Ohio’s Columbus Dispatch recently ran a series aptly titled “Fouled By Farms.” The series looked at the tremendous damage caused by factory farming, especially animal agriculture. For instance, in one Ohio county, 9.7 million farm animals produce more than 1.6 million tons of manure each year.

Some of this waste winds up in local streams. According to the Dispatch, “The result has been catastrophic. The 13,000-acre lake in western Ohio is on life-support, choked with toxic blue-green algae that are so poisonous that state officials warned visitors this summer not to swim, fish, or boat in the water.”

This is really nothing new. Thirty years ago, Congress identified factory farms as major sources of water pollution to be regulated under the Clean Water Act. (Whether or not they’ve really been regulated is highly debatable.) What’s changed is the scale of the problem, as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, have become the dominant form of animal agriculture. The Sierra Club states that CAFOs generate 500 million tons of manure annually.

With all that waste haphazardly stored in man-made lagoons (really just open air pits filled with urine and manure), it’s inevitable that some of it finds its way into the waterways. When it does, the results are disastrous. For example, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, when a hog-waste lagoon in North Carolina burst in 1995, it spilled 25 million gallons of manure into a local river. The spill killed about 10 million fish.

All this contaminated water doesn’t just kill fish and other aquatic life. It plays havoc with the health of humans.

As people around the world blog today about the critical issue of access to clean drinking water, many Americans may see it as something that affects other countries — lack of access to clean drinking water may be the biggest killer of children under five in sub-Saharan Africa, but most Americans can just turn on their tap. The crisis may not be in your backyard, but clean water isn’t something any of us should take for granted.

Last year, the New York Times reported that “estimated 19.5 million Americans fall ill each year from waterborne parasites, viruses or bacteria, including those stemming from human and animal waste.” And according to the NRDC, “High levels of nitrates in drinking water near hog factories have also been linked to spontaneous abortions. Several disease outbreaks related to drinking water have been traced to bacteria and viruses from waste.”

The case against industrial animal agriculture continues to grow. From the torture and slaughter of the animals themselves to environmental degradation to the poisoning of the planet’s water supply, the litany of Big Ag’s sins is a long one. And it will no doubt grow longer, unless Americans act.

For one, we must abandon the notion we somehow have a right to cheap meat. We don’t, and when it comes down to it, cheap meat isn’t cheap. Also, we must call on our elected officials and government agencies — such as the Environmental Protection Agency — to do the right thing and properly regulate the agricultural industry.

Or we could do nothing except sit back as corporations poison our water supply in the name of profit.

Photo Credit: Public Domain