Reply: Big Chicken Gets the Flu
by Bill Satterfield
Big Chicken Gets the Flu [Vol. XII, No. 13: March 25] needed a warning label that Any resemblance between this article and actual reality is purely coincidental. Ill quote just a few sections of the story that require clarification and provide comments.
Each year, six hundred million birds live and die on the Delmarva Peninsula but not without leaving behind an environmental legacy. The fertilizer from this litter thats not taken up by the crops runs into the Bay.
Fact: Crops use most nutrients, but some are left in the soil. Soil nutrients do not automatically create water pollution. Maryland poultry growers are required to use state-certified nutrient management plans dictating how much fertilizer can be land-applied. Marylands law is one of Americas strictest. Remember that homeowners can apply unlimited quantities of nutrients onto their lawns that can end up in the Bay.
Nutrients from this runoff account for roughly one-third of all nutrient pollution.
Fact: A 1999 U.S. Geological Survey study has this quotation: Collectively, the Susquehanna, the Potomac and the James Rivers contributed about 95 percent of the annual nitrogen load and about 87 percent of the annual phosphorous load from the nine major rivers draining to Chesapeake Bay from 1990 to 1998. Delmarva does not drain into those rivers, so how can poultry litter account for one-third of all nutrient pollution?
Scientists are nearly unanimous in pointing toward chicken manure as the cause of the infamous Pfiesteria outbreak that year.
Fact: A growing body of scientists discount the entire Pfiesteria theory. In the Journal of Aquatic Fish Health, Yasunair Kiry and colleagues at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and the U.S. Geological Surveys Fish Health Laboratory point to a fungus as the cause of the fish lesions, not Pfiesteria. Wayne Litaker with the University of North Carolina concluded that amoebas sickened the fish. Dr. Wolfgang Vogelbein at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and other colleagues in the journal Nature discounted the Pfiesteria speculation. Your paper ignored credible scientists whose research points to something other than Pfiesteria.
Charlie said The other day the guy whos in charge of controlling the outbreak came up here to test my chickens. He had just come from the two infected farms in Delaware and drove the same truck up here. What kind of sense is that?
Fact: There is not one guy in charge. That work is being done by the Delmarva Poultry Industry Emergency Poultry Disease Task Force. Strict biosecurity rules were implemented following the first avian influenza case. All but essential personnel were banned from going onto poultry farms. Birds on the three avian influenza farms were owned by three different companies. Such inter-company traffic is not permitted even in normal times.
Ehrlich announced that the state would abandon rules that hold poultry giants accountable for pollution.
Fact: No pollution rules have been abandoned since Robert Ehrlich became governor. The Maryland Department of the Environment ruled that a proposed scheme being foisted upon the chicken industry and Maryland citizens by Gov. Parris Glendening was illegal.
For example, farmers say, Perdue has begun buying surplus manure, but for less than a farmer can get from another farmer. The twist is that farmers arent buying from each other anymore; they are only buying from Perdue because, thanks to its buying power, it can turn around and sell more cheaply.
Fact: Perdue AgriRecycle in Delaware uses a small percentage of Delmarvas manure. Poultry growers continue to sell or give their manure to farmers, just as they have for decades. Perdue should be commended, not condemned, for getting into the manure business to help all Delmarva growers.
The chicken industry is one of the most important industries in Maryland and your readers are deserving of the facts. For more information they can go to www.dpichicken.com.
Bill Satterfield is executive director of the Delmarva Poultry Industry.
Editors notes: Agricultural runoff accounts for somewhere between one-third and 40 percent of all nutrient pollution in the Bay, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Most of this runoff is chicken manure, whether its spread in Pennsylvania or the Eastern Shore.
About the cause of Pfiesteria, our reporting was cautious, with reporter Ryan Grim quoting Jack Greer, assistant director of the Maryland Sea Grant College, which studies Pfiesteria extensively and maintains that chicken manure is still the best guesstimate of the cause of that outbreak.
On June 13, 2003, Gov. Ehrlich announced in a statement that he was abandoning rules that hold poultry companies accountable for waste runoff.