Aug 1, 2017

Meat industry blamed for largest-ever 'dead zone' in Gulf of Mexico

Gulf of Mexico
by
Oliver Milman
,
The Guardian
 Toxins from manure and fertiliser pouring into waterways in and around the Gulf of Mexico are causing harmful algal blooms, leading to widespread ‘dead zones’. Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP
Toxins from manure and fertiliser pouring into waterways in and around the Gulf of Mexico are causing harmful algal blooms, leading to widespread ‘dead zones’. Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP

The global meat industry, already implicated in driving global warming and deforestation, has now been blamed for fueling what is expected to be the worst “dead zone” on record in the Gulf of Mexico.

Toxins from manure and fertiliser pouring into waterways are exacerbating huge, harmful algal blooms that create oxygen-deprived stretches of the gulf, the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay, according to a new report by Mighty, an environmental group chaired by former congressman Henry Waxman.

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Some creatures, such as shrimp, suffer stunted growth. Algal blooms themselves can cause problems, as in Florida last summer when several beaches were closed after they became coated in foul-smelling green slime.

America’s vast appetite for meat is driving much of this harmful pollution, according to Mighty, which blamed a small number of businesses for practices that are “contaminating our water and destroying our landscape” in the heart of the country.

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“This problem is worsening and worsening and regulation isn’t reducing the scope of this pollution,” said Lucia von Reusner, campaign director at Mighty. “These companies’ practices need to be far more sustainable. And a reduction in meat consumption is absolutely necessary to reduce the environmental burden.”

The Mighty report analyzed supply chains of agribusiness and pollution trends and found that a “highly industrialized and centralized factory farm system” was resulting in vast tracts of native grassland in the midwest being converted into soy and corn to feed livestock. Stripped soils can wash away in the rain, bringing fertilisers into waterways.