and the Feds are woefully inadequate,” said Matt Rota, Senior Policy Director for Gulf Restoration Network. “Study after study has shown that everyone from EPA to state environmental departments need to step up their game. Unfortunately, this hasn’t happened. In fact we just see the Dead Zone growing bigger and bigger.”

2017 Dead Zone Graph
Dead Zones sizes since 1895. 2017 is the largest ever measured.

“I honestly can’t see the EPA under the Trump administration taking the steps necessary, such as setting enforceable limits on Dead Zone-causing pollution, to reverse this alarming trend,” continued Rota. “It is time for industrial ag companies like Tyson that contribute to the pollution of the Mississippi and Gulf to do what is right and clean up their mess.”

Mighty Earth’s new report shows that much of Dead Zone-causing pollution comes from the vast quantities of corn and soy used to raise meat animals. To identify the companies responsible, the report maps the supply chains of the top meat and feed companies, and overlays it with data showing elevated nitrate concentrations in water linked to fertilizer pollution. It also shows locations where recent grassland clearance for corn and soy cropping is expanding the pollution frontier.

America’s largest meat company, Tyson Foods, stood out. Tyson has a huge footprint in all the regions suffering the worst environmental impacts from industrial meat and feed production. Tyson is America’s largest meat company, and produces one out of every five pounds of meat produced in the United States. The report found:

  • Tyson is the only meat company with major processing facilities in each of the states listed by the USGS as contributing the highest levels of pollution to the Gulf;
  • Tyson and Smithfield have the heaviest concentration of meat facilities in those regions of the country with the highest levels of nitrate contamination;
  • Tyson’s top feed suppliers are behind the bulk of grassland prairie clearance, which dramatically magnifies the impacts of fertilizer pollution, with Cargill and ADM clearly dominating the market for corn and soy with their network of grain elevators and feed silos in all the states with the highest losses.

“As the major environmental impacts of meat production have gained awareness, many consumers have been trying to find solutions in their own choices,” says Mighty Earth campaign director Lucia von Reusner. “This report shows that our nation’s largest meat companies have the largest responsibility to clean up the polluting impacts of our industrialized food system.”

The LUMCON/LSU Dead Zone measurement can be found here.

The full Mighty Earth report can be found here.

Matt is GRN's Senior Policy Director

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