New report finds Tyson Foods dumped pollutants into US waterways for years

The wastewater analyzed consisted of pathogens and microorganisms and slaughterhouse byproducts, such as body parts of animals, feces and blood.

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Image Credit: AP Photo/April L. Brown

A new report found that Tyson Foods facilities released 371.72 million pounds of pollutants into U.S. waterways between 2018 and 2022. The report from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) said the pollutants from slaughterhouses and processing plants were mostly dumped into waterways of Nebraska, Illinois and Missouri.

According to a press release, the study analyzed the corporation’s 41 slaughterhouses and large processing plants wastewater discharges, which account for one third of Tyson plants.

“As the nation’s largest meat and poultry producer, Tyson Foods plays a huge role in our food and agriculture system and has for decades exploited policies that allow big agribusiness corporations to pollute with impunity,” Omanjana Goswami, co-author of the report and an interdisciplinary scientist with the Food and Environment Program at UCS, said. “In 2022, the latest year for which we have data, Tyson plants processed millions of cattle and pigs and billions of chickens, and discharged over 18.5 billion gallons of wastewater, enough to fill more than 37,000 Olympic swimming pools.”

Titled, Waste Deep: How Tyson Foods Pollutes US Waterways and Which States Bear the Brunt, the wastewater analyzed consisted of pathogens and microorganisms (such as E. coli) and slaughterhouse byproducts, such as body parts of animals, feces and blood.

The study determined that the wastewater also contained high amounts of nitrogen (34.25 million pounds) and phosphorus (5.06 million pounds), which can contribute to algal blooms in waterways that are home to many threatened and endangered species, UCS reported.

The pollutants from plants located in the Midwest “can travel through the Mississippi watershed and end up in the Gulf of Mexico, feeding a massive and persistent dead zone nearly the size of Puerto Rico,” UCS reported.

With all the data shown, UCS is calling for an update to pollutant rules including a need for stronger Meat and Poultry Products Effluent Guidelines that regulate slaughterhouse and processing plant wastewater pollution. The US Environmental Protection Agency is now updating.

“Tyson’s aggressive acquisition and consolidation strategy has resulted in a mega corporation that can afford to ignore rules and regulations and treat fines and penalties as the cost of doing business,” the report said. “In a new five-year food and farm bill, Congress should incorporate proposals such as the Farm System Reform Act—which would strengthen the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ability to crack down on the monopolistic practices of meat packers including Tyson Foods.”

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