Search icon

Factory farming’s assault on fresh water must end

News Section Icon Published 3/17/2023

Landscape experiencing drought

This World Water Day (22nd March), we have joined forces with experts to warn that we must stop factory farming’s assault on our fresh water supplies before it’s too late.

Experts speaking at our ground-breaking Extinction or Regeneration conference, coming up in May are calling for an end to factory farming and the water pollution it causes. And, together, we’re calling for a shift towards global farming practices that are climate- and nature-friendly to preserve this precious resource.

Destroying our fresh water

Around 70 per cent of the planet’s surface is covered with water, but only one per cent of it is accessible fresh water. This water is vital to our health and wellbeing, biodiversity, energy and food production, healthy ecosystems, and more. But farming uses an astonishing 70% of all fresh water worldwide, and around a third of the water in agriculture is linked to meat and dairy production.

In the UK and Europe, animal excrement from factory farms washes into streams and rivers where it kills precious marine life. In Africa, tonnes of valuable topsoil soaked with fertilisers erodes into rivers and hydroelectricity plants. In North America, nitrogen from ‘mega-farms’ runs into rivers and ends up in the Gulf of Mexico, creating ‘dead zones’ where nothing can live.

The amount of water needed for animal farming is larger than the amount needed for crops with the same nutritional value. Research shows generally factory farmed meat and milk uses and pollutes more surface and groundwater than meat and milk from grazing or mixed systems. Moreover, the water footprint of any animal product is larger than the water footprint of crop products with equivalent nutritional value. (i)

Change is needed now

Dr Susan Chomba, Director Vital Landscapes, World Resources Institute, said: “Drought is getting more severe and more frequent across the continent of Africa. Pesticides and fertilisers are polluting the water to the extent that it is harmful for human consumption. What’s needed is an acceleration of policies to transform farming systems, treat wastewater, along with better information for people about the dangers of ‘cookie-cutter’ practices of industrial farming.”

Dr Rattan Lal, Director, Rattan Lal Center for Carbon Management and Sequestration, School of Environment and Natural Resources, The Ohio State University said: “Water quality, soil health and nutrition are all linked, we have to address these issues together. The science and knowledge to solve these problems exists, we can stop poisoning our soils and water and return them to nature whilst maintaining global food security. We can lessen extreme flooding and better manage irrigation of crops. We can encourage more carbon sequestration through water (and soil) but we need the policy to catch up with the science.”

Jennifer Jacquet, Associate professor of Environmental Studies at New York University added: “Animal agriculture has increased greenhouse gases, as well as nitrogen and phosphorous pollution, both of which contribute to the rise of ocean ‘dead zones’ where there is no oxygen and therefore no life. These links between industrial farming practices that pollute the environment, including fresh and marine waters, mean terrible lives for animals on factory farms, but also negative consequences for the lives of wild animals we also care about.”

Our Global CEO, Philip Lymbery said: “I have seen for myself the devastating impacts that pollution from factory farming has on our precious waterways around the globe – the creation of ‘dead zones’ in our rivers and oceans where nothing can live For too long, food production has ignored the fact that, without care, finite resources like water will eventually run out. But there is hope – by bringing together some of the world’s best thinkers and experts at the forthcoming Extinction or Regeneration conference we can explore the solutions and help create a roadmap towards a global food system that works for human, animal and planetary health.”

Experts offer hope

The hybrid Extinction or Regeneration conference is organised by Compassion and other partners. It will be held at the QEII Conference Centre in London and online on 11 and 12 May 2023 where individuals, organisations, companies and other experts will share solutions to fix our broken food system.

For further information about the event and to register, visit: 


You are using an outdated browser which we do not support. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience and security.

If you have any further questions regarding this, or any other matter, please get in touch with us at We aim to respond to all queries within two working days. However, due to the high volume of correspondence that we receive, it may occasionally take a little longer. Please do bear with us if this is the case. Alternatively, if your query is urgent, you can contact our Supporter Engagement Team on +44 (0)1483 521 953 (lines open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm).