(Posed by Sarah Meyers.)
Last week, Pew Environment Group released a report entitled Big Chicken: Pollution and Industrial Poultry Production in America. The report draws on data from the USDA going back to 1950 and explores the history, growth, and impact of the chicken industry within the “Broiler Belt.” The production of broilers has increased nationally from just over a half billion in 1950 to almost 9 billion in 2007, while the number of farms producing these broilers has decreased from 1.6 million in 1950 to just 27,000 by 2007.
This increase in chicken production has had an unintended consequence: a massive increase in chicken waste in a very concentrated area. This is most apparent on the Delmarva Peninsula, where the density of chickens is extremely high (6 percent of the country’s production on just 0.5 percent of its landmass). The waste produced by chickens in Delaware and Maryland is about 42 million cubic feet or enough to fill the U.S. Capitol dome nearly 50 times. The waste contains nutrients that, when used in moderation, are a good organic fertilizer for crops throughout the region; however, there is too much in too little an area and the excess goes as runoff into the water, be that groundwater, streams, rivers, lakes, or estuaries like the Chesapeake Bay.
Agriculture is by no means the only source responsible for pollution going into the Bay, but it is a significant source of the Bay’s nutrients. Pew recognizes the voluntary efforts being taken by farmers for better nutrient management practices as well as individual state efforts already in place. However, further regulations, as with any industry in the United States, are needed. Based on the report, Pew is making the following recommendations:
- Caps on total animal density.
- Shared financial and legal responsibility for proper waste management between farmers and corporate integrators.
- Monitoring and regulation of waste transported off CAFO sites.
- A requirement that all medium and large CAFOs obtain Clean Water Act permits.