Volume XI, Issue 25 ~ June 19-25, 2003

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Chickening Out in Poultry Pollution Crackdown

There’s harsh reality every step of the way in the poultry industry, and not just for those hormone-and-antibiotic-stuffed birds in your grocery.

Immigrants arrive by bus to work at processing plants in jobs that many Americans won’t do. Chickens and turkeys whizzing by on ceiling pulleys before they end up on our tables are a recipe for repetitive motion injuries.

Before that, growers who want to work with Tyson’s, Perdue and the industry giants are forced to sign contracts that require them to make huge outlays of money for chicken houses but receive pennies on the pound when the birds are grown.

Besides pennies, they get something else in the end: tons of chicken manure that they must figure out how to dispose.

That’s where the harsh reality for the general public comes in, because we’re victims of a charade. Nitrogen-filled chicken manure, which the industry refers to politely as “litter,” also is a potent fertilizer. With few other options, growers continue to spray it as fertilizer, until lands are utterly saturated.

Then, when it rains, it seeps into the Chesapeake Bay, where it produces algal blooms that choke off Bay grasses and other living things.

This is something to worry about considering that close to a billion chickens are raised across the Delmarva Peninsula. But until recently, nobody could figure out how to force the hugely profitable poultry companies to take responsibility for the manure. (Tyson’s reported $72 million in profit in the first quarter of 2003.)

Finally, in 1999, Maryland became the first state to stand up to the poultry kings, holding them responsible for all that polluting manure as part of their permits to operate. It was a bold stroke, but a brief one.

Last week, Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s administration abandoned the rule, leaving the responsibility with the farmers who grow the chickens. “Excess government intrusion” was the governor’s reason.

We’re not surprised given Ehrlich’s views toward corporate America and his alliance with the poultry industry, which fueled his election campaign with about $150,000.

Nonetheless, we’re disappointed that Maryland is backtracking. Our belief is that government is supposed to intrude when it comes to solving problems.

Ehrlich said in a statement that he plans to develop “innovative solutions that clean up the Chesapeake Bay.”

Let’s hope he’s persuasive in getting the poultry giants to go along voluntarily with what they no longer are required to do by law.



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Last updated June 19, 2003 @ 3:22am