Federal officials and environmentalists questioned a voluntary plan yesterday by the poultry industry to protect the nation's waters from pollution by chicken and turkey manure.
Industry officials announced Wednesday a "comprehensive" agreement for curbing polluted runoff from farms raising poultry. A key element of the plan, produced after 10 months of talks with farm groups and state and federal officials, calls on poultry growers to control their use of manure as fertilizer over the next decade.
"This is a first step, a definite move forward," said John K. Chlada, director of environmental services for Salisbury-based Perdue Farms, the country's third-largest chicken producer. Chlada was chairman of the Poultry Industry Environmental Dialogue, as the talks were called.
Costs not addressed
Federal officials involved in the talks called the plan "encouraging," but too vague. They said it failed to spell out how the costs of controlling farm runoff would be paid.
The plan, approved at the end of a two-day session in Herndon, calls on Perdue and other poultry companies to "increase funding as needed" to meet federal water quality protection standards.
"Where's the money coming from?" asked W. Michael McCabe, mid-Atlantic regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Environmentalists, who mostly boycotted the talks, criticized the outcome.
"It's the fox guarding the henhouse," said Chris Bedford, head of the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club.
The industry talks grew out of last year's Pfiesteria-related fish kills in the Chesapeake Bay. Farm runoff has been implicated in the growth of the toxic microbe, which, in addition to killing fish, has also been linked to human health problems.
Poultry growers in Maryland, Delaware and Virginia raise 600 million chickens a year that in turn produce 800,000 tons of manure. The volume of nutrient-rich waste is too great to be used on crops growing on the lower Eastern Shore, and has been blamed for fouling some bay tributaries.
Maryland lawmakers voted this year to require runoff control plans by 2005 for farms raising livestock.
The EPA and U.S. Department of Agriculture also unveiled a national strategy in September for protecting rivers, streams and drinking water from contamination by animal waste. That plan calls for regulating only the largest 5 percent of the nation's 450,000 cattle, chicken and hog farms, while letting the other 95 percent take voluntary measures.
Environmentalists favor a government crackdown on large livestock operations, as well as a tax on chicken to pay for farmers' runoff controls.
Regulation not wanted
A poultry industry spokesman suggested such action was unneeded.
"We hope that by coming together as an industry, the plan will make significant progress on this issue and hopefully obviate the need for that kind of regulatory action," said Richard Lobb, spokesman for the National Broiler Council, which had drafted the agreement.
McCabe, who is spearheading the EPA's efforts to deal with poultry runoff, said the industry-written plan does not guarantee that big processing firms, rather than the farmers who raise the animals under contract, would pay for the cleanup.
"Will they protect the growers from bearing all this cost?" he asked.
"Apparently we're going to have to rely on the EPA once again to take the lead," said Thomas V. Grasso, Maryland director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Annapolis-based environmental group.
Pub Date: 12/11/98