Vol. 9, No. 30
July 26 - August 1, 2001
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Spell-Check for Poultry Industry:

To hear the poultry companies tell it, Maryland regulators are putting the chicken industry out of business by ordering it to become responsible for all that polluting manure that seeps into Bay waterways.

One industry official called the new Department of the Environment rules “a threat to Maryland’s small family farms, the chicken industry and all businesses in Maryland.”

We’re hopeful that people in Chesapeake Country will view such comments for what they are: self-serving nonsense. After all, why should the poultry companies be exempted from the problems they create, in this case adding to the nitrogen and phosphorus load that chokes the oxygen in the Bay, killing fish and aquatic life?

That’s essentially what happened a few years ago when industry lobbyists persuaded Congress not to add manure and “non-point source” pollution to the scope of the federal Clean Water Act. That leaves the burden on states like Maryland, which has moved aggressively and, we think, fairly to solve the problem.

What the state said last week is that big companies - like Perdue, Tyson, Allen Family Foods - not the farmer who raises the chickens are responsible for the tons of manure from all those chickens grown on the Eastern Shore.

The so-called “co-permitting” regulations require companies to verify that contract growers have plans for getting rid of the waste rather than telling the farmers that it is their problem. And if farmers have difficulty devising a plan, companies must help them.

Unfortunately, what many of the hard-pressed growers have done over the years is to spray a liquefied form of the manure on the same land, over and over, saturating the soils and causing runoff into Bay tributaries.

Poultry companies have behaved like fighting cocks in their drive to shirk responsibility. Rather than accepting responsibility, they assert petulantly that the rules will force farmers out of business.

When it comes to manure, the Bay is a victim and so, too often, are the farmers. They go into debt to build chicken houses longer than football fields to comply with company specifications. Then they make a dime or so a pound feeding company-owned chicks with company feed packed with antibiotics. Then they wind up owning the manure, which the industry politely calls litter.

We’ve seen some positive developments recently, among them toll-free hotlines that can help route the manure where it is truly needed. We recently praised Perdue and AgriRecycle for their new plant in Delaware that aims to process 10 percent of the region’s poultry wastes for shipments to farmers in other states. And we’ve written about the Maryland Manure Transport project, sponsored by the state Department of Agriculture to help ship manure where farm soils need it.

Unfortunately, the companies’ attitude toward new rules is unfailing resistance, judging by threats of lawsuits to block them.

All of us must take responsibility for our actions. It’s past time for the poultry industry to act like the rest of us.

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly