Report: Tyson Dumping Millions of Pounds of Waste into U.S. Waterways

By Staff
4 Min Read

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with a statement from Tyson Foods.

Tyson is one of the largest meat producers in the world, with 123 processing plants and 124,000 employees just in the U.S. The company did about $52.94 billion in revenue last year, but the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) says it came at a hefty environmental cost.

A new report from UCS, a nonprofit organization made up of scientists, analysts and policy experts, says Tyson Foods has released billions of gallons of wastewater into U.S. waterways that have been filled with some heinous substances, including nitrogen and phosphorus, which can deplete the oxygen in water, animal body parts and byproducts, like blood and feces, and pathogens and microorganisms, including E. coli.

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According to UCS, these processing plants generate incredible amounts of daily wastewater washing animals, cleaning meat, sanitizing equipment, and scrubbing work areas. 

Citing data from the EPA, UCS says that between 2018 and 2022, Tyson generated more than 87 billion gallons of wastewater—enough to fill 177,000 Olympic swimming pools. Just in 2022, Tyson discharged more than 18.5 billion gallons of wastewater. 

UCS used publicly available data from the EPA to estimate the quantity and distribution of Tyson’s water discharges. In a five-year period, Tyson’s plants dumped 371.72 million pounds of pollutants into U.S. waterways, including 138 million pounds of chlorides, 82.5 million pounds of dissolved solids, and 40 million pounds of sulfates.

Nebraska took the brunt of it, with 30% of the total discharge amounting to more than 111 million pounds of material. The state is home to one of the nation’s largest processing plants, the Dakota City Tyson Fresh Meats facility, which is responsible for dumping more than 60 million pounds of pollutants into Nebraska waterways during the study period. 

Illinois had the second-most material, at 52.7 million pounds, followed by Missouri, with 48.6 million pounds. Michigan, Pennsylvania and Arkansas also had significant totals. Combined, the six states account for nearly 90% of all pollutants discharged by Tyson into U.S. waterways.

The USDA is working to expand small- and medium-scale meat and poultry processing in the U.S. Since 2021, the department has committed more than a billion dollars to expand national meat processing capacity and increase competition to trim consolidation. According to UCS, last year, the department made up to $125 million in grants available to promote local meat and poultry markets and expand opportunities for small livestock producers. 

“Tyson Foods uses a robust management system to mitigate environmental risks and impact, and we strive to run our operations as responsible stewards of our natural resources,” said a Tyson Foods spokesperson. “We consistently monitor effluent from our facilities, and we work closely with our federal and state regulators, as well as our local municipalities, as we plan, design, and operate our wastewater systems. This report does not acknowledge our ongoing compliance with EPA regulations and certification by the Water Alliance for our strong water management practices. Our longstanding treatment program protects the environment and the interests of water across our nation, along with ensuring resiliency of the food system.”

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