Bill Introduced to "Hold Poultry Companies Financially Accountable for Pollution"

Environmental Coalition: Act Would Correct Unfair Burden Placed on Farmers, Taxpayers
Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery, flanked by contract farmers and fellow lawmakers, spoke to a group of lobbyists and journalists assembled before him about the Poultry Litter Act on February 2, 2016, in Annapolis, Maryland. (Photo: Josh Magness)
Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery, flanked by contract farmers and fellow lawmakers, spoke to a group of lobbyists and journalists assembled before him about the Poultry Litter Act on February 2, 2016, in Annapolis, Maryland. (Photo: Josh Magness)

ANNAPOLIS (Feb. 2, 2016)—Maryland legislators and contract farmers hired by companies to grow chickens are proposing the Poultry Litter Management Act that would require major animal agriculture companies to pay the cost of properly disposing excess manure on their contract farms.

“It's a fairness issue, it has an adverse impact on our environment and we need to clean it up,” said Sen. Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore, “and those individuals who are making the mess need to clean up the mess.”

The bill, SB496, is a response to what many environmentalists describe as major chicken companies getting a “free ride” as they produce around 228,000 tons of excess manure in the state each year but are not mandated to pay for the environmental costs of moving that waste.

“I don’t know if people realize that the 300-plus million chickens raised annually on Maryland’s Eastern Shore create more waste than everyone else who lives in Maryland,” said Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery, lead sponsor of the bill.

Perdue pushes back

Julie DeYoung, a spokeswoman for Perdue Farms, pushed back against the notion that the company—an animal agriculture business based in Salisbury that contracts with 265 poultry producers in the state—requires their contract farms to pay to dispose poultry litter.

“For nearly 15 years through our Perdue AgriRecycle organic fertilizer facility, we have been the only poultry company in the Chesapeake Bay region that provides an environmentally responsible alternative to land application,” DeYoung wrote in an e-mail. “Those who claim that Perdue is putting the responsibility for poultry litter on our farmers are choosing to ignore this fact.”

The cost of removing the manure, and subsequent runoff into the Chesapeake Bay, has traditionally been shifted to contract farmers and taxpayers, lawmakers and environmental advocates said Tuesday.

Since 1999, more than $5.6 million from taxpayers have been used to move excess manure off contract operations that are unable to handle the animal waste, according to a report from the state’s Department of Agriculture. This includes $2.8 million alone for major chicken processor Perdue since 2008, according to the state’s Department of Budget and Management.

Maryland taxpayers have contributed $767 million to clean up the bay since 2004, according to a report from the Maryland Bay Restoration Fund Advisory Committee.

Former contract farmer supports the bill, Farm Bureau doesn’t

Carol Morrison, who was previously a poultry farmer spoke in favor of the bill. Morrison said she is now an “independent farmer” who produces fresh eggs, which she “sells to Whole Foods in Annapolis.”

She also acknowledged that she had once been “part of the problem,” largely because the company for which she worked backed her into a corner and effectively made her solely responsible for waste disposal. However, Morrison subsequently explained that as a contractor the company owned the chickens, not her.

“We’re not taking away any fertilizers” or “valuable things that farmers use for growing tools.”

Responding to the proposal, Katie Ward, communications specialist for the Maryland Farm Bureau, declined to comment on the bill directly, but said, “We do believe the concept is premature.”

“We are only in the first of a two-year analysis provided in the [Phosphorus Management Tool] regulations to determine the extent of the need to find new uses for poultry litter. Early analysis from the Maryland Department of Agriculture shows fewer acres will be impacted than originally presumed.”

“We also urge all concerned stakeholders to put time and effort into developing and supporting alternative use technology,” Ward said. “That is what we should be spending our time on in 2016.”


The Poultry Litter Management Act Would Correct Unfair Burden Placed on Farmers, Taxpayers

February 2, 2016

(Annapolis, MD) Environment and budget committee leaders in the Maryland General Assembly are among more than 50 legislators who have thrown their support behind The Poultry Litter Management Act. The bill, introduced today in the Senate and House, would require poultry companies to take responsibility for manure produced by their chickens. Farmers would still be able to keep and use any manure for which they have a state approved plan.

