Iowa Public Television


Maryland mandates processors must help farmers dispose of poultry waste

posted on December 29, 2000

Large-scale livestock operations remain one of the more contentious issues in Rural America. Opponents of the operations are beginning to gain ground on varyious fronts. At the local level the opposition is influencing zoning laws. In other instances state authorities have won court cases demanding the operations spend literally millions on "next generation" technology to preserve the water and air quality of neighbors. In Colorado, National Hog Farms was forced to close after the state health department threatened to impose daily fines of $50,000 if a manure lagoon remained uncovered.

But, it is on the East Coast that perhaps the most ambitious effort has been launched to regulate confinement livestock operations.<

Maryland mandates processors must help farmers dispose of poultry waste Chicken production, the major industry on Maryland's eastern shore, creates almost 800,000 tons of a combination of sawdust and manure, known as litter, each year. Normally, litter is composted and spread on farm fields. The widely accepted practice came under fire in 1997 when run-off from farms was blamed for polluting waterways in the Pocomoke River valley. The result was the largest outbreak of pfisteria on record. Exposure to the microscopic organism, known more commonly as the "cell from hell", has caused skin lesions on fish and memory loss in humans. In the end, the fishing, shellfish, and tourism industries were devastated.

This week, Maryland announced it will be the first state to require major poultry processors to help the farmers who grow their chickens properly dispose of the litter. Up until now, processors growing animals on contract owned the chickens while their contractors owned the manure.

For their part, major processors, claim they already have disposal plans in place that will meet the Maryland's proposed regulations. Perdue is building a facility that will turn chicken litter into fertilizer pellets and Allen Family Foods is planning to use methane from manure to generate electricity.

However, Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening decided the Industry's good intentions were not enough to guarantee compliance with the state's Clean Water Act. The new environmental regulations mandate that both processor and grower will share in the responsibility of protecting Maryland's waterways.

New operating permits are expected to be issued to processors at the end of January. Without the permits processors will be unable to legally run their production lines and discharge wastewater into nearby rivers and streams.<

Tags: agriculture animals chickens compost industry livestock manure Maryland news poultry