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This is the part two of a multi-article series on the connection between animal agriculture and various societal and environmental problems. This article covers animal agriculture's connection to freshwater use, freshwater quality, water pollution violations, fishes and other sea animals, ocean hypoxia, and declining phytoplankton in the oceans.


Animal Agriculture & Water

This is the part two of a multi-article series on the connection between animal agriculture and various societal and environmental problems. This article covers animal agriculture’s connection to freshwater use, freshwater quality, water pollution violations, fishes and other sea animals, ocean hypoxia, and declining phytoplankton in the oceans.

This is the part two of a multi-article series on the connection between animal agriculture and various societal and environmental problems. This article covers animal agriculture’s connection to freshwater use, freshwater quality, water pollution violations, fishes and other sea animals, ocean hypoxia, and declining phytoplankton in the oceans.

The first article in this series was about animal agriculture’s connection to climate, land use, biodiversity loss, air pollution, topsoil erosion, and desertification.

Future articles will cover wildlife habitat encroachment and extinctions, concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) odors, financially marginalized communities, antibiotics produced in the US, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, veganic food production, world hunger, tax subsidies for animal agriculture, hidden costs of animal agriculture including subsidized fast foods, slaughterhouse PTSD and alcohol/drug abuse, domestic abuse, human rights issues, and more.

Freshwater Use — Quantity and Efficiency

According to the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development: “69% of the world’s freshwater withdrawals are committed to agriculture. The industrial sector accounts for 19% while only 12% of water withdrawals are destined for households and municipal use.”

Truth or Drought explains that when we eat plants directly, we are direct consumers of the nutrients. When humans eat animals who have eaten plants, humans are secondary consumers of plants. This is an inefficient system of nutrient acquisition, land use, and water use.

On the Truth or Drought facts overview page, you have a clear statement explaining clearly: “There are basic laws of biophysics that we cannot evade. The average efficiency of livestock converting plant feed to meat is less than 3%. … Agricultural practices are not necessarily at fault here – but our choice of food is.” — Bojana Bajzelj, University of Cambridge researcher.

Truth or Drought draws from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) states: “The highly disproportionate scale of animal agriculture is far bigger than most people realize. It is the largest land use system on Earth.”

Truth or Drought continues: “Local livestock associations act as political incubators, stacking the seats on county commissions, launching cattlemen into state legislatures, state and federal administrative positions, and into Congress.” — New Republic journalist Christopher Ketchum.

In a May 2018 story on avoiding meat and dairy to help the environment, The Guardian states: “Scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet found that while meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of protein globally, it uses the vast majority – 83% – of farmland and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. Eliminating animal agriculture would result in a 75% reduction in overall farmland use and [it could] still feed the world.”

Bloomberg reports on land use: “There’s a single, major occupant on US land: cows. Between pastures and cropland used to produce feed, 41 percent of U.S. land in the contiguous states revolves around livestock. (USDA via Bloomberg)”

Truth or Drought: “Despite its monopoly on farmland and frequent greenwashing to try to justify it, animal agriculture will always be inherently less sustainable than plant-based. Continuing to exploit animals for food in the absence of necessity is outdated, inefficient, and cruel.”

As for water efficiency, a BioScience abstract of “Water Resources: Agricultural and Environmental Issues,” published on the Oxford Academic site, states: “Agriculture consumes about 70% of fresh water worldwide; for example, approximately 1000 liters [265 gallons] of water are required to produce 1 kilogram [2.2 pounds] of cereal grain, and 43,000 L [11,359 gallons] to produce 1 kg of beef.”

National Geographic water tips claim that the average animal-eating American uses 1,000 gallons (3785 liters) of water for her or his diet and other use per day. Truth or Drought claims that a plant-based dieter only uses 400 gallons (1514 liters) of water per day. National Geographic: “That quarter pounder is worth more than 30 average American showers. One of the easiest ways to slim your water footprint is to eat less meat and dairy.”

Freshwater Quality

In the US, there are over 9 billion farmed animals killed per year, and globally, the number is over 55 billion animals who are killed. Manure lagoons never undergo the same treatment as human sewage, and the quantity of animal manure exceeds human manure by 100-fold in the US. According to the US Department of Agriculture, 108,000,000 pounds (49 million kilos) is produced every hour by farmed animals in the US.

Prestage Swine Farms with manure lagoons, Harrells, NC. Credit: Google Maps, 2018-10-30

The aquifer and rivers have become polluted in some areas due to animal agriculture. The reason for this is the manure and urine created by animals that are stored in manure lagoons, which are effectively untreated cesspools, commonly seep into the groundwater, which in turn flows into rivers. This seepage and runoff process is exacerbated during heavy rains, flooding, and hurricanes.

