Holding industry accountable
Farmers want clean water and a healthy environment for their families as much as anyone. Many farmers go above and beyond what is required by law, just to ensure they are doing everything they can to minimize pollution. Unfortunately, our food system is dominated by big corporations—especially in the area of poultry farming. Big poultry companies take advantage of loopholes that maximize their profits while shifting the burden of responsibility for their pollution to us, the taxpayers. Because of these loopholes, agriculture pollution is the leading source of pollution entering the Chesapeake Bay.
According to the Chesapeake Bay Program, agricultural sources account for 44% of all nitrogen and 57% of all phosphorus entering the Bay. These two major pollutants are largely due to excess poultry manure that oversaturates the soil and enters nearby waterways. This manure can also include growth hormones, antibiotics, and pathogens that degrade the quality of our water, contribute to the loss of aquatic life and contaminate our drinking water sources.
Large agricultural corporations must take responsibility for their pollution – just as other industries are required to do with other sources of pollution.
Astoundingly, big poultry companies bear no responsibility for much of the pollution they create. They game the system by contracting with Maryland farmers to grow millions of birds every year, but then burden these farmers with the hundreds of tons of excess manure generated by the birds. While poultry manure can make a great fertilizer, research shows that much of the manure spread on farm fields on Maryland’s lower Eastern Shore in 2013 was spread on soil that simply couldn’t absorb any more fertilizer. This means that it likely found its way to our local waterways rather than being used for crop growth.
Maryland does have a program that assists farmers with transporting excess manure. But even in this program, in which taxpayers cover much of the cost of transporting the manure off the farm, Marylanders cannot track where the manure goes, or be assured it does not ultimately end up back in our waterways. Taxpayer dollars also support best practices on agricultural land with the goal of protecting local waters from manure pollution – but we deserve to know if these practices are working, or even if they are being maintained. Without proper transparency and accountability, this is impossible.
Fair Farms believes we need to fix this unfair and unsustainable system by requiring big chicken companies to take responsibility for their own waste product – just as other industries are required to do. Maryland will have cleaner waters and healthier communities and we’ll all enjoy a more bountiful Chesapeake Bay when big chicken companies are required to find solutions to their manure problem.