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Pew report describes water pollution from poultry


August 3, 2011
By Pew Environmental Group

chickens01NEWS HIGHLIGHT

Pew report describes water pollution from poultry

Broiler
chickens are produced by the millions in industrial facilities concentrated in
just a handful of states, and much of the waste they produce ends up polluting
the nation’s waterways. These are just two issues highlighted in a new report released July 28 by the Pew Environment Group.

July 28, 2011 – Broiler
chickens are produced by the millions in industrial facilities concentrated in
just a handful of states, and much of the waste they produce ends up polluting
the nation’s waterways. These are just two issues highlighted in a new report released
today by the Pew Environment Group.

“In just over 50 years,
the broiler industry has been transformed from more than 1 million small farms
spread across the country to a limited number of massive factory-style
operations concentrated in 15 states,” said Karen Steuer, who directs Pew’s
efforts to reform industrial animal agriculture. “This growth has harmed the
environment, particularly water, because management programs for chicken waste
have not kept pace with output.”

chickens01  
   

The report, Big Chicken:
Pollution and Industrial Poultry Production in America
, compiles and analyzes
50 years of federal and state government data to describe a business that has
been remade by industrialization. Key findings include:

  • In less than 60 years, the
    number of broiler chickens (which are raised for their meat) raised yearly has
    skyrocketed 1,400 percent, from 580 million in the 1950s to nearly 9 billion
    today.
  • Over the same period, the
    number of producers has plummeted by 98 percent, from 1.6 million to just over
    27,000 and concentrated in just 15 states.
  • The size of individual
    operations has grown dramatically. Today, the typical broiler comes from a
    facility that raises more than 600,000 birds a year.

Big Chicken describes
the emergence of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and the
environmental impact of this industrial-scale production. The process creates
massive amounts of broiler litter, the mix of manure and bedding taken out of
the CAFO. Growers typically dispose of litter by spreading it on open fields or
cropland, but when it is over applied or poorly managed, rain washes it into
streams and rivers, causing significant water-quality problems. A case in point
is the Chesapeake Bay, which is infused with excess nutrients generated by
broiler litter from the adjacent Delmarva Peninsula. Maryland and Delaware
alone produce roughly 523 million chickens a year, along with an estimated 42
million cubic feet of litter – enough to fill the U.S. Capitol dome nearly 50
times annually, or almost once a week.

“The environmental
consequences of the broiler business’s explosive growth are especially profound
in the Chesapeake Bay, one of the nation’s most important, scenic and
threatened bodies of water,” said Robert Martin, an expert on industrial animal
agriculture reform at the Pew Environment Group. “Instead of working to limit
the effects of all this chicken waste, the industry has fought to avoid
responsibility for cleaning up one of our national treasures.”

To address the
environmental toll of industrialized poultry production, the Pew Environment
Group
recommends:

  • Limits on the density of
    animal production based on the capacity of crops to absorb nutrients in a given
    area, especially in areas without alternatives to managing the animal waste.
  • Shared financial and legal
    responsibility between poultry growers and corporate integrators (the large
    corporations that contract with growers) for managing waste.
  • Monitoring and regulation
    of waste transported off CAFO sites.
  • Requirements for all
    medium and large CAFOs to obtain Clean Water Act permits.


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