Polluting Poultry in the Chesapeake
Did You Know?
- Since 1944, Sussex County, Delaware has annually produced more chickens than any other county in the United States. In 2007 alone, the county produced 211,580,726 chickens—well over 100 chickens for every person in the county.
- Maryland and Delaware produced 523,400,000 chickens in 2009—that's 6 percent of the country's chickens on less than 0.5 percent of the country's landmass.
- Those 523 million chickens excreted nearly 6 billion pounds of manure.
The largest estuary in the United States, the Chesapeake Bay is a vital economic engine and natural treasure. It is known for the seafood harvested from its waters—more than 500 million pounds every year—and the rest, recreation and relaxation it provides to countless visitors.
Sadly, the Chesapeake is also known for the pollution that has dramatically damaged its once-abundant populations of blue crabs, rockfish and oysters. Decades ago, scientists determined that excessive levels of nitrogen and phosphorus were putting the Bay's living resources in peril, so the states in the Chesapeake Bay watershed—Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia— joined by federal agencies, made a bold commitment to reduce those discharges.
Today, as Bay leaders still struggle to make good on that commitment, a long-overlooked source of pollution has become apparent: Large-scale industrial animal agriculture operations in the Bay region are producing huge volumes or manure and manure-related pollutants.
Although human waste is treated to remove pathogens and reduce the levels of phosphorus and nitrogen before it is released into the environment, animal waste is not. For the most part, manure is simply spread on cropland as fertilizer. Large poultry operations on the Delmarva Peninsula and elsewhere in the Bay region now produce far more manure than crops grown in the area can absorb. The excess is washed off of cropland or seeps through the groundwater, ending up in the Bay, waters, where it robs the water of oxygen, fuels the growth of harmful algae and holds back the Bay's long-term recovery.
Against this backdrop, the agribusiness sector has been among the most vocal in fighting the efforts to reduce pollution. To reach those ambitious and important goals, large animal agribusiness must join all other polluting sectors in developing real solutions.