WASHINGTON – Poultry industry officials Tuesday attacked Vice President Al Gore’s plan to make them share responsibility with independent farmers for chicken waste, calling the proposal unnecessary and heavy-handed.
“There is no need for a massive, intrusive federal regulatory and permitting plan,” said Richard Lobb, spokesman for the National Chicken Council, who called Gore’s proposal “thin on details.”
But environmentalists hailed it as a national step in the right direction.
“Because we’re dealing with national poultry companies, we need national standards,” said Tom Grasso, the Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
“The big companies that own the feed and the birds need to take on a bigger responsibility for the manure problem,” he said.
Gore’s Unified National Strategy for Animal Feeding Operations, which he formally unveiled Tuesday, would recommend the issuance of “co-permits” that cover both farmers who raise animals on contract and the large companies that own the animals. Currently, only the farmers themselves are named on permits.
The vice president’s plan targets large-scale beef, pork and poultry operations and is aimed at reducing runoff of animal wastes from those facilities, which has been linked to environmental problems.
“These new steps will further strengthen our partnerships with communities and farmers across the country to restore our waterways and protect public health,” Gore said in a prepared statement.
In Maryland, where runoff from chicken farms has been linked to outbreaks of the toxic microbe Pfiesteria piscicida in Eastern Shore waterways, state officials said they were already a step ahead of Gore’s plan.
“This is nothing new,” said Quentin Banks, spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment.
The state passed laws last year to control runoff from farm fields, where chicken manure is now spread as fertilizer, and Banks welcomed tougher national standards so that “you’re not just beating on Maryland farmers anymore.”
“Our farms are going to be in compliance due to our required nutrient- management plan,” said Ray Garibay, a statistician with the Maryland Agricultural Statistics Service. “We’re ahead of the game.”
But large poultry businesses were cool to the Gore proposal.
Perdue Foods in Salisbury declined to comment on Gore’s plan, referring calls to the National Chicken Council.
Kenneth Bounds, president of the Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., said the government should let the industry and farmers work out a solution themselves.
“(We’re) disappointed that the federal government has chosen the regulatory route rather than a system that emphasizes incentives and rewards,” Bounds said in a prepared statement.
But a Chesapeake Bay Foundation spokesman said “the corporations that own the chickens and hogs should take responsibility” for the problems their animals create.
“The national standard should at least meet the standards of the Bay states,” said David Slater, citing tough new regulations on farmers in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania. “We’re not sure that it places the bar high enough.”
Also Tuesday, Gore announced an additional $1.3 million for Maryland to control runoff pollution in fiscal 1999. He noted that the administration has included $3.9 million in its fiscal 2000 budget for the state to restore estuaries and control runoff.