Reporting Alex DeMetrick
BALTIMORE (WJZ)– Environmentalists are pushing harder than ever to get big agriculture to keep animal waste out of waterways and the Chesapeake Bay.
Alex DeMetrick reports on Thursday, that battle opened on a new front.
When farming includes raising animals, there’s no ignoring manure. The more animals, the more waste.
On Maryland’s Eastern Shore, farms paid to raise chickens by companies like Perdue are now the focus of a petition drive. About 35,000 have signed.
“Calling on the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] to keep their waters like the Chesapeake Bay clean from a major threat: manure,” Megan Cronin of Environment Maryland, an advocacy organization, said.
When agricultural waste washes off the land, it feeds algae blooms that cause dead zones.
Environmentalists want companies– not just farmers– to reduce the amount of waste that makes its way into water.
“It’s possible that caps on growth have to be part of the solution until we can figure other ways of controlling manure pollution,” Karen Steuer of the Pew Environment Group said.
This issue is being pressed on multiple fronts.
Just this week in federal court in Baltimore, Perdue is fighting a lawsuit alleging water pollution.
“Perdue is doing its part in helping the independent farm families that raise our chickens be environmentally responsible,” Julie DeYoung, a spokesperson for Perdue Farms, said.
“A lot of it’s been educational improvements, as we learn to make something better, we have,” Lee Richardson, an Eastern Shore farmer, said.
Frederick County farmer Will Morrow has spent money to control animal waste, but:
“I am incurring those costs and expenses as part of my production costs,” he said.
Turning crop land into stream buffers, and spending money on fences to keep animals away from water, means farmers who aren’t doing that:
“Are able to sell their products at a better price point than mine. So we’ve got this perverse system that’s rewarding bad behavior, essentially,” Morrow said.
The petition drive is pushing the EPA to set limits on that behavior by setting limits on pollution from animal waste.
The federal EPA says it will set animal waste rules for the biggest operations– so-called factory farms– next spring.