Fact checking the Dead Zone

You maybe saw headlines blaming meat producers for the bigger-than-ever dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. You maybe even saw them in reputable newspapers. But Katherine McDonald at Big Picture Agriculture has pointed out that pinning the blame on the meat industry is based on what she calls a “ludicrous statistical error”.

That’s not to say that the dead zone isn’t a problem. It is. But blaming it on the meat industry — because animals eat soybeans and corn, and soybeans and and corn get most of the nitrogen fertiliser that runs off down the Mississippi into the Gulf — is just plain wrong.

The report that prompted the headlines claimed that

The domestic meat market consumes 70 percent of the soybeans grown in the U.S. and 40 percent of the corn, and is the biggest single market for both of these crops.

But as Katherine points out:

Since 50 percent of our soybeans are exported, more than 11 percent are used to produce biodiesel, and yet more to produce oil and other products, obviously their claim that 70 percent of our U.S. grown soybeans are consumed by our domestic meat market is off base by a very, very wide margin.

The outfit that produced the report says it has amended that figure, but when I looked 2 minutes ago, it was still there. And while animal feed alone is not the only reason to blame industrial meat for the dead zone, it clearly makes for a much less interesting story if you can’t beat evil food corporations over the head.

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