It’s no secret that factory farms are bad for our planet. And when it comes to water, the effects of these massive operations can be especially devastating both in terms of the pollution caused by toxic runoff and the waste of one of our most precious and essential natural resources.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, animals raised on industrialized farms produce about 788,000 pounds of manure per day. That’s a lot of raw sewage, and none of it ends up in treatment plants. A lot of this hazardous material is instead either sprayed onto fields or funneled into huge lagoons. Too often, it ends up in drinking water, groundwater, oceans, rivers, and streams. The results of this, of course, can be downright catastrophic.
Perhaps the most dramatic example of the damage agricultural runoff can do is the 7,000 square mile section of dead zone located in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana. A “dead zone” is exactly what it sounds like. Most of the plants and animals who once thrived in this diverse and beautiful ecosystem have since been decimated by agricultural pollutants, including manure and feed crop fertilizers, that robbed oxygen from the water, making it nearly impossible for much life to be sustained here.
But even beyond worries about what factory farms are putting into the water, is the problem of the industry’s overuse of this dwindling resource at the great expense of the planet and all its inhabitants. According to the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, growing farm animal feed crops “places enormous demand on water resources” in that “87 percent of the use of freshwater in the U.S. is used in agriculture, primarily irrigation.” Worldwide, agriculture accounts for 93 percent of water depletion, with the vast majority of freshwater also being employed in the production of animal feed.
The need for so much water obviously points to a highly-flawed system, and if you do the math, the inefficiencies are apparent. In plain terms, it takes roughly seven times as much water to produce one calorie of beef as it does to produce one calorie of grain. This means that by forgoing a pound of beef, you can save as much water as you could by not showering for six whole months!
Clearly, this is not a legacy any of us want to leave for future generations, so we must do something about it. Every time we sit down to eat, we can do our part to create a more sustainable world by keeping the animal products off our plates. If you’re already making this choice, encourage others to join you by going meatless once a week and then taking it a day at a time from there. Show them that environmental issues aren’t just “water under the bridge” – that they affect us all and require our swift attention. Every step we take makes a difference, and every one of us has the power to do a lot of good.
NOTE: This blog was submitted as part of Blog Action Day 2010: Water.