Broiler chickens are produced by the millions in industrial facilities concentrated in just a handful of states, and much of the waste they produce ends up polluting the nation's waterways. These are just two issues highlighted in a new report released today by the Pew Environment Group.
“In just over 50 years, the broiler industry has been transformed from more than 1 million small farms spread across the country to a limited number of massive factory-style operations concentrated in 15 states,” said Karen Steuer, who directs Pew's efforts to reform industrial animal agriculture. “This growth has harmed the environment, particularly water, because management programs for chicken waste have not kept pace with output.”
The report, “Big Chicken: Pollution and Industrial Poultry Production in America,” compiles and analyzes 50 years of federal and state government data to describe a business that has been remade by industrialization. Key findings include:
“Big Chicken” describes the emergence of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and the environmental impact of this industrial-scale production. The process creates massive amounts of broiler litter, the mix of manure and bedding taken out of the CAFO. Growers typically dispose of litter by spreading it on open fields or cropland, but when it is overapplied or poorly managed, rain washes it into streams and rivers, causing significant water-quality problems. A case in point is the Chesapeake Bay, which is infused with excess nutrients generated by broiler litter from the adjacent Delmarva Peninsula. Maryland and Delaware alone produce roughly 523 million chickens a year, along with an estimated 42 million cubic feet of litter—enough to fill the U.S. Capitol dome nearly 50 times annually, or almost once a week.
“The environmental consequences of the broiler business's explosive growth are especially profound in the Chesapeake Bay, one of the nation's most important, scenic and threatened bodies of water,” said Robert Martin, an expert on industrial animal agriculture reform at the Pew Environment Group. “Instead of working to limit the effects of all this chicken waste, the industry has fought to avoid responsibility for cleaning up one of our national treasures.”
To address the environmental toll of industrialized poultry production, the Pew Environment Group recommends: