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Climate Sisters

Rivers of Waste

Pandemics Ahead: Number 9 in a series looking at the link between animal protein and global health disasters.

Excerpt from Meat Climate Change: The 2nd Leading Cause of Global Warming by Moses Seenarine, (2016). Xpyr Press, 348 pages. ISBN: 0692641157.

Animal-based agribusiness generates a lot of manure and excretions that decompose and turns into greenhouse gasses (GHGs) and cause disease. Lagoons and spray-fields are the most common methods that concentrated animal feed operations (CAFOs) use for dealing with animal waste, or sludge. Farms generally collect waste from the area containing a concentrated number of animals and store it, untreated, in huge open-air waste lagoons, often as big as several football fields, and holding as many as 40 million gallons.

The quantity of livestock manure and other wastes produced each year in the US is vast, estimated to be 1.5 bTons. A single cow raised for milk excretes around 88 lbs (40 kg) of manure for every kilogram of edible cow flesh it puts on. Each cow produces approximately 120 lbs (54 kg) of wet manure per day, equal to that of 20 - 40 people. Disposing of billions of gallons of sludge is a serious environmental issue.(918)

A farm with 2,500 cows raised for milk produces the same volume of waste as a city of 411,000 people. The massive waste lagoons often break, leak or overflow, polluting underground water supplies and rivers with nitrogen, phosphorus, and nitrates. In recent decades, livestock production systems have moved closer to urban areas, causing water and food to be frequently contaminated with manure.(919)

Some of the sludge are applied at agronomic rates as fertilizer onto land called spray-fields. Agronomic rates provide nitrogen for vegetation growth while minimizing the quantity that passes below the root zone. However, factory farms have superfluous quantities of sludge and routinely spray excess amounts on fields which leeches out and damages the environment. Industrial animal agriculture is the largest sectoral source of water pollutants which includes fertilizers, pesticides, animal wastes, antibiotics, and hormones. To boot, the sector is responsible for water pollution from chemicals in tanneries and sediments from eroded pastures.

Animal waste can contain pathogens like Giardia and Cryptosporidium, as well as heavy metals. Excess sludge sprayed on fields can contaminate food crops meant for humans and lead to disease outbreaks. Manure contamination often result in Listeria outbreaks on fruits and vegetables. Medical treatment generates further CO2 pollution and other problems. For example, the cost of cleaning up the soil under US hog and dairy CAFOs could approach US$4.1 billion.(920) 

The manure problem from factory farms will only worsen with intensification and expansion. And, wastage of food represents another huge loss to the environment, and to the animals themselves. Waste chemicals often seep from lagoons and spray-fields into groundwater, streams, and wetlands, and contaminate drinking water. In addition to numerous adverse effects on human health, contaminated runoff and spills are causing dead zones and fish kills.(921) 

The volume of antibiotics being used on factory farms pose serious hazards to public and environmental health as well. Antibiotic residue is conducive to antibiotic resistance in pathogens that cause illness in people.(922) In the US alone, animal agriculture consumes 29 million pounds of antibiotics, about 80% of the nation's antibiotics use in total. The effects of pollution on biodiversity from antibiotics are largely unknown. One concern is that some wells and waterways have tested positively for estrogenic and endocrine-disrupting compounds.

One pending lawsuit alleges that manure spreading by five large dairies has caused nitrate and other contamination of groundwater, and violates the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The plaintiffs contend that the way the manure is being applied is the equivalent of dumping solid waste. This activity is covered by RCRA but it has not been applied to manure spreading.

Chapter 25: WASTE POLLUTION, page 239. 
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