The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is the largest ever recorded since dead zone mapping began in 1985. Dead zones are areas in a body of water that do not have enough oxygen to support marine life. At 8,185 square miles, the Gulf of Mexico’s dead zone is about the size of New Jersey. As the Guardian and Truthout reported, the dead zone continues to grow because big food companies lack sustainability polices to prevent environmental pollution, including especially animal waste and fertilizer runoff from industrial farms.
As Reynard Loki reported for Truthout, a study by Mighty Earth, an environmental action group, found that Whole Foods and other US companies—including Target, McDonald’s and Subway—are “helping to drive one of the nation’s worst human-made environmental disasters.” In a survey of 23 major meat producers, including Tyson and Cargill, not a single brand has policies in place to require “even minimal environmental protections.” Mighty Earth’s study, “Flunking the Planet,” gave every one of the 23 companies a failing grade on environmental safeguards including sources of animal feed, processing of animals’ manure, and overall greenhouse gas emissions.
In turn, supplies like Whole Foods, Target, McDonald’s and Subway fail to use their influence to encourage more sustainable practices. According to Mighty Earth’s report, “Grocery stores like Walmart and Whole Foods and meal outlets like McDonald’s and Burger King have the power to set and enforce standards requiring better farming practices from suppliers.”
Corporate news coverage has largely focused on the details of the dead zone, rather than its causes. In August 2017, CBS News discussed the size of the dead zone and interviewed fishermen who witnessed large decreases in fish populations at popular fishing spots. In August, 2017, the Washington Post published an article on dead zones around the world. National Geographic published a substantive article on the topic the same month.
Reynard Loki, “Corporate Food Brands Drive the Massive Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico,” Truthout, August 28, 2018, https://truthout.org/articles/corporate-food-brands-driving-the-massive-dead-zone-in-gulf-of-mexico/.
Oliver Milman, “‘Dead Zone’ in Gulf of Mexico Will Take Decades to Recover from Farm Pollution,” The Guardian, March 22, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/mar/22/dead-zone-gulf-of-mexico-decades-recover-study.
Student Researcher: Adriana Babicz (Sonoma State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Peter Phillips (Sonoma State University)