Poultry industry pledges cleanup Producers promise to control bird waste

October 29, 1997|By Frank D. Roylance and Dennis O'Brien | Frank D. Roylance and Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Douglas M. Birch contributed to this article.

Nine major poultry producers told the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency yesterday that they are moving on their own to reduce the amount of bird waste that reaches the nation's rivers and streams.

Invited to a meeting at the EPA's Region III headquarters in Philadelphia, poultry officials reportedly told federal regulators that industry initiatives will help clean up the water without the need for government requirements that would be more onerous.

"We're obviously just as concerned as anyone about pollution," said David Wiggins, president of Pennsylvania-based Empire Kosher Poultry Inc.

Wiggins said last night that he had not been briefed by the environmental engineer who represented his company at the session.

Pollutants originating with poultry waste are chief suspects in the "bloom" of Pfiesteria piscicida that has killed tens of thousands of fish and might have sickened 30 people on the lower Eastern Shore.

In Baltimore, Pfiesteria researchers from around the country will begin meeting today at the Columbus Center to come up with a blueprint for research on the toxic microbe.

They are expected to draft a report listing the most urgent questions about the single-celled organism. The report probably will guide federal agencies over the next few months as they consider what research to finance, said Donald Anderson, senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

After yesterday's meeting in Philadelphia, EPA Regional Administrator Michael McCabe said, "I definitely felt the industry understands this is an issue they need to address and that their failure to address it could result in regulatory actions on the part of the federal and state governments that they may find difficult to live with."

McCabe said representatives from Empire, Perdue Farms, Tyson Foods, Townsends, Pennfield, Farmers Pride, Wampler, Mountaire Farms and Rocco attended the meeting, which was intended to begin a dialogue on waste issues beyond Pfiesteria and the Chesapeake Bay.

McCabe said the companies revealed few specifics of the initiatives, which are expected to be made public this week.

"They were talking about 'best management practices,' " he said. "They have representatives that go out and talk to growers. They would have those folks work to promote adherence to those best management practices and report back on whether they were being followed."

He said the executives "were quite innovative" and discussed tying the chicken producers' contracts to the use of the best management practices.

On the Delmarva Peninsula, 600 million chickens are produced annually by 2,800 growers, said Kay Richardson, president of Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., the region's trade association.

Environmentalists recommend that farmers install sheds to store chicken manure and that they limit the amount of manure they spread as fertilizer to keep it from being washed into the bay by rain.

McCabe said the industry plans to do more research and to work on changing poultry feed to reduce the amount of phosphorus in chicken litter.

"But they didn't get into how they would be implemented, how it would be policed or what level of resources would be directed toward them," McCabe said. "That's obviously something we're going to want more details on.

"I made it pretty clear, and the states did too, that we have a window of opportunity to come up with a strategy that addresses these needs."

Without that, government action will be necessary, he said.

Also at the meeting were Maryland Environment Secretary Jane T. Nishida and officials from Delaware, West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

In a related development, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation released yesterday a poll conducted this month in which 80 percent of Maryland and Virginia residents surveyed said they would be willing to pay about 10 cents more for a pound for chicken if the money was used to reduce bay pollution.

Two-thirds of the 616 respondents said the poultry companies that pay farmers to raise the chickens should pay to eliminate the pollution if studies show it comes from the poultry farms.

Michael L. Shultz, a foundation spokesman, said the poll had a 5 percent margin of error and was conducted by Widener-Burrows & Associates Inc. of Annapolis, an independent polling company.

Pub Date: 10/29/97

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