Reporting Alex DeMetrick
BALTIMORE (WJZ) — On Maryland’s Eastern Shore, poultry is a big business that involves a lot of small farms. Now both are at the center of a lawsuit in federal court.
Alex DeMetrick reports it’s a first of a kind tactic to reduce pollution from chicken waste.
On the Eastern Shore, farms and waterways intertwine and fertilizer on fields can become runoff in heavy rain. Chicken manure has long been a major source for fertilizer here.
“We like the organic fertilizer because it’s slower release [and] better for the environment,” said Lee Richardson, Save Farm Families.
It is also plentiful. Many farms are paid to raise chickens supplied by companies like Perdue, but not everyone likes that business model. Environmental groups spearheaded by the Waterkeepers Organization came to federal court in Baltimore to sue Perdue for water pollution.
“It’s Perdue that’s responsible for the operation that it’s profiting from,” said Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch.
But to get at Perdue, Alan and Kristen Hudson are also being sued because Perdue chickens raised there allegedly contaminated nearby water. A website called Save Farm Families is helping with their legal defense.
“The hardest part is when she comes to you and says, `What if they take away Daddy’s farm?’ How will I explain that if it comes to that?” said Kristen Hudson.
“Perdue is hiding behind the Hudsons, using them as a human shield rather than taking responsibility for the waste,” Hauter said.
“Well, we’re co-defendants so Waterkeepers has sued both parties and that’s the reality of the case,” said Perdue Farms spokesperson Julie DeYoung.
No matter how this case ends, it will set a legal precedent.
“If the Hudsons are defeated in this case, they’ll just move on to the next small family farm and try to defeat us one by one,” Richardson said.
But those bringing suit say cleaner water–not fewer farms–would result.
As this lawsuit developed over the last few years, state inspectors visited the Hudson family farm. They closed the case, finding no clear link between chicken waste and nearby water pollution.