Factory farms, manure, and the Empire State Building

Factory farms in the US---the confinements that house millions of beef cattle, dairy cows, hogs and poultry--- generate enough manure to fill the 102-story Empire State Building each and every day. That's more than 13 times the sewage produced by the US population.

This factoid and many others are presented in Factory Farm Nation 2015, a report released this week by Food & Water Watch (FWW). The report describes the dominance of factory farms in US agriculture and its affect on the physical, economic, and social environment. It provides examples of consolidation within the beef, pork, poultry and dairy industry, with big players gobbling up the little guys, killing off local-community based independent businesses:

“The largest milk processing company, Dean Foods, controls over a third (36 percent) of the nation’s fluid milk supply. While Dean Foods is the most common source of milk in the dairy case, consumers might not see a Dean label because the milk is marketed under more than 55 regional brands, including Garelick, Alta Dena and Fieldcrest. Consumers at the dairy case see familiar labels that they have long associated with local or regional companies, but the company behind many of the labels is Dean."

FWW's 37-page report is filled with informative data for each animal, from inventory in the major producing states, to the share of all livestock residing in factory farms. There are sets of tables listing the sewage generated at factory farms in particular US counties compared to typical US cities. For example, factory beef feedlots in Haskell County, Kansas produce 10 times the sewage generated in St. Louis plus two times what is generated in Kansas City. Current EPA regulations and many state laws are inadequate to address the public health and environmental hazard of massive manure waste impoundments. The report provides highlights of major manure releases into communities, such as this 2014 event in Allegan County (Grand Rapids) Michigan:

“...an estimated 20 million gallon lagoon released an unknown amount of raw manure that polluted a local creek, leading to a health advisory to avoid any contact with the water."

Accompanying the report is an interactive US map showing the location of factory farms housing heads of cattle, dairy cows, hogs and chickens. FWW has also produced an advocacy ad (#Loadofcrap) to draw attention to the impact of factory farms. The 15-second spot will be projected in Time Square, NYC for the next two months.




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Why are these companies that generate vast amounts of organic waste not required to process it into a recycled and usable form, such as fertilizer? Storing this waste in ponds does nothing but allow it it ferment and rot, producing nuisances and health hazards for neighbors and down-wind residents, and pollution of the water table.

All that's necessary is a law or regulation requiring any company generating animal waste or sewerage above a certain volume level to treat it or transport it to a treatment facility within a set timeline.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin has been doing just that for 85 years, producing a high-quality fertilizer named "Milorganite" from municipal sewerage. This product is used nationwide for commercial fertilizing and is rated safe for gardens and other plantings producing human food.


As the article above states, Milorganite does not produce a discrete profit, but it and similar programs of waste management do produce a cleaner and healthier environment, which is the same as money in the bank for society-at-large.