Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc. Comments on Johns Hopkins University "Survey of Maryland Voters" on Eastern Shore Chicken Industry

An October 2016 on-line survey about the Maryland Eastern Shore chicken industry conducted for Johns Hopkins University produces "results" that have little legitimacy. Given the long-time hostility of Johns Hopkins University to the chicken industry, the validity of these "survey" results easily can be questioned.

To begin with, the design of the questions and the survey results show an amazing lack of knowledge by the Johns Hopkins University. There are constant references to "industrial chicken farming" when in fact the growing of the chickens is in the hands of approximately 800 farm families who grow chickens for the five Maryland Eastern Shore chicken companies. These 800 farm families are operated as independent businesses that contract with the chicken companies. Nearly every farm is family owned and operated by family members. They are not part of large national or international businesses. They are family run businesses and not "industrial" farms. The decision by the Johns Hopkins University to use the term "industry chicken farming" is an intentional effort to demonize these farm families.

Throughout the document, the university uses the term "waste" to describe what we believe is the farm family owned chicken manure and bedding material, commonly referred to as litter. For many chicken growers, the litter has value as a slow release, locally produced organic fertilizer for their farms, for other farms that buy it directly from them, and for farmers who receive on-farm services in exchange for the litter. We are aware of no chicken growers who are paying to have their manure hauled off their farms. For nearly 20 years, the Eastern Shore chicken companies voluntarily have spent millions of dollars to help their growers move unwanted chicken manure off their farms. For the farm families, however, the litter is not a "waste" product but rather a valuable farm asset.

The survey asked whether the 600 people involved in the on-line survey wanted "more oversight" on handling "waste" from the so-called industrial chicken farms. What is meant specifically by "more oversight" is not clear in the survey questions or results. Already through the Maryland Department of Agriculture and the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), strong requirements are in effect to prevent the movement of chicken litter nitrogen and phosphorus into waters of the state. The MDE Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) permit calls for a zero discharge of nutrients from the chicken farm’s production area. Chicken farms required to be covered by the permit must first demonstrate that proper manure handling practices are in place. Stormwater management regulations exist to require systems to capture rainwater to prevent it from moving nitrogen and phosphorous from the chicken houses to nearby waters of the state. The Maryland Department of Agriculture has stringent laws and regulations governing the land application of chicken litter onto farm fields. Already Maryland chicken growers are among the most regulated farmers in the nation.

It is highly unlikely many of the 600 survey participants had any idea about what already is required of chicken growers, even those 100 persons living on the Eastern Shore. We suspect that the Johns Hopkins University survey workers did little to give participants a full and accurate description of what already is in place. The survey results claim an educational program was initiated after the first set of questions, but does not specify who did the education or what was taught. We imagine the information was incomplete and intentionally slanted against the chicken farmers.

The survey results claim that most voters in Maryland, based upon the responses of just 600 persons, "believe that government has a role in working to improve problems in the state versus leaving businesses and individuals to handle issues on their own." The voluntary business relations between farm families and the chicken companies have worked well for more than 50 years and has allowed thousands of families to have good lives and livelihoods. That is part of the reason why there are chicken company waiting lists of persons wanting to get into the chicken growing business. The business relations between chicken companies and the family farms have been regulated at the federal level for decades. There already are many state and local laws governing how the chicken industry operates in Maryland.

The survey results drag out the old and unproven claim that "most chicken growers live below the poverty level." That is sheer nonsense without any basis in fact.

The APPENDIX A "arguments in favor of changes to the industrial chicken farming industry" shown in the survey results indicate an unfortunate lack of knowledge of how the chicken industry works and programs in place to help Maryland chicken growers, Maryland water supplies, and communities on the Eastern Shore.

All in all, the survey appears to be based upon opinions of 600 people who do not understand the chicken industry while trying to justify a government "solution" to problems that are not real. It simply is another attack on our industry by the Johns Hopkins University.

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