Sharper’s Index

Special Animal Manure Issue

Pure Water Gazette columnist B. Bee Sharper Ferrets out the facts that Harper’s misses.


by Gene Franks

The Agriculture Committee of the U. S. Senate, directed by chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), performed an extensive study of the state of our nation’s manure.  Although the findings of Harkin’s committee were called “staggering” by the Associated Press, the story was essentially ignored except for a few page 22 newspaper stories.  Our numbers columnist, Bee Bee Sharper, intrigued by the big numbers that figure into animal manure statistics, decided to turn the committee’s findings into a column.  B. Bea’s numerical facts are taken from an excellent article on the Harkin findings, Pamela Rice’s  “Everything You Never Wanted To Know About Manure,” which appeared in the Fall 1999 issue of Vegetarian Voice. Here are B. Bea’s findings.

  • Pounds of waste produced each year by farm animals in the United States: 2.74 trillion.

  • If this waste were loaded on the boxcars of a single train (Heaven forbid!), the number of times this train’s length would reach around the earth: 12.5.

  • Human population of a city that would create the same amount of excrement as the dairies in California’s Central Valley: 21,000,000.

  • Estimated number of manure-generating animal-feeding operations in the United States: 450,000.

  • Percentage of rivers that have been identified by the EPA as “impaired” in which agricultural runoff from animal waste is the largest problem: 60%.

  • Number of Olympic-size swimming pools that would fit into one of the innumerable large “lagoons” (temporary excrement storage facilities) spread throughout the United States: 200.

  • Percentage of the older lagoons in North Carolina that are leaking enough to contaminate groundwater: 50%.

  • Number of separate noxious gasses that contribute to the foul odor which emanates from hog barns: 150.

  • Number of dead birds that are composted or incinerated by the poultry industry each year: 160,000,000.

  • Factor by which U.S. animal excrement exceeds human: 130 times.