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Government Report Focuses on Agriculture as 'Dead Zone' Culprit

For Immediate Release: 
Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Washington, D.C., January 29 — Today the USGS released findings that show agricultural practices in 9 states contribute 75% of the nitrogen and phosphorous pollution to the “Dead Zone” in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. Currently, the growing Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico is the size of New Jersey.

EWG research has also identified the link between agriculture run-off and the Dead Zone. The USGS report clearly states that corn and soybean cultivation are leading contributors to ‘Dead Zone’ growth. Both crops are heavily subsidized through the Farm Bill and are benefiting from the massive fivefold increase mandated in the recently passed Renewable Fuel Standard. In stark contrast, government programs that could assist farmers in employing sound conservation practices go woefully unfunded in pending the farm bill.

“The USGS report makes it hard to deny that heavily subsidized crops of corn and soybeans are major polluters of America’s precious water supplies,” said Michelle Perez, senior analyst for the Environmental Working Group.

“We are now staring down the barrel of a huge increase in corn based ethanol and soybean based bio-diesel mandated in the 2007 Energy Bill that will have a catastrophic environmental impact unless changes are made to federal policy. Specifically, if we continue to subsidize these crops, then it should be balanced with federal support for proven conservation programs, woefully under funded in comparison,” Perez continued.

“A good start would be the implementation of a mandatory and comprehensive nutrient management plan that would require all commodity crop subsidy recipients to lower their nutrient pollution while optimizing production,” Perez concluded. “While still optimizing yield, farmers can lower excess fertilizer and manure inputs and prevent nutrient pollution by making conservation practices commonplace.”

Related facts:

  • The 9 states listed in the USGS report that contribute to 75% of Dead Zone pollution received $14.3 billion of the $34.8 billion in federal crop subsidies between 2003 to 2005.
  • 41% of all of taxpayer support for production agriculture is paid out to those 9 states.
  • 5 of these 9 states are in the top 10 Crop Subsidy-Receiving States in the Country (IA is no. 1 subsidy-receiving state, IL is no. 3, IN=7, AR=9, MO=9. 7 of the 9 states are in the Top 15 Subsidy-Receiving States (OH=12, MI=14). All 9 of the states are in the Top 25 Subsidy-Receiving States (TN=21, KY=25)

EWG related resources:

USGS Report:

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The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. Visit to learn more about the EWG’s farm subsidy analysis.

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