New Report: Corporate Agribusiness and America's Waterways


So you're a wealthy multinational corporation looking to escape from pesky regulations, to get rid of competition, or to turn the tax code in your favor. How do you build public sympathy?

The answer: claim that the debate really isn't about you, but about preserving small business.

It's one of the oldest tricks in the book, and it's one that comes up over and over again in the battle over the impact of agricultural pollution of our nation's waters. Time and again, major agribusiness firms have campaigned against strong protections for our waterways using the argument that those protections would make life difficult for family farmers.

Our new report, Corporate Agribusiness and America's Waterways, takes a step back to ask the question of just who is responsible for the massive - and growing - impacts of agriculture on our nation's waters. The "dead zones" in waterways such as the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay, coupled with the myriad water quality problems faced in areas with heavy agribusiness activity, pose an environmental crisis that is similar in scale and scope to the industrial water pollution problems that prompted passage of the Clean Water Act nearly four decades ago.

Our research has found that corporate agribusiness giants such as Perdue, Tyson, Smithfield Foods and Archer Daniels Midland have a long legacy of contributing to pollution of our waterways. Sometimes these companies are directly responsible for pollution, while in other cases they are responsible for creating the market conditions that lead to pollution of our waterways.

By lifting the veil on both the enormous control these companies have over our food system and on the role they play in fouling our waterways, we hope this report leads to assigning responsibility for agricultural pollution where it is due: not, typically, with small farmers who face extreme economic pressure, but rather with the large, well-heeled corporations that benefit from a system that offloads the cost of environmental damage to the rest of us.