Meat industry runoff has created a massive dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico

More than 8,000 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico were turned into a dead zone thanks to manure and chemical runoff from massive meat industry suppliers spilling into the Mississippi River delta.

The report by nonprofit Mighty Earth links the record-breaking dead zone to clearance of prairie grassland to make room for factory farms:

Consolidated Control of Industrial Meat Despite common media depictions of small picturesque farms, the reality is that just five companies produce most meat in the United States, under a highly industrialized and centralized factory-farm system. While most animals were produced on small farms decades ago, large, industrial factory farms now control the market: anywhere from 50 to 75 percent of meat markets are now controlled by just four companies each, with Tyson controlling over 20 percent of the chicken, beef and pork markets.5 Industrialized farming confines thousands of hogs, chickens, and cattle in tight factory-like spaces,ii and concentrates corporate control over production standards, especially for hogs and chickens.

Once they overlaid locations of processing facilities on maps of grassland losses, they pinpointed the key culprit:

America’s largest meat company, Tyson Foods, stood out for its expansive footprint in all the regions suffering the worst pollution impacts from industrial meat and feed production. Tyson produces one out of every five pounds of meat produced in the United States, and owns brands like Jimmy Dean, Hillshire Farm, Ball Park, and Sara Lee, in addition to selling to fast food retailers like McDonalds. The company is consistently ranked among the top polluters in America, although Tyson’s new CEO has declared that a focus on sustainability will be at the center of the company’s future plans.

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Algae beach party

Beachgoers in Qingdao, Shandong province, China, were met with a fuzzy, green blanket of ocean last week, as the water there exploded with algae.

You've heard before about dead zones. These are patches of coastal ocean where river runoff full of fertilizer chemicals have produced massive algae blooms. As the algae die, their decomposition reduces the oxygen level of the water to the point that many fish and other aquatic life can no longer live there.

This is what a dead zone looks like, just before the death.

It's worth noting, when I pulled this photo out of the Reuters files, I could see similar shots, taken on the same beach, in 2010, 2009, and 2008. This isn't a fluke. It's an endemic problem.

Image: REUTERS/China Daily China Daily Information Corp - CDIC

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