Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student Trimble makes this connection here…

The news article titled “We Can Feed Our Meat Addiction in More Eco-Friendly Ways than Factory Farming – But Is It Too Late?” was reported by AlterNet on March 24th 2016. The article relates to the WRE domain of hydrology and the issue of water distribution and water quality. This article focused primarily on many of the problems associated with feed lots or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO). As the world’s demand of meat increases, so too will the problems associated with the CAFOs. As per the article, these problems include: 70% of agriculture being devoted to meat production (which amounts to about 50% of water consumption), this increases the depletion of reservoirs like the Ogallala aquifer, and ever increasing contamination due to waste disposal practices. Based on articles such as “The Nitrogen Cascade: The Next Big Pollution Problem” by David Mager, and “Why Not Eating Meat Should Be Your New Year’s Resolution” by Renee Farris, these observations make sense. They math works out approximately right, and the quantity of nutrients must certainly be ever increasing and never-ending. I think what this article misses the most is the connection to regulations imposed on CAFOs by the government, how or if they break those regulations, or how the regulations are set up in order to purposefully make loopholes, thus allowing a call out of more than just the consumers but allowing the government to step in if necessary too.

This article mostly focuses on the environmental context area, but also has implications from the economic area. Some of the broader implications is that our current meat production practices are unsuitable for the world and the cost of meat relative to its cost of production on the environment is not economically or environmentally feasible. “CAFOS in the US and China: A Comparison on the Laws that Protect Water Quality from Factory Farming” by Rebecca Smith and Xiao Mingxin, is a journal article that examines the issues of CAFOs with a particular focus on the water quality problems associated with them, and the relevant laws to regulate this. It is pretty clear that the 1 pound of meat to approximately 5,000 gallons of water will not be sustainable in the future. This deficit, along with the ever increasing pollution which degrades those water sources make it more clear that the environment and the economic value of water will not be able to absorb the true cost of CAFOs as we move forward.

Figure 1. Manure Lagoon Showing how waste is dealt with

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References

Hartnett, AJ. “We Can Feed Our Meat Addiction in More Eco-Friendly Ways Than Factory Farming-But Is It Too Late?” Alternet. Alternet, 24 Mar. 2016. Web. 24 Mar. 2016. <http://www.alternet.org/food/we-can-feed-our-meat-addiction-more-eco-friendly-ways-factory-farming-it-too-late&gt;.

Mager, David. “The Nitrogen Cascade: The Next Big Pollution Problem.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 23 Oct. 2013. Web. 28 Mar. 2016. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-mager/the-nitrogen-cascade_b_3804068.html&gt;.

Nichols, Bob. Dairy Waste Management–Waste Treatment Lagoon. Containing manure and using it on the farm. East Loiusiana. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons. Wikimedia Project, 4 Oct. 2011. Web. 28 Mar. 2016. <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:NRCSLA00019_-_Louisiana_%284433%29%28NRCS_Photo_Gallery%29.jpg&gt;.

Smith, Rebecca, and Xiao Mingxin. “CAFOS in the US and China: A Comparison on the Laws That Protect Water Quality from Factory Farming.” USAID: Asia (n.d.): n. pag. Public Access Center. Vermont Law. Web. 28 Mar. 2016. <http://www-assets.vermontlaw.edu/Assets/us-asia-partnerships/collaborative-research-projects/Rebecca%20Smith%20-%20CAFOS%20IN%20THE%20US%20AND%20CHINA.pdf&gt;.

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