February 23, 2016

Bill to shift burden from Maryland farmers, taxpayers gets hearings in Senate and House this week

ANNAPOLIS, MD. – Maryland residents, farmers and environmental and health advocates rallied today in front of the State House to support the Poultry Litter Management Act (SB 496/ HB 599), a commonsense bill that would shift the burden of cleaning up the litter from big poultry operations away from Maryland contract farmers and taxpayers onto the big chicken companies that own the birds. The rally came just before the bill was scheduled for hearings in the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee this afternoon, and in the House of Delegates Environment and Transportation committee on Wednesday.

“For far too long, Maryland’s Big Chicken industry has reaped massive profits while leaving taxpayers and farmers to clean up its massive piles of excess manure,” said Michele Merkel, co-director of the Food & Water Justice program at Food & Water Watch. “The Poultry Litter Management Act does what’s simple common sense: makes the big poultry companies responsible for their own waste.”

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.

“The cost of disposing of litter can be prohibitive for the chicken growers, who are constantly struggling to make ends meet,” says Carole Morison, a former contract grower for Perdue. “The Poultry Litter Management Act is good for growers: It would let farmers keep and use as fertilizer any manure for which they have a state approved plan, and then the big chicken companies like Perdue would have to dispose of the rest.”

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.

“Eastern Shore residents have watched as our local waters – including our largest river, the Choptank – have grown more and more polluted due to agricultural pollution,” said Matt Pluta, Choptank Riverkeeper and a Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition partner. “Asking poultry companies to take responsibility for their own birds’ manure just makes sense, and it would help make sure we have the resources we need to keep pollution out of our waterways.”

The U.S. Geological Survey recently released a report showing that Eastern Shore waterways have levels of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution that are among the “highest in the nation,” and increasing, due to agricultural operations.

“To fully realize our clean water goals, we all have to accept responsibility,” said Alison Prost, Maryland Director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “Marylanders already pay the flush fee to upgrade sewage treatment plants and septic systems and subsidize agriculture in many ways. It’s not fair that Maryland taxpayers might have to pay $4 million a year to transport chicken poop so that it doesn’t become a pollution source.”

The Poultry Litter Management Act, introduced earlier this month in the Senate by Richard S. Madaleno (District 18) and Joan Carter Conway (District 43), and in the House of Delegates by Clarence K. Lam, MD, MPH (District 12) and Shane Robinson (District 39), has attracted the support of more than 50 legislators.

Other Senators co-sponsoring SB 496 include: Benson, Feldman, Guzzone, Kelley, King, Lee, Manno, Nathan-Pulliam, Pinsky, Ramirez, Raskin and Young.

Other Delegates co-sponsoring HB 599 include: Barron, Carr, Cullison, Ebersole, Fennell, Fraser-Hidalgo, Frush, Gilchrist, Haynes, Healey, Hettleman, Hill, Hixson, Holmes, Howard (Catherine), Kelly, Korman, Kramer, Lafferty, Luedtke, Moon, Morales, Morhaim, Oaks, Pena-Melnyk, Platt, Robinson (Barbara), Smith, Tarlau, Turner, Valerrama, Vaughn, Waldstreicher, Washington (Alonzo) and Washington (Mary).

Read a fact sheet about the Poultry Litter Management Act here.

Download this press release (PDF)