Perdue distorts facts on chicken waste

April 08, 2010

It appears that Luis A. Luna's letter ("Perdue: Chicken waste handled in environmentally responsible manner," April 7) is a continuation of the poultry industry's tendency to speak out of both sides of its mouth regarding environmental impacts from its poultry operations.

To clarify, we fully recognize the value of manure and nutrient management in agriculture. What Mr. Luna fails to acknowledge is that the enormous quantity of manure generated by the industrial production of chicken contains a range of other contaminants of environmental health concern which make it more properly referred to as waste. Aside from feces and urine, the waste stream of these chicken operations includes antibiotic-resistant bacteria, undigested drugs, arsenic (and other heavy metals), nitrogen and phosphorous, and dead chickens.

Moreover, it is not just what's in the manure that is problematic. It's the heavy concentration of the waste produced that overwhelms the capacity of available land for application and leads to pollution. The nutrient content of waste, while extremely useful for crop production in limited quantities, poses serious water quality and environmental and human health concerns when present at higher levels. Mr. Luna's letter is yet another effort by the poultry industry to distort the situation at hand to distract the public from industrial poultry's failures in environmental and human health stewardship.

Contrary to Mr. Luna's perspective, the industry's recognition and action to take ownership of the problem is truly what the public deserves.

Wenonah Hauter and Robert S. Lawrence, Baltimore

Wenonah Hauter is executive director of Food & Water Watch, a D.C.-based national consumer organization. Dr. Robert S. Lawrence is professor of environmental health sciences, health policy and management and international health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and director of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.

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