The northwest Arkansas chapter of Mighty Earth’s “Clean It Up, Tyson” campaign has formed a coalition of 22 local businesses, labor groups and environmental organizations that are asking Tyson to buy sustainably sourced feed for their animals.
But the Springdale-based company’s public relations manager, Caroline Ahn said the claims are “unclear and misleading.”
Mighty Earth’s call for change came two months ago. The coalition sent a letter to Tyson on Oct. 11. A new report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released on Oct. 17 underscores the group's claims. The findings show that areas surrounding or downstream from corn and soybean farmland have high levels of nitrate and other chemicals in drinking water. Farming practices are directly tied to the presence of these chemicals.
Nitrates are the main culprit for causing Blue Baby Syndrome. Nitrates can cause cancer when they react to other compounds and are reduced to nitrites. A study in 1993 linked higher concentrations of nitrates in drinking water to a higher incidence of bladder cancer.
Nitrates are above the legal limit many communities. 97 percent of the public drinking water systems that are above the limit serve 25,000 people or less, according to the EWG report. That means the concentrations are higher in rural areas on average.
Mighty Earth released a report that used mapping data to link top meat companies to the regions experiencing the worst pollution from industrial meat and feed production.
Mighty Earth’s organizer Jessye Waxman said that Tyson should use their purchasing power to effect change in their supply chain.
“They are perpetuating practices that are causing pollution,” Waxman said. “Tyson is the largest meat producer in the U.S. and second in the world. They should demand sustainable practices from their feed suppliers.”
Ahn said that the reports “overlook the way corn is used” and that they “only talk about Tyson” in the letter they sent. Tyson released a statement about how they believe the problem should be addressed. Here is an excerpt:
We believe real change on this issue requires a broad coalition of stakeholders, not just one company. We're collaborating with a variety of stakeholders, including public interest groups and trade associations, to promote continuous improvement in how we and our suppliers operate.”
Ahn said that when looking at the total corn production the country, the amount purchased by Tyson is “like a sliver.”
But Might Earth claims Tyson is well-equipped to handle the issue. In capitalism, the phrase “voting with dollars” is often used to describe a phenomenon in which consumers can dictate the types of products that are available. According to the report, Tyson is a consumer of the feed that pollutes many rural water supplies that rely on surface water, which does not have the benefit of being filtered by the earth like groundwater used by most cities.
The main pollutant in surface water supplies is trihalomethanes, or TTHMs, which are formed by water treatment systems that rid the supply of fecal bacteria and pathogens from agricultural runoff using chemicals. Chlorine and other chemicals react to algae and other organic matter to create TTHMs. The report expounds on this phenomenon:
Most communities with high levels of TTHMs in tap water rely on surface water supplies that are more vulnerable to polluted runoff from farm fields. The Tap Water Database shows that water supplies in 1,647 communities, serving 4.4 million people, are contaminated with TTHMs in amounts at least 75 times higher than California’s one-in-a-million cancer risk level. Between 2014 and 2015, 411 of those communities had TTHMs at or above the EPA’s legal limit.”
The EWG has an interactive map that shows communities threatened by the pollution so that people can visualize the impact of these farming practices.
Consumers can look to Tyson to see if they deliver on their solution to the food supply’s pollution concerns, or if they take the advice of Mighty Earth.