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Maryland Fights for Home for Chicken Manure, but Not the Homeless

Just in case there was any uncertainty about Maryland’s priorities, they became much clearer this week with an announcement regarding the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s plan to further relieve the chicken industry of its own waste at public’s expense. In a story from September 10, 2013, MDA Secretary “Buddy” Hance was quoted as saying that the state was taking steps to ensure that “no chicken grower will be without a home for his manure.” So despite the rising homeless crisis in Baltimore, where on a single night in 2011 there were over 4,000 men, women and children living on the streets or in City shelters, the state is now talking about implementing plans to ensure that at least chicken manure has a good home to go to.

Secretary Hance’s comments were made following the chicken industry’s uproar over a proposed emergency regulation to better control phosphorus pollution from manure spread on fields on the Eastern Shore by poultry operations. Excess phosphorus is one of the primary reasons why the Chesapeake Bay is dying and, Bay-wide, manure accounts for 37% of the loads of phosphorus to the waterway. Poultry manure makes up half that amount. In Maryland, the poultry industry contributes even a larger share of state loadings of phosphorus to the Bay.

The problem of the chicken industry and phosphorus pollution has been ongoing, and shows no sign of easing up despite the state throwing hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars at the problem over the past few decades. Programs from cover crops (to absorb phosphorus) to cost share (to build storage sheds for excess manure) to manure transport (to pay industry to moves its own waste off farms) have all been implemented in a failing attempt to reduce the harmful impacts of the chicken industry on the environment and restore the Bay. So while state legislators implemented a $60 “flush tax” on Maryland’s residents in 2012 to help offset the impacts of their waste on the Bay, the chicken industry continues to get paid with your dollars to pollute. In fact, 40% of the flush tax money goes to fund agriculture in the state.

The severity of the problem prompted MDA to propose emergency implementation of a phosphorus application tool this past August that would have required the chicken industry to be a little more careful about dumping its excess manure on fields that simply can’t absorb any more phosphorus. And even this new tool doesn’t completely stop the industry from putting more manure on phosphorus-saturated fields.


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You would think that the industry, given the amount of state taxpayers’ dollars heaped on them over the past many years, would be amenable to any tool that helps them pollute less, but instead, the proposal was met with threats that they would descend on Annapolis by the busload to browbeat state policymakers.

Secretary Hance’s promise to find chicken manure a home also came with a suggestion that more of your money might be used “to help move manure from farms to state storage sites.” Paying the chicken industry to move its own manure around the Eastern Shore is nothing new. In fact, since 2009 the state has given Perdue, the giant Maryland-based chicken company that enjoys annual sales of $4.8 billion and gets to walk away from any responsibility for its own polluting chicken manure, over $1.8 million under the manure transport program to move waste off farms. To add insult to injury, these payments were made to Perdue’s AgriRecycle LLC, a for-profit company that turns chicken manure into pellets for sale as fertilizer. So, in other words, Maryland taxpayers are paying Perdue to pick up waste from its own chickens to bring to its pelletization plant so they can make even more profit.

The $1.8 million Marylanders have handed Perdue to cart manure to its AgriRecycle plant could have been used to fix some of Baltimore’s chronic homelessness problem, which currently stands at 500 men and women without a place to live; it could have provided a home for 123 of those homeless people for a year. But instead of finding those people a home, we’re contemplating increasing funds to provide excess chicken manure with a “home” on state lands so that the chicken industry can continue to not deal with its significant pollution problem.


Michele Merkel

Michele Merkel is co-director of the Food & Water Justice project, and was formerly the Chesapeake Regional Coordinator for Waterkeeper Alliance.

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