Poultry and Pollution

Chicken factoryWhen it comes to the environment, the public’s attention has been understandably focused on global warming. However, the water pollution problem hasn’t gone away. While many people are aware of the water pollution caused by raising cattle, few are aware that raising chicken is just as bad if not worse. Sure, a cow produces more manure than a chicken does, but there are far more chickens in this country. In fact, we now raise over 9 billion chickens every year compared to only 90 million cows.

In addition to the water pollution that results from agricultural runoff from fertilizer while raising feed crops for all those chickens, the waste products from raising chickens cause an enormous amount of pollution. In fact overall, raising chickens results in more nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in our waterways than raising cattle.

“Big Chicken” describes the emergence of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and the environmental impact of this industrial scale production. The process creates massive amounts of chicken waste concentrated in a relatively small space. Growers typically dispose of litter by spreading it on open fields or cropland, but when it’s over-applied due to lack of room, or it’s poorly managed, the rain washes it into streams and rivers, causing significant water quality problems, massive fish kills, and destruction of other aquatic life.

There’s damage to human health as well. These chemicals leach into our drinking water. In high concentrations, nitrates in drinking water can hinder a body’s ability to carry enough oxygen to cells, causing potentially severe health problems for infants and people with compromised immune systems.

Tyson Foods, one of the largest producers of meat in the world, is responsible for dumping more toxic pollution by volume into U.S. waters than companies like Exxon and Dow Chemical, according to a new analysis from environmental advocacy group Environment America. An analysis, released recently, coincides with a decision by Tyson shareholders not to institute a new water policy that would have mandated the company to keep better track of its water pollution both inside and outside of its direct facilities.

Authorities have started to push back. Tyson’s pollution has been the subject of several legal challenges over the years, with the company paying more than $25 million in legal settlements and fines since 2001. Most recently, the Attorney General of Missouri filed a lawsuit against Tyson Foods, accusing the company of illegally discharging untreated wastewater that led to the death of up to 100,000 fish. Tyson settled with Missouri in 2015 and agreed to pay.

Again and again, and in so many ways, we see that raising livestock is simply not environmentally sustainable. The best option for the environment turns out to be the best for you and, of course, for the chickens themselves. Fortunately, many delicious chicken substitutes are available in your local grocery. Why not give them a try? Indeed, saving the environment never tasted so good.