Factory Farms & Water Pollution

Globally, over 80% of the wastewater generated by society flows back into the ecosystem without being treated or reused. Corporations can have a tremendous impact on the problem. 

chicken processing

The Problem: Water Pollution

One of the nation’s most serious and persistent threats to clean drinking water is pollution from factory farm runoff.  

The agricultural sector is the greatest source of nutrient pollution to global freshwater supplies.  Meat companies use water throughout their operations and supply chains, from animal feed and production to animal slaughtering and processing.   

Industrial livestock operations produce 1 billion tons of phosphorous and nitrogen-rich waste annually in the U.S. alone. In the U.S., this negatively impacts the water quality of 145,000 miles of rivers and streams, nearly 1 million acres of lakes, reservoirs and ponds, and more than 3000 square miles of bays and estuaries. 

Water pollution resulting from inadequately managed waste storage and disposal controls from meat production poses significant risks to local communities and their right to clean water. The Human Right to Water, formally recognized by the United Nations in 2010, clarifies that it is the responsibility of companies to ensure their operations do not infringe upon the right of individuals to sufficient, safe, acceptable and physically accessible and affordable water. This right is further buttressed by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 6, which calls for global water quality to be improved by reducing pollution and minimizing the release of hazardous chemicals. 


What are Investors Asking Companies to Do?

Investors have 3 main demands:

  • Assess water quality-related risks
    • including wastewater discharge from processing facilities, manure management practices of owned animal operations and contract animal operations, as well as fertilizer run-off pollution associated with feed production and;
  • Adopt and implement a comprehensive water stewardship policy that would
    • include requirements for leading practices for nutrient management and pollutant limits;
    • include financial and technical support to help implement the policy;
    • include robust and transparent measures to prevent water pollution incidents; specific time-bound goals to ensure conformance with the policy.
    • would apply company-wide with performance standards for direct operations and suppliers.
  • Report publically on adoption and implementation of a comprehensive water stewardship policy; and
    • its objectives to support improvements in fertilizer application and soil health from its feed suppliers, ideally through a time-bound, quantitative target.
    • how the company monitors and addresses the water quality risks associated with manure storage (e.g. technical specifications and standards for storage sheds, etc.) and with the application of animal litter to farm fields, particularly in the context of growing risks associated with an increase in extreme precipitation events.
    • Complete the CDP's water program in 2017 with information on supply chain engagement, water risk assessments, and water governance at the company. 

Meet ICCR's Water Partners:


Celebrate World Water Day

WATERSHED’s line-up of inspirational speakers, scientists, youth, and business leaders will be live-streamed from the Vatican for a globally connected audience that is invited to digitally share stories of their struggles, their hopes, and their fears about the world’s water supplies. This audience will bring new voices, content, stories, art, media and workable solutions to light. Join the event through our live-stream on March 22nd, World Water Day, and like and share their Facebook page for more information on how to tune in.   

Further Reading

Dozens of Advocacy Groups Challenge EPA on Factory Farm Pollution

Environmental Groups File Clean Water Act Suit 

Sign Our Petition

Tell Perdue to Come Clean

DOWNSTREAM PEOPLE - Trailer

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