Evolving Your Views: Animal Waste

by kristen_mooney on March 1, 2015 - 2:17pm

Dairy farms handle approximately 15 gallons of manure per cow per day.  A large animal feeding operation (AFO) can easily house over 1,000 cows per farm. Scale that up to the 450,000 varying animal feeding operations in the United States, and we have a major problem: animal waste.

By definition, AFOs are “farms or feedlots where animals are kept and raised in confined areas for at least 45 days over a 12-month period” (What’s The Problem 2011). AFOs cluster animals, feed, manure and urine, wastewater, dead animals, and production operations on a small land area, much unlike the farms we would like to picture. Feed is brought to the animals rather than the animals grazing in pastures, fields, or on rangeland.

Considering cows, the waste produced per day by one dairy cow is equal to that of 20-40 people. If properly stored and used, this renewable resource can be of great value to us. Improperly stored or used, this waste can pollute rivers and underground drinking water supplies. In addition to water quality problems, AFOs can also contribute to significant air quality problems, including dust, smog, greenhouse gases, and odors.

In some cases, an AFO's location, such as on hillsides or along waterways, can complicate animal waste management. “Animal waste has the potential to contribute pollutants such as nutrients (e.g., nitrate, phosphorous), organic matter, sediments, pathogens (e.g., giardia, cryptosporidium), heavy metals, hormones, antibiotics and ammonia to the waters we use for drinking, swimming and fishing (What’s The Problem 2011).” If lacking the necessary stormwater runoff controls, such as berms that divert water and snow melt from the animal confinement area, this stored manure is also a threat to nearby water systems. Additionally, inadequately sized and poorly-lined ponds or other storage structures where waste is kept often allow manure to escape into the surrounding environment. Poorly maintained and unlined corrals let contaminated wastewater containing to seep into ground water. When this happens, the amount of nitrate in the ground water supply can reach unhealthy levels.

The general public’s consensus is incredibly skewed when it comes to the morals and ethics of their dietary practices. The varying health and environmental threats the meat industry poses each and every day are indefinite. How many published studies, irrefutable statistics, or doleful documentaries will one need to come in contact with before taking a step back and realizing we cannot continue living in a culture so heavily dominated by meat?


What’s The Problem? 2011. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Web Accessed March 1, 2015. http://www.epa.gov/region9/animalwaste/problem.html