Tyson Foods is poisoning our water

A recent report published by the Union of Concerned Scientists found that Tyson Foods is guilty of dumping hundreds of millions of pounds of pollutants into U.S. waterways from 2018 to 2022.

Using data from the Environmental Protection Agency, UCS determined that Tyson processing plants dumped nearly 372 million pounds of pollutants into waterways during that time. Tyson’s pollution of Illinois, Nebraska and Missouri accounted for more than half of the total. Nebraska alone was subjected to 111 million pounds of dumping, including over 4 million pounds of nitrate. Nitrate is known to cause central nervous system cancer in children.

According to the UCS, “The agricultural industry is the largest consumer of freshwater worldwide, and meat and poultry processors such as Tyson Foods account for nearly one-third of that freshwater consumption.”

Tyson generated over 87 billion gallons of wastewater in just five years, enough to fill 177,000 Olympic swimming pools. The wastewater contains animal blood and feces, nutrients that can deplete oxygen in waterways as well as pathogens and microorganisms. The waste is a threat to both surface and groundwater quality.

Furthermore, meat plant discharges account for only a fraction of the industry’s total water pollution. The slaughtering process, including feeding, contributes to countless levels of air, water, noise and soil pollution. There has been up to a 1,500% increase in reactive nitrogen presence in waterways over the past 100 years. 

The impact of high concentrations of pollution on super-exploited communities cannot be understated. A September 2021 EPA screening found that nearly three out of every four meat industry water polluting facilities are within one mile of communities that are impacted by other economic, health and environmental struggles. This is no accident and is consistent with the placement of factories, landfills and nuclear power plants, for example. Tyson has 123 food processing plants across the country.

Polluted drinking water can cause gastrointestinal illnesses, nervous system damage, reproductive harm, chronic illness and as mentioned previously, cancer. Not to mention that in 2022, 27.6 million people in the United States reported that they lack health insurance.

U.S. meat industry pollutants reach outside its borders as well. A past UCS report found that nitrogen fertilizer runoff is responsible for $2.4 billion worth of damages to fisheries and marine ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico.

Who’s to blame?

Tyson Food executives certainly hold individual responsibility for their criminal negligence and active harm to communities across the country. There is no excuse or justification for their villainous actions. However, it is no accident or anomaly that Tyson is able to get away with poisoning millions of working-class people every day.

The EPA claims that out of 7,000 meat processing plants in the country, only 300 have any mandatory monitoring requirements and limits for pollution at all! Under U.S. capitalism, corporations are free to poison our food and water while our tax dollars subsidize their industries. Over the years Tyson Foods has received $431,514,500 in subsidies from state and local governments and $4.72 million in local, state and federal level loans and bailouts.

Many argue that the U.S. factory farming industry should be structured and regulated more like that in European countries. While that would be a step forward in many respects, food regulations in the United States and Europe are quite similar and many of the pollution and health problems persist as a result. 

Unfortunately, profit reigns supreme in Europe, too. This is most recently evidenced Europe’s biggest pork producer – Danish Crown – simply being being slapped on the wrist for falsely advertising to consumers about their environmental impact.

Struggling for more regulations and accountability for corporate food titans is progressive. However, what is ultimately needed is an overhaul of the cruel factory farming industry, which operates to generate massive profits and wealth for a few ultra-rich executives while the quality of our food, air, land and water suffers. We can replace it with a planned socialist system, which will guarantee that nobody goes hungry, food is produced to meet everyone’s needs rather than for profit, and criminals like the Tyson Foods executives face justice.

Feature photo: The Tyson Foods Jefferson Plant in Wisconsin in 2013. Photo credit: Corey Coyle (CC BY 3.0 DEED)

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