Environmental activists set their sights on Delmarva’s chicken industry

Environmental activists in Maryland have set their sights on Delmarva’s chicken industry, calling on elected officials in Annapolis to issue a moratorium to halt all future expansion of poultry factory farming on the Eastern Shore.

Earlier this week, ahead of the primary election, a statewide media briefing was held jointly by Friends of the Earth Action and Food and Water Action, two environmental advocacy groups, who have launched serious lobbying efforts in Maryland’s capitol to pressure political leaders to crack down on the state’s poultry industry.

The groups are calling for Maryland’s next governor, whoever that might be, to issue an immediate moratorium on all future factory farming related to the poultry industry. Together, they cited a poll that reportedly found that a majority of Marylanders want increased regulatory enforcement when it comes to the chicken industry on Delmarva.

The poll was commissioned by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future as part of their Food Citizen Project and administered by GQR, a public opinion research firm. The poll found that an overwhelming majority of Maryland residents (89% of respondents) want to see greater enforcement and monitoring of the Clean Water Act on factory farms, according to the groups findings. The poll also showed that 80% of respondents were in favor of tougher environmental standards, even on smaller Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs)—industrial-sized livestock operations—and 59% support a statewide limit on the construction of new and expanded industrial chicken farm production facilities.

“Primaries are just around the corner, Maryland voters are clear that taking on big-ag is a priority in our state, and Maryland’s next governor and general assembly must commit to doubling down on this destructive industry and passing a moratorium on factory farms,” explained Lily Hawkins, Maryland organizer with Food & Water Action.

Hawkins went on to raise alarming claims of serious pollution that she says is harming the health of Marylanders on the Eastern Shore, and is damaging local waterways, including the Chesapeake Bay.

“Factory farms on the Eastern Shore emit ammonia, particulate matter, and endotoxins, which are all respiratory irritants that are linked to lung disease,” Hawkins said. “They also emit human pathogens and volatile organic compounds which irritate your eyes, throat, which you may have felt if you were near one of the big chicken factory farms down there on the Eastern Shore. Many Marylanders are familiar with the impacts of runoff from the chicken houses on the health of the Bay with nitrates and nitrogen seeping also into the ground water and not just the Chesapeake Bay, so it can destroy people’s well-water which is something very expensive to remediate.”

The Delmarva Chicken Association was quick to fire back, issuing a response refuting the claims made by the activists and highlighting how their industry has taken steps to address the issues of pollution on Delmarva.

“Issue polls from groups that want to ban modern farming on Delmarva, and break a the chicken community’s $4.2 billion economic engine in the process, don’t tell us much,” said Holly Porter, executive director for the Delmarva Chicken Association. “The fact is that farmers on Delmarva – chicken farmers, grain farmers and others — have consistently improved environmental practices, and that’s a big reason why researchers are now documenting better water quality in our region’s rivers and bays.”

Porter went on state that poultry farming has taken great steps over the years to address concerns raised about pollution and cited how that has allegedly resonated with officials at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“Scientists confirm that farms on Delmarva have gotten better over time in keeping nutrients out of our waterways, even as areas with a lot of homebuilding and development have increased their rate of pollution,” Porter said. “Farmers live here too, and they want a safe, healthy environment just as their neighbors do. And chicken farming is already heavily regulated, with farmers juggling no-discharge permits, stormwater regulations, and local planning and zoning codes, among other regulations. Just last week, a top EPA official, in reviewing a new report about the Chesapeake Bay, said: ‘The Bay states are stepping up and making an impact, especially in the agriculture sector.'”

Delmarva’s chicken industry is a major part of the regional economy. According to an economic impact study by John Dunham & Associates, the chicken industry creates or supports 29,085 jobs in Delaware; 23,965 jobs in Maryland; and 5,035 jobs on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.

Delmarva’s five chicken companies – Amick Farms, Allen Harim, Mountaire Farms, Perdue Farms and Tyson – spent $152 million on capital improvements to processing plants, hatcheries and wastewater treatment systems, a $37 million increase from 2020.

Categories: Delaware, Local News, Local Politics, Maryland