The poultry industry is big in Maryland, and that often means trouble for not only small farmers, but also the ecologically devastated Chesapeake Bay. But this year, a new bill in the Maryland legislature may change that.
For far too long, massive corporations like Perdue have raked in profits by forcing farmers, residents and the Chesapeake Bay to bear the burden of pollution from millions of pounds of excess chicken waste each year. The Poultry Litter Management Act would help shift responsibility for the number one source of water pollution in Maryland back where it belongs — onto the big chicken companies. Just like a responsible dog owner cleans up for their pets, this bill would make sure poultry companies do the same by requiring them to remove and properly dispose of all excess poultry litter.
Agriculture is the single, largest source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and Maryland waterways. About 44 percent of the nitrogen and 57 percent of the phosphorus polluting the Bay comes from farms, and much of that comes from animal manure. And that share could grow even larger with the addition of new factory farms – as much as an additional 10 million chickens and about 20 million more pounds of manure per year. Excess manure can saturate farm fields and pollute local creeks, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay if not handled properly. This legislation will seek to protect Maryland farmers and taxpayers from costs that should be borne by the large poultry companies.
A recent U.S. Geological Service Water report found the rivers of the Eastern Shore have concentrations of phosphorus that are among the “highest in the nation” due to agricultural operations. The Maryland Department of Agriculture has estimated about 228,000 tons of excess manure are currently applied to crop fields in Maryland; this is likely to increase with the recent expansion of chicken houses. Manure makes good fertilizer, but too much manure applied over decades has left many Eastern Shore fields saturated with phosphorus. The phosphorus ends up in local creeks and rivers, causing dead zones of low oxygen, fish kills, restrictions on shellfish harvesting, and swimming advisories.
The legislation would be the second step of a critical two-step plan to reduce phosphorus pollution from agriculture in Maryland. In 2015, the Hogan Administration enacted regulations forbidding farmers from over-applying poultry manure on fields. The 2016 legislation would place the cost of properly disposing excess manure in the hands of the big companies, not small farmers or the public. Growers currently shoulder much of the responsibility, with considerable direct and indirect subsidies from taxpayers.
Food & Water Watch is proud to stand with the bill’s sponsors and a growing coalition of organizations and residents in support of the Poultry Litter Management Act. Big chicken companies have the necessary resources and the responsibility to help Maryland’s manure overload problem. If poultry companies become responsible for their waste, it would ensure that Maryland taxpayers and farmers no longer bear the sole burden of reducing pollution.