Editorial: November/December 2009
By Marg Land
Every morning when I plunk myself down before my computer, I am greeted
by a long list of news items detailing the latest happenings related to
the manure and nutrient management industries.
Every morning when I plunk myself down before my computer, I am greeted by a long list of news items detailing the latest happenings related to the manure and nutrient management industries.
Many detail the newest anaerobic digester opening, manure management seminar, trade show, permitting issue or alleged manure spill. Some are amusing, describing the latest prank at an agricultural university, a group protest involving the dumping of manure or an inventive tinker who has a cannon that shoots manure. But recently, one news item caught my eye, not because it was funny or educational, but because I found it extremely alarming.
The article, entitled "Chicken Litter: The Aerial Hunt for Poultry Manure", ran in the Nov. 3 issue of the Wall Street Journal. As my eyes quickly scanned through the story, I smiled, wondering why the guy had to use an airplane to find poultry manure. Why not contact a local poultry producer? He or she probably has tons.
And then I reached the meat of the article.
According to journalist Lauren Etter’s feature, 70-year-old retired Marine officer Rick Dove is flying in the sky over the Delmarva Peninsula searching for piles of chicken poop. When he finds a suspect pile, he takes photos of it and marks the GPS coordinates so he and an attorney can make a ground visit later to collect water samples. As a result of his volunteer work, Dove has assisted in “dozens” of lawsuits against farmers and large-scale livestock producers. He was also instrumental in gathering the information that became the basis of the lawsuits against the hog industry in North Carolina.
Why is he doing this?
According to the article, when Dove retired from the Marines, he started a commercial fishing operation near Havelock, N.C. In 1991, that operation ceased to run after a major fish kill in the nearby Neuse River. A few years later, he decided to help a group look for potential polluters. Dove set his sights on manure.
What I find alarming about this issue is the narrow focus that is being applied to poultry producers in this area. If a poultry operation has a pile of chicken litter on its property, then it must be guilty of contaminating Chesapeake Bay. What about other sources of pollution, such as lawn fertilizers, human sewage or contamination from industry located in the area? Is Mr. Dove observing and taking photos of other possible sources of water contaminants or is it just poultry litter?
This “volunteer” operation has decided that poultry producers are guilty until they prove themselves innocent. By concentrating just on poultry operations, they are handpicking the evidence needed to prove their hypothesis. In the rush to persecute, they just might be missing the truth.