(ANNAPOLIS, MD)—Environment and budget committee leaders in the Maryland General Assembly are among more than 50 legislators who have thrown their support behind the Poultry Litter Management Act. The bill, introduced today in the Senate and House, would require poultry companies to take responsibility for manure produced by their chickens. Farmers would still be able to keep and use any manure for which they have a state approved plan.
"My constituents in Baltimore, like many Marylanders, are paying to reduce pollution from sewage plants and polluted stormwater runoff. It's only fair that big chicken companies be responsible for their waste," said Senator Joan Carter Conway (District 43), Chair, Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee. "I'm looking forward to this bill being heard in my committee."
"This bill is about corporate accountability, and it's about fairness. Big chicken companies have the necessary resources and the responsibility to dispose of their own waste, just like other industries," said Senator Richard S. Madaleno (District 18) Vice-chair, Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. "Everyone must do their part to mitigate pollution into our state's iconic natural treasure."
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.
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.
The amount of extra manure on the Shore is also increasing because new chicken houses are being built—200 new houses have been permitted for the Delmarva Peninsula.
"We are facing a growing mountain of chicken manure on the Eastern Shore that pollutes our water and threatens public health. This bill will result in better disposal of chicken waste and go a long way to improve local waterways and restore the Chesapeake Bay," said Delegate Clarence K. Lam, MD, MPH (District 12), a member of the House Environment and Transportation Committee.
"Maryland taxpayers and farmers are on the losing end of a rigged game—burdened with hundreds of tons of poultry litter to dispose of each year. This bill would change that," said Delegate Shane Robinson (District 39), also a member of the House Environment and Transportation Committee.
Advocates say asking corporations to take full responsibility for their waste won't put them at a competitive disadvantage, but will put them on a level playing field with other industries that dispose of their own waste.
Some farmers prefer to use manure rather than chemical fertilizers. The bill requires the poultry company to pick up only excess manure that the farmer does not have the ability to use under a nutrient management plan or approved alternative use plan.
Agriculture is the single largest source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay and Maryland waterways. About 44 percent of the nitrogen and 57 percent of the phosphorus polluting the Bay comes from farms, and much of that comes from animal manure. A recent U.S. Geological Service Water report found the rivers of the Eastern Shore have concentrations of phosphorus that are among the "highest in the nation" due to agricultural operations.
This pollution causes algae blooms that threaten public health; kill underwater grasses; harm aquatic life like blue crabs, oysters and fish; and create an enormous "dead zone" in the Bay. Toxic algae blooms, like those that recently occurred in Toledo, Ohio, are on the rise here.
Other Senators co-sponsoring the legislation include: Benson, Feldman, Guzzone, Kelley, King, Lee, Manno, Nathan-Pulliam, Pinsky, Ramirez, Raskin and Young.
Other Delegates co-sponsoring the legislation include: Barnes, Barron, Carr, Cullison, Ebersole, Fennell, Fraser-Hidalgo, Frush, Gilchrist, Haynes, Healey, Hettleman, Hill, Hixson, Holmes, Howard (Carolyn), Kaiser, Kelly, Korman, Kramer, Lafferty, Luedtke, Moon, Morales, Morhaim, Oaks, Pena-Melnyk, Platt, Robinson (Barbara), Rosenberg, Sanchez, Smith, Tarlau, Turner, Valerrama, Vaughn, Waldstreicher, Washington (Alonzo) and Washington (Mary) and Young.
Read a fact sheet about the Poultry Litter Management Act here.
The Poultry Litter Management Act has strong support from a growing coalition of organizations, including Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Chesapeake Sustainable Business Council, Food & Water Watch and the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition (Anacostia Riverkeeper, Assateague Coastal Trust, Audubon Naturalist Society, Blue Water Baltimore, Center for Progressive Reform, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Clean Water Action, Environment Maryland, Environmental Integrity Project, Gunpowder Riverkeeper, League of Women Voters of Maryland, Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, Maryland League of Conservation Voters, Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy, Potomac Riverkeeper, Sierra Club - Maryland Chapter, South River Federation, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, West/Rhode Riverkeeper).