Do You Want Oil Or Manure In Your Water?

With images of oil-covered animals and updates on the ever-gushing BP oil spill in the news every day, many people are mindful of the catastrophic destruction caused by oil spills.  Relatively few people, however, are aware of the damage caused by factory farm waste lagoons, which are a leading source of water pollution.

In 1995, a giant “lagoon” holding 8 acres of hog excrement burst, spilling 25 million gallons of putrefying hog urine and feces into the New River in North Carolina, killing between 10 and 14 million fish. The spill was twice as large in volume as the Exxon-Valdez oil disaster, yet not nearly as many people seem to know about it.

Manure spills are a bigger problem than most people realize. The 2005 Marks Dairy Farm manure spill, which deposited about 3 million gallons of liquid cow manure in the Black River in upstate New York, killed approximately 200,000 to 250,000 fish.

Just last month, millions of gallons of manure from a diary farm in Washington spilled into the Snohomish River, killing untold numbers of fish and prompting health officials to urge the public to avoid contact with the river, as cow manure contains harmful E. coli bacteria.

Even “small-scale” waste runoff can contaminate our rivers, killing sea animals and threatening human health. A 2006 report from the Department of Environmental Quality revealed that two creeks near Michigan Hartford Dairy showed excessive concentrations of E. coli bacteria from cow manure. 

Around the same time, the Texas-based Alan Ritchey Dairy was forced to pay $40,000 in civil penalties and take environmental measures to end a long-standing battle with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for allowing bloody liquids from carcass pits, manure, and silage wastewater to drain into creeks and Oklahoma’s Red River. 

Last summer, the Justice Department fined Tyson Fresh Meats, the world’s largest beef and pork supplier, $2 million for pumping animal waste into the Missouri River, reportedly causing high levels of toxicity to aquatic life.

In March, the Assateague Coastal Trust sued Perdue Farms and Hudson Farm—a Concentrated Animal Feed Operation (CAFO) which raises chickens for Perdue—for discharging water with high concentrations of harmful bacteria, including fecal coliform and E. coli, into the Chesapeake Bay.

These are just a few random examples. In a blog about the Assateague Coastal Trust’s lawsuit, I noted that, according to EPA records, chicken, hog, and cattle excrement has polluted at least 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states and contaminated groundwater in 17 states. The EPA has even reported that factory farms pollute our waterways more than all other industrial sources combined.

Fortunately, many people who are concerned about both animal welfare and the environment are working to call attention to this serious problem. One determined woman, Lynn Henning, a Michigan corn and soybean farmer, was recently presented with the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize and the accompanying $150,000 award money—much of which she plans to donate to environmental groups and spend on water monitoring kits—for her efforts to expose animal factories for the pollution-spewing cesspools they are

While animal factories should be held accountable for their mess, and made to take more stringent precautions to prevent both major manure spills and the everyday pollution from manure that seeps into our waterways, we can all share in the responsibility for keeping our waterways clean by choosing vegan foods. If you’re not willing to go vegan just yet, simply reducing the amount of animal-derived items you eat will help too.

In fact, eating less—and preferably no—meat, eggs, and dairy products can help reduce both manure and oil spills. (More than one-third of the fossil fuels produced in America are used to raise animals for food. It takes approximately 10 times more fossil fuels to produce meat than to produce vegan foods.)

So, if you don’t want to see manure or oil in our waterways, consider what you to do to reduce the risk of devastating spills. Visit for more information and ideas.


Elisa F.
Elisa F4 years ago

Neither :(

JK Hup7 years ago

People are complaining about the oil spill while chowing down on a 20oz steak with a side of short ribs.

Erika L.
Erika L7 years ago

Hog farmers who strove to be more environmentally friendly were largely driven out of the market by meat packers who wanted total control of the pork production in this country and who made it nearly impossible to make a living any way but in their way.

Kathy Hopson
Kathy Hopson7 years ago

Why are these farmers farming this way? they have a valuable resource right under their nose! recycle - it isn't rocket science- their land will thank them for it, plus their crops will as well, give back to the land. Bag the manure when dry and sell it. Outsource to manure manufacturing places. Even zoos get into the act, in Australian Zoos they call it Zoo Poo it sells really quickly. But most farmers recycle their extra farm waste -selling to outlets like plant nurseries etc. Putting it in ponds? never heard of it.

Mervi R.
Mervi R7 years ago

Simply horrible...

Alim M.
Alim M7 years ago

Excellent article, thank you for the information!

Although personally, and I'm sure I'm not alone here, I feed the answer to the environmental concerns raised in the article wouldn't necessarily be alleviated just by "going vegan".

The real anwer is to get your food from the source, know who the producer is, support sustainable and ethical practices whenever possible - regardless of whether you're omnivore or herbivore.

Going vegan has the potential for similar problems as CAFO practices - monocrop agriculture, synthetic petroleum based fertilizers, herbicides/pesticides, etc. Sorry, but the real answer is SOLE (Sustainable, Organic, Local, Ethical) food.

Randall B.
Randall B.7 years ago

What a choice between oil and manure which one will kill us faster.We will never have to worry about the end of the earth we are bringing that on ourselves fast enough,people should wake up before it is to late and it is all GREED that drives the oil companies and the new age farmer if you can call them that no one cares any more and our government goes along with this shut
them down and down for good when they pollute you give the oil companies and the farmers chance after chance and they know this but they know they can pay a little fine and go back doing what they were doing before untill you have what we have now the largest spill in the WORLD funny no other country is responsible just the United States we always say we set the standards that is right we do for the worst pollution in the world,and we are going to let more oil companies have more rights just like the farmers does anyone see how sick this is getting how the American people are being pushed around by large companies and members of government.

Tekla Drakfrende
Tekla Drakfrende7 years ago

alot of things are not acceptable

anne t.
anne t7 years ago

We need to start seeing waste as a resource. If manure was used for anaerobic digestion it could make enough power to significantly reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. But yes we need to use a lot less of everything. We have become a throw away society and yet there is no such thing as 'away' and our children will probably be mining our landfill desperate for the resources we are squandering.

Ekaterina Buslayeva
Hakim M7 years ago

ughhh. It's so terrible what is happening to our earth