Shareholders gathered at Tyson's headquarters in Springdale, Arkansas for an annual meeting to discuss and vote on company policy. One of the topics was a move to regulate water usage and water pollution in Tyson facilities across the United States.
Meanwhile, citizens of Accomack County, Virginia were holding a demonstration that indicted the U.S. meat producer's operations in their area. The Eastern Shore chapter of conservation group Mighty Earth headed the press conference at Onancock Wharf as part of a nationwide campaign called "Clean It Up Tyson."
"It says that they need to come with a method in reducing nitrate contribution to the water and there are ways to do this and they actually claim in their response that they're already doing it," David Fick said in an interview with local TV station WMDT.
Fick runs a small oyster business in Accomack County. He and his neighbors asked Tyson to provide timelines and specific commitments to reduce the amount of nitrate the company is dumping into local waters. (Related: Upcycled: Wastewater from olive mills can be transformed from a pollutant into a biofuel and bio-fertilizer.)
According to the protesters, the unrestricted wastewater discharge from Tyson's hundreds of chicken plants in Accomack County is disrupting the local ecosystem. The Tyson facilities expel large amounts of wastewater into nearby bodies of water that residents use for fishing, crabbing and oyster farming.
The discharge is rich in nutrients and chicken litter that encourage the rampant growth of bacteria. Residents like Fick are concerned that these bacterial blooms could threaten the delicate clam and oyster aquaculture industries by overloading local streams until the water can no longer support life.
Accomack County has a population of 33,000. It's considered to be one of the poorest areas in Virginia, with one out of every five residents living in impoverished conditions.
Tyson Foods is one of the biggest job providers in the county. It recently expanded its flourishing poultry operations by building 250 new concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO), huge chicken houses that keep hundreds of thousands of broilers in tightly-controlled environments.
These massive operations require huge amounts of water. The Department of Environmental Quality estimated that the chicken farms run by Tyson and competitor Perdue Farms guzzle more than 3 million gallons on a daily basis.
This massive consumption will not help the depleted Yorktown-Eastover aquifer. The only source of potable water in Virginia Eastern Shore, its daily recharge rate couldn't keep up with the 10 million gallons drained by Accomack and Northampton counties every day.
The aquifer has shown signs of depressurizing even before Tyson set up its water-intensive chicken houses. Experts are concerned that this will lead to a major water shortage in the region.
The protests apparently did not reach the ears of Tyson officials. The shareholders' proposal to adopt a water stewardship policy was shot down by company officials.
In response to a request by WMDT for an interview regarding the results of the meeting, Tyson Foods released an official statement explaining its position.
"We understand the importance of water stewardship, and the Company has implemented a wide range of initiatives to reduce risks of water contamination," read the statement. "The policies, procedures, and plans appropriately and adequately address the concerns raised in the proposal and the adoption of another policy is unnecessary."
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