Glendening appoints committee to study effects of hog farms

Factory-style operations creating contention

July 16, 1999|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening has decided to appoint a task force to study the economic and environmental effects of large, factory-style hog farms in Maryland.

Responding to a request from House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., Glendening said he has directed his secretaries of agriculture and environment to pick "qualified individuals" to conduct the inquiry.

"We must avoid the well-publicized mistakes that have been made in other states," the governor wrote in a July 6 letter to Taylor. "Ultimately, we want our farmers to have the opportunity to profit from this agricultural enterprise without compromising our commitment to environmental excellence."

Spokesmen for Secretary of the Environment Jane T. Nishida and Agriculture Secretary Henry A. Virts said yesterday the two had not identified who might be on such a task force, but planned to move forward soon.

Large hog farms have become a contentious issue in Western Maryland and on the Eastern Shore. A Frederick County man opened a 4,000-pig farm in Rocky Ridge last year, prompting complaints of odors and fears of pollution problems similar to those in hog-heavy states such as North Carolina.

In March, the Frederick County Commission passed the state's first moratorium on the large feedlots, banning new operations with 250 hogs or more for one year. But some farmers, particularly in the economically fragile dairy industry, say that running large, factory-style operations under contract to large corporations may be the only way they can keep farming.

Maryland Sierra Club President Chris Bedford was happy to hear of the task force, for which his organization had been lobbying. "It's incumbent on the state to take a look at how this technology affects farm income," he said.

George A. Chmael, acting executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, praised the governor's plans yesterday. "We're glad to see that they're bringing together a task force to look into the problem of industrial animal rearing in the state," he said. "Given the events of the past year, it's an appropriate issue to be looking at."

In the letter to Taylor, Glendening reaffirmed his commitment to proceed with groundbreaking regulations that would make poultry companies in Maryland responsible for the manure generated by their chicken growers, who work under contract.

Taylor has questioned the proposal as "overreaching," saying that trying to hold companies accountable for farmers whom they don't actually employ could create "an untenable situation."

Federal regulations introduced last March paved the way for Maryland's action, giving states the option of holding companies responsible under the Clean Water Act for runoff produced by the animals they sell.

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