01/04/2012 - Chicken is now the most popular meat in the United States, with the average American consuming almost 84 pounds annually. But producing such a vast number of birds to feed this appetite has created pollution problems in several states, according to the Pew Environment Group’s report Big Chicken: Pollution and Industrial Poultry Production in America. The report analyzed 50 years of federal and state government data to describe a business that has been remade by industrialization. It detailed how the industry for broiler chickens (those raised for their meat) now is concentrated in large operations in 15 states. The average facility raises more than 600,000 birds a year.
Big Chicken describes how these concentrated animal feeding operations produce huge amounts of broiler litter—the mix of manure and bedding taken out of the facilities. Growers traditionally have disposed 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. This is particularly evident in the Chesapeake Bay, which is infused with nutrients generated by broiler littler from Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.
Karen Steuer, director of Pew’s Reform Industrial Animal Agriculture campaign, said the report highlighted the effects of the waste on the Chesapeake “because it’s a national test case. The Environmental Protection Agency and six states are working on a large plan to clean up the bay. It’s a huge body of water surrounded by millions of people. And many of those millions are dependent on it for their jobs and their recreation.”
Among the report’s recommendations are monitoring and regulating waste transported from the sites, and limits on the density of animal production based on the ability of crops to absorb nutrients in a given area. Steuer noted that in the spring of 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to issue recommendations on the role of feeding operations in the Chesapeake’s clean-up. “We are working with the agency to get our own recommendations into consideration,” she said. For more on the report, go to www.pewenvironment.org.