Hurricane Matthew, October 2016. Credit: Dove Imaging. Beneath the flooding were the manure lagoons, which have become incorporated into the hurricane flooding water.

Manure lagoon liquid is commonly sprayed onto crop fields, which quickly gets into the groundwater and rivers. Crop spraying is the backdoor legal method for animal ag to dump toxic waste.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, “A typical 2,500 cow dairy operation produces more fecal waste than the entire city of Minneapolis.” The only difference is that Minneapolis engages a waste treatment system that the dairy farms and other animal ag farms avoid saving money. As a result, there are accumulating manure lagoons, or cesspools, which endanger the water and nearby communities. Some of these liquids are sprayed on crops, including in some cases, directly on human food crops.

Water Pollution Violations

Animal ag and other pollution after Hurricane Florence Sept. 2018. A NASA satellite is tracking flooding in the Carolinas after Hurricane Florence and its images show that rivers and streams near the coast and spilling dark, discolored water into the ocean. Credit: Joshua Stevens, NASA

One Green Planet reports: “75% of industrial U.S. slaughterhouses violate local water pollution limits.” It continues: “One of the many unpleasant realities associated with animals being killed in industrial U.S. slaughterhouses is that the enormous amount of waste they produce has to go somewhere. Where does it end up, you ask? Well, the extremely gross truth is that much of the nitrogen, fecal bacteria, and other pollutants that arise from slaughterhouse operations get discharged directly into our rivers, lakes, and streams.

“As if this wasn’t [sic] horrifying enough, the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) recently discovered something that takes this dirty little secret from bad to worse. Upon taking a look at the EPA’s records for the 98 large U.S. meat-processing plants that released more than 250,000 gallons [946,353 liters] of waste per day into waterways between January 2016 and June 2018, the nonprofit environmental organization found that 74 of the plants had violated their pollution control permits at least once.

“And as the EPA data showed, the vast majority of the facilities repeatedly exceeded legal limits for wastewater discharge. In fact, over half of the plants (50 of 98) had five violations, and about one-third (32 of 98) had at least 10 violations. Further, several of the facilities were found to be responsible for infecting waterways with as much nitrogen pollution as a small city over the last two years.

“As EIP Executive Director Eric Schaeffer reportedly described the disheartening findings, ‘This water pollution is really an environmental justice issue, because many of these slaughterhouses are owned by wealthy international companies, and they are contaminating the rivers and drinking water supplies of rural, often lower-income, minority communities.'”

Oceans, Waterways, Fishes, and Other Sea Animals

According to National Geographic: “Unless humans act now, seafood may disappear by 2048, concludes the lead author of a new study that paints a grim picture for the ocean and human health.

“According to the study, the loss of ocean biodiversity is accelerating, and 29 percent of the seafood species humans consume have already crashed. If the long-term trend continues, in 30 years there will be little or no seafood available for sustainable harvest.

“The increasing pace of diversity loss thus imperils the ‘ecosystems services’ that many human populations depend on for survival, the study says.” claims that there are up to 2.7 trillion sea animals killed every year by humans plundering the oceans for food. It is difficult to determine the precise number of sea animals killed, as they are weighed, not counted.

These animals usually die of asphyxiation when being brought out of the water as their gills do not allow them to breathe unless they are in the water. Sometimes they are crushed to death by the weight of other sea animals in the nets. A significant percentage of these animals are bycatch, meaning they are not the intended fish. Sometimes these bycatch fish are discarded back into the sea, dead.

According to Oceana in its Wasted Catch: Unsolved Problems In U.S. Fisheries report: “According to some estimates, global bycatch may amount to 40 percent of the world’s catch, totaling 63 billion pounds per year” of sea animals. While the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has programs to reduce bycatch, it remains a serious problem for the sustainability of many species in the oceans.

In addition to the sea animals killed every year, fishing nets make up about 46% of the great Pacific garbage patch, according to National Geographic. These large seines are so big that they can be seen from space. These fishing practices are responsible for bycatch deaths of unintended sea animals.

According to in a report entitled Overfishing: A Global Disaster: “over 25% of all the world’s fish stocks are either overexploited or depleted. Another 52% is fully exploited, these are in imminent danger of overexploitation (maximum sustainable production level) and collapse. Thus a total of almost 80% of the world’s fisheries are fully- to over-exploited, depleted, or in a state of collapse. Worldwide about 90% of the stocks of large predatory fish stocks are already gone.”

They continue: “As a result, the overall ecological unity of our oceans are under stress and at risk of collapse.”

If you believe that fish farming is good, please consider watching the video below, “Salmon Confidential,” about salmon farming in British Columbia. It shows the tragic ecologic impact it has had on their waterways. Apart from the negative environmental impact, using any animals for food is unto itself considered by growing numbers of people to be unethical, plus it is entirely unnecessary, and inefficient.

