The Gulf of Mexico is currently experiencing one of the largest “dead zones” ever seen, in which a massive patch of the ocean is now devoid of life. A new report claims that this ecological devastation is the result of the meat industry that occurs in the heart of the United States.
Following an investigation carried out by the environmental group Mighty, it has been uncovered that the toxins and nitrates found in excessive amounts in manure and fertilizer have been draining into the streams and rivers that eventually feed into the Gulf of Mexico. This is thought to be exacerbating the dead zone that is developing just off the coast of Louisiana.
This pollution is thought to be driving a condition known as hypoxia. The elevated levels of nitrates and other nutrients cause algae and phytoplankton to bloom. When the algae then dies, it settles on the bottom and leads to an explosion of bacteria, which use up all the oxygen in the water. It is this that either drives away the aquatic life or simply kills it, leaving behind a dead zone.
The farms responsible for this agricultural runoff have been linked to some of the biggest meat-producing companies in the whole of the United States. It is not just the raising of livestock that is thought to be the main polluter, but also the vast amounts of corn and soy that is produced in order to feed the animals.
To find out which companies are responsible for the vast amounts of pollution flowing into the rivers and waterways, the investigation mapped the supply chain of the country’s major meat and feed producers, and then overlaid it with which regions showed the highest levels of nitrate concentrations as a result of fertilizer pollution. They found that one company stood out above the rest: Tyson Foods.
“Americans should not have to choose between producing food and having healthy clean water,” explains Mighty Earth campaign director Lucia von Reusner in a statement. “Big meat companies like Tyson have left a trail of pollution across the country, and have a responsibility to their customers and the public to clean it up.”
Previously, NOAA predicted that the dead zone created this year was likely to be the third biggest they’ve seen, stretching across 21,237 square kilometers (8,200 square miles). However, it now seems that that initial estimate was wrong and that the situation is far worse than originally thought, which would likely make the event the largest ever seen.