WASHINGTON – Environmental groups Thursday repeated demands for strong federal regulation of waste from industrial livestock farms, which they said is “quickly becoming an environmental and public health crisis.”
“When states are left on their own to regulate facilities, they just don’t do the job,” said Robbin Marks, a senior resource specialist with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
But a Delmarva poultry representative said the charges by the NRDC and the Clean Water Network, which released the report on the so-called “animal factories,” are not based in solid science.
“These groups are making the same charges against the poultry industry that they have for years,” said Bill Satterfield, executive director of Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc. “It appears they have just joined together and repackaged their same old material.”
The environmental groups said millions of tons of livestock manure are causing air and water pollution in more than 30 states, including Maryland.
The report said hog and poultry waste runoff, rich in nitrogen and phosphorus, may have been responsible for the 1997 outbreak of Pfiesteria piscicida that caused fish kills in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
Agriculture is responsible for roughly 39 percent of the nitrogen and 47 percent of the phosphorus that pollutes the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries each year, the report stated. It said the 720 million pounds of chicken manure produced in the state each year contain twice as much phosphorus as the human waste produced annually in the state.
But Satterfield said scientific research on the problem is still incomplete and policy-makers should not jump to conclusions without “the benefit of good and complete science.”
“We did not get into this situation with nutrients in the bay and waterways overnight and solutions will not come overnight,” he said. “We need good science to work with us.”
A 1998 law will strengthen state regulation of poultry operations, but the report noted that it will not take full effect for seven years. It also said Maryland’s new regulations wrongly focus on contract growers instead of large poultry companies.
But Satterfield said many poultry farmers are working on their own to “be better stewards of the land and water.”
He said that more than 60 percent of Delmarva’s poultry growers have installed manure-storage structures and dead-bird composters, with some state and federal funding. Poultry companies have added environmental personnel in the last year and Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc. has funded close to $300,000 in environmental research with state agencies.
The environmental groups conceded that 996,000 acres of the state’s 2.1 million acres of farmland are under voluntary nutrient management plans, but they added that it is almost impossible to get reliable data on such operations.
Marks of the NRDC said that, to be environmentally sound, farms need to have enough land to spread manure out and keep it in a dry form, which is less toxic than wet manure. Wet manure is vented into the air and seeps into groundwater more easily.
Satterfield said state poultry companies have agreed to participate in the four-year Maryland Poultry Manure Transport Pilot program, a voluntary program to move waste from areas of excess to areas of need. The plan specifically targets a 20 percent manure removal from Dorchester, Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties.
“Delmarva’s poultry industry favors the pursuit of environmental protection, but we need to make program decisions based on sound, scientific facts if we are going to have a positive influence on the environment,” Satterfield said.