In a One Green Planet article entitled: “Time to Get Real. There Aren’t Plenty of Fish in the Sea and It’s Our Fault,” they state: “It seems that we humans, as land-dwellers, have little appreciation of our world’s vast oceans. The oceans provide us with 70 percent of the world’s oxygen and absorb 30 percent of the greenhouse gases that we release into the atmosphere. But, despite this amazingness, we feel free to take as many fish as we want from those mysterious depths.”

They continue: “Methods such as longline fishing, bottom trawling, and the use of purse seine nets often devastate marine ecosystems by removing far more fish from an area than was intended. Bycatch – a term used to describe untargeted marine animals who end up in enormous commercial fishing nets – is also a serious problem that threatens species such as turtles, dolphins, sharks and manta rays. Using incredibly advanced and aggressive technology [such as sonar] to meet demands for seafood, we’re waging a war on our oceans.”

In another article from One Green Planet entitled “10 Alarming Facts about Overfishing,” the writer states: “Modern fishing ships use technologically advanced fish-finding sonar that can find a school of fish with almost military precision. Once the fish are caught, the ship is used as a floating factory, with onboard processing and packing plants, preservation systems, and huge engines that allow the ship to drag their enormous nets through the ocean. A fact from Greenpeace.”

In a section about the apex predators disappearing fast: “In just 55 years, humans have managed to wipe out 90 percent of the ocean’s top predators. These are animals like sharks, bluefin tuna, swordfish, marlin, and king mackerel. Fact from Oceana.

“According to Greenpeace, the depletion of these top predator species can cause a shift in entire oceans ecosystems where commercially valuable fish are replaced by smaller, plankton-feeding fish. This century may even see bumper crops of jellyfish replacing the fish consumed by humans.”

More information from this article on why fish farms or aquaculture is not the answer: “Aquaculture, or fish farming, requires feed for captive fish. To grow just one pound of farmed salmon, an estimated four to eleven pounds of prey fish are consumed. As the aquaculture industry continues to expand, prey fish are depleted at alarming and unsustainable rates. If current trends continue, some researchers predict that aquaculture will outgrow the supply of fishmeal as soon as 2020. A fact from Oceana.”

The following is an overview video on the state of the oceans.

Ocean Hypoxia, Sometimes Causing “Dead Zones”

The definition of ocean hypoxia is “Reduced oxygen in the ocean, detrimental to living organisms.” This can cause noxious ocean algae blooms and what is referred to as “fish kills.”

Image by Alejandro Díaz

Eutrophication, also known as hypertrophication, is when a body of water becomes overly enriched with minerals and nutrients that induce excessive growth of waterborne plants and/or algae. This chemical process may cause oxygen depletion of the water body, also known as “dead zones,” which can make it difficult or impossible for fishes or other life to live in the affected areas.

“Anthropogenic [meaning: human caused] inputs of excess nutrients into the coastal environment, from agricultural activities and wastewater, have dramatically increased the occurrence of coastal eutrophication and hypoxia. Worldwide there are now more than 500 ‘dead zones’ covering 250,000 km2 [96,526 square miles], with the number doubling every ten years since the 1960s. The economic costs to fisheries, tourism and other coastal livelihoods are already in the many tens of billions of dollars annually and will only continue to increase in the ‘business as usual’ scenario.”

Hypoxia and Declining Phytoplankton in the Oceans

According to environmental reporter Stephen Leahy, in an article titled “Oceans on the Brink: Dying Plankton, Dead Zones, Acidification,” originally published for Inter Press Service (IPS) in 2010: “Phytoplankton are a critical part of our planetary life support system. They produce half of the oxygen we breathe, draw down surface CO2, and ultimately support all of our fisheries,” said Boris Worm of Canada’s Dalhousie University and one of the world’s leading experts on the global oceans.

“An ocean with less phytoplankton will function differently,” said Worm, the co-author of a new study on plankton published this week [2010] in Nature. Plankton are the equivalent of grass, trees and other plants that make land green, says study co-author Marlon Lewis, an oceanographer at Dalhousie.

“It is frightening to realize we have lost nearly half of the oceans’ green plants,” Lewis told IPS. “It looks like the rate of decline is increasing,” he said.”

The article continues: “The Gulf of Mexico has a 22,000 square kilometre [8,494 sq. miles] dead zone every spring due to run-off from the Mississippi River.” It should be noted that the hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico is contributed to in a significant way by the animal ag upstream in the Midwestern states.

Subsequent articles in this series will cover wildlife habitat encroachment, species extinctions, concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) odors, financially marginalized communities, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, world hunger, tax subsidies for animal agriculture, hidden costs of animal agriculture (including subsidized fast foods), slaughterhouse PTSD and alcohol/drug abuse, domestic abuse, human rights issues, and more.

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