Three Cheers for the Bay Foundation's Poultry Plan

On a clear day, you can gaze eastward and see one of the biggest threats to Chesapeake Bay: the Eastern Shore, home to an expanding poultry industry.

Until recently, these corporate-directed operations along the Chesapeake were located primarily to the south. But they're moving northward, the Baltimore Sun reported recently.

Along with this northward migration comes the specter of more poultry contamination pouring into the Chesapeake. That means not just heightened prospects of deadly Pfiesteria outbreaks but also the probability of more oxygen-killing nitrogen and phosphorous from manure, which is spread on the land and runs into rivers en route to the Bay.

We all live downstream from this dangerous industry, which is getting closer to us all the time. That's why people who care about the health and the economy of the Chesapeake need to pay close attention to what is taking place around us - and why we need to encourage innovative solutions, like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's new plan for cooperatives of chicken growers.

The Bay Foundation announced last week that it is putting together a cooperative of chicken growers that would have its own processing plant. The idea is splendid: poultry growing and processing could occur minus the pollution while growers would be protected from exploitative companies.

We can tell you from our own experience that the new poultry industry is a nasty business. We say new because the poultry boom has taken place in the '90s, partly as a result of liberalized trade rules encouraging chicken-raising for export. Growers who sign on with dictatorial companies mortgage their futures to build chicken houses. Their job is for a few weeks to fatten company birds with company feed that has constituents that you don't want to know about.

Companies haul the birds to processing plants where immigrants recruited in Mexico and Central America work in miserable conditions. (We've been inside these plants and talked to workers with repetitive motion disorders and worse.) Meanwhile, for the birds they've fattened, growers get pennies per pound -- and piles of manure.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation's solution could stem pollution and restore dignity to farmers who have been turned into chicken-house janitors -- if the companies don't use their clout to kill the plan. It's a modest step but a spirited beginning to solving a problem that threatens us all.

| Issue 12 |

Volume VII Number 12
March 25-31, 1999
New Bay Times

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