"My constituents in Baltimore, like many Marylanders, are paying to reduce pollution from sewage plants and polluted stormwater runoff. It's only fair that big chicken companies be responsible for their waste," said Senator Joan Carter Conway (District 43), Chair, Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee. "I'm looking forward to this bill being heard in my committee."

"This bill is about corporate accountability, and it's about fairness. Big chicken companies have the necessary resources and the responsibility to dispose of their own waste, just like other industries," said Senator Richard S. Madaleno (District 18) Vice-chair, Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. "Everyone must do their part to mitigate pollution into our state's iconic natural treasure."

Poultry companies own the 288 million broilers produced in Maryland each year, as well as the feed and most aspects of production. Yet the companies don't have to pay to clean up the chickens' manure. Instead, chicken companies require farmers who grow the chickens under contract to dispose of the birds' litter at their own expense, with subsides from taxpayers to transport some of the manure.

Maryland faces a growing problem of excess chicken manure that can't be used as fertilizer, as well as rising costs for disposing of, or using the manure. Last year, Governor Hogan created regulations that allow farmers to spread chicken manure only in the amount that can be used by crops. The Maryland Department of Agriculture has estimated about 228,000 tons of excess manure are currently applied to crop fields in Maryland. Phosphorus from the excess manure is polluting local creeks, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.

The amount of extra manure on the Shore is also increasing because new chicken houses are being built—200 new houses have been permitted for the Delmarva Peninsula.

"We are facing a growing mountain of chicken manure on the Eastern Shore that pollutes our water and threatens public health. This bill will result in better disposal of chicken waste and go a long way to improve local waterways and restore the Chesapeake Bay," said Delegate Clarence K. Lam, MD, MPH (District 12), a member of the House Environment and Transportation Committee.

"Maryland taxpayers and farmers are on the losing end of a rigged game—burdened with hundreds of tons of poultry litter to dispose of each year. This bill would change that," said Delegate Shane Robinson (District 39), also a member of the House Environment and Transportation Committee.

Advocates say asking corporations to take full responsibility for their waste won't put them at a competitive disadvantage, but will put them on a level playing field with other industries that dispose of their own waste.

Some farmers prefer to use manure rather than chemical fertilizers. The bill requires the poultry company to pick up only excess manure that the farmer does not have the ability to use under a nutrient management plan or approved alternative use plan.

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. 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.

This pollution causes algae blooms that threaten public health; kill underwater grasses; harm aquatic life like blue crabs, oysters and fish; and create an enormous "dead zone" in the Bay. Toxic algae blooms, like those that recently occurred in Toledo, Ohio, are on the rise here.

Other Senators co-sponsoring the legislation include: Benson, Feldman, Guzzone, Kelley, King, Lee, Manno, Nathan-Pulliam, Pinsky, Ramirez, Raskin and Young.

Other Delegates co-sponsoring the legislation include: Barnes, Barron, Carr, Cullison, Ebersole, Fennell, Fraser-Hidalgo, Frush, Gilchrist, Haynes, Healey, Hettleman, Hill, Hixson, Holmes, Howard (Carolyn), Kaiser, Kelly, Korman, Kramer, Lafferty, Luedtke, Moon, Morales, Morhaim, Oaks, Pena-Melnyk, Platt, Robinson (Barbara), Rosenberg, Sánchez, Smith, Tarlau, Turner, Valerrama, Vaughn, Waldstreicher, Washington (Alonzo), Washington (Mary) and Young.


The Poultry Litter Management Act has strong support from a growing coalition of organizations, including Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Chesapeake Sustainable Business Council, Food & Water Watch and the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition (Anacostia Riverkeeper, Assateague Coastal Trust, Audubon Naturalist Society, Blue Water Baltimore, Center for Progressive Reform, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Clean Water Action, Environment Maryland, Environmental Integrity Project, Gunpowder Riverkeeper, League of Women Voters of Maryland, Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, Maryland League of Conservation Voters, Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy, Potomac Riverkeeper, Sierra Club—Maryland Chapter, South River Federation, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, West/Rhode Riverkeeper).

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