Problem Identification: Water Pollution Caused by Animal Agriculture

 

A problem facing the environment is water pollution caused by animal agriculture. In almost every country, the livestock sector is expanding faster than the crop sector due to increasing demand. This demand is related to changes in dietary patterns, as well as the increasing human population. The ongoing worsening of water quality due to pollution from intensive animal agriculture in both developed and developing countries poses huge threats to both aquatic ecosystems and human health.[1]

Water pollution has numerous negative consequences on aquatic environments. As animal agriculture has intensified, there have been major increases in the amount of manure produced on factory farms. The manure on these large scale farms is spread as fertilizer, stacked feedlots, as well as stored inside lagoons. However, due to the increase in numbers of animals on factory farms, there is often an oversupply of manure, so more than necessary is used as fertilizer. This excess of manure which is high in nitrogen and phosphorus runs off or infiltrates into the ground, and thus enters water bodies. Therefore, nitrogen and phosphorus reaches both surface water and groundwater, leading to eutrophication. Eutrophication is when excessive nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus from manure enters water, and causes a growth of plant life that depletes aquatic ecosystems of oxygen. This leads to damaged coral reefs, as well as a  lack of oxygen for

Figure 1
Sourced from: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Eutrophication-killed-the-fish_fig1_1061440

marine life, causing dead zones, which decreases biodiversity. [2] Figure 1 depicts an example of the deadly consequences eutrophication causes on aquatic animals. Additionally, the impact of eutrophication is often greatest on freshwater and estuarine systems. Eutrophication is responsible for almost fifty percent of the damaged lake area, as well as sixty percent of damaged river in the United States. Additionally, it is the  most prevent pollution issue within estuaries in the United States.[3] It is also important to recognize that pollution caused by eutrophication is not specific to an individual country. As other countries use similar intensive farming practices, they can also pollute their water. Also, since water crosses national boundaries, pollution in one country effects others. Also, water bodies flow into one another, meaning that polluting a single body of water can potentially lead to the degradation of others.

Figure 2
Sourced from: https://mercyforanimals.org/7-times-animal-agriculture-made-you-say-literall

In addition to water pollution caused by animal agriculture posing numerous threats to the environment, it also has negative effects on human health. As animal agriculture grows and intensifies, so does the amount of livestock manure produced every day that enters bodies of water as seen in Figure 2.

Newer polluters that pose threats to human health have begun to enter water in the past 20 years as a result of the need to inject animals with antibiotics, vaccines, and hormones in order to maximize profit.[4] When humans are exposed to antibiotics, their bodies can develop antibiotic resistant bacteria, which is a serious public health issue.[5] Also, zoonotic waterborne pathogens are a threat to humans as they lead to diseases in humans caused by microorganisms spread by animals.[6] Another one of the many threats water pollution from animal agriculture has on human health is the potential of fatal illness called methaemoglobinemia, which is caused by high levels of nitrates from manure found in water. These are only a few of the many threats pollutants in drinking water pose on human health.[7]

It is especially important to form sustainable solutions to water pollution caused by animal agriculture at this point in time. We currently in the Anthropocene, which is a new geological epoch that is characterized by human activity creating significant changes on Earth. Humans are approaching, and in certain areas exceeding planetary boundaries, leading to environmental degradation and threats to the ability of Earth to support human life.[8] It is especially vital to prevent further water pollution as it is an issue that crosses boundaries. The pollution caused agricultural practices done in a single place can cause negative effects on a mass scale due to the interconnectivity of water bodies.  Therefore, my goal for the next three months is to explore sustainable solutions to the problem of water pollution caused by animal agriculture. The initiatives, actions and impacts of such solutions must serve to meet the social and economic needs of the present and the future without exceeding planetary boundaries. This is best achieved using an inclusive and transparent process based on scientific principles that ensures resource use that maximizes renewal, encourages re-use, and minimizes waste while protecting and restoring the health of natural systems, all organisms and biodiversity; and reducing pollution and mitigating global climate change. It must also ensure ethical economic development that promotes equitable opportunity and empowers rather than exploits people and the environment, and does not undermine people’s capacity to meet their own needs, as well as an elevated standard of human well-being for all people including but not limited to improved health and increased equitable access to basic human rights. Best practice for meeting these objectives include using an inclusive process with transparent governance; and assessment through the development of measurable indicators that show improvement in each of the mentioned criteria. Sustainable solutions must be created to protect humans and the environment from the negative impacts of water pollution caused by animal agriculture.

[1] Mateo-Sagasta, Javier, Sara Marjani Zadeh and Hugh Turral. Water Pollution From Agriculture: A Global Review. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Executive Summary, 2017.

[2] “Sources of Eutrophication.” World Resources Institute. Accessed September 20, 2018. https://www.wri.org/our-work/project/eutrophication-and-hypoxia/sources-eutrophication.

[3] Smith, V.h., G.d. Tilman, and J.c. Nekola. “Eutrophication: Impacts of Excess Nutrient Inputs on Freshwater, Marine, and Terrestrial Ecosystems.” Environmental Pollution100, no. 1-3 (1999): 179-96. Accessed October 2, 2018. doi:10.1016/s0269-7491(99)00091-3.

[4] Mateo-Sagasta, Javier, Sara Marjani Zadeh and Hugh Turral. Water Pollution From Agriculture: A Global Review. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Executive Summary, 2017.

[5] Niesenbaum, R. 2018. Sustainable Solutions: Problem Solving for Current and Future Generations. Oxford University Press, New York. (Chapter 5).

[6] “Waterborne Zoonoses: Identification, Causes and Control.” World Health Organization. August 29, 2016. Accessed September 20, 2018. http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/publications/zoonoses/en/.

[7] Mateo-Sagasta, Javier, Sara Marjani Zadeh and Hugh Turral. Water Pollution From Agriculture: A Global Review. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Executive Summary, 2017.

[8] Niesenbaum, R. 2018. Sustainable Solutions: Problem Solving for Current and Future Generations. Oxford University Press, New York. (Chapter 5).

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