Statements and Responses
Perdue answers questions from Cecil County, Md.
Q: Why does Perdue want to grow chickens in Cecil County?
A: We’re growing more organic chickens to meet the increasing demand from consumers who are increasingly concerned about how their food is raised. Since organic chickens never receive antibiotics and have outdoor access, we can better protect them from potential disease by raising them away from conventional poultry farms. Also, because an operation has to be free of chemical use for a period of three years (or undergo mitigation), and because organic requirements prohibit such materials as pressure treated wood, many existing poultry operations cannot be easily transitioned to organic. We also need to find farmers whose land surrounding the poultry operation will meet the strict requirements of organic production.
SMELLS, DUST AND NOISE
Q: Isn’t there a lot of dust and noise from the fans?
A: No agricultural operation of any kind is without some noise and dust. We work with our growers to ensure that chicken houses are situated with enough distance between the poultry operation and nearby residences to allow any dust to settle or dissipate. At that distance, the sound of the fans is barely noticeable. Vegetative buffers capture dust and reduce noise.
Q: What about the smells from a poultry operation?
A: Smells from a properly managed poultry operation should be noticed only a few times a year, between flocks. A farm typically raises about five flocks per year. Neighbors may notice smells when chickens are picked up to go the plant, and for a few days while the farmer prepares the houses for the next flock. Here’s how Tom Philpott, writing for Mother Jones, describes the smell inside a chicken house raising for Perdue: “Stepping into the 20,000-square-foot barn with its 40,000 chickens, I brace for an unbearable stench. Instead, I get a mild barnyard manure smell and a much stronger, toasty, sweet aroma of chicken feed—a mix of corn and soybeans that I remember from my own days tending a small outdoor flock. There is no stench, I realize, because the chicken house is well ventilated and clean …”
Strong smells from a poultry house come from moist litter, which emits ammonia. We require growers to maintain their houses so that the litter stays dry, which minimizes smell inside – and outside – the poultry house.
Q: What about when litter is spread on the land?
A: The smell is only present when the litter is being applied. After a day or two, the odor is gone. However, not all poultry growers use litter on their fields, and not all crop farmers who use litter have poultry houses. Any natural or organic non-chemical fertilizer is going to have some smell when it is applied to the land.
Q: How can neighbors be confident there aren’t health risks?
A: Families have been raising chickens for Perdue for more than six decades. That’s several generations of farm families who have grown up around chicken houses, and hundreds and hundreds of parents who trust a farm is a healthy place to raise kids. Numerous scientific articles and studies point out that children raised on farms have significantly fewer allergy and respiratory problems.
Q: What about bacteria spreading from the fans?
A: Most of the concern about bacteria from poultry operations centers on antibiotic resistant bacteria. Organic production does not use antibiotics, so there is no contribution to antibiotic resistance in bacteria.
Q: What about people with allergies or other health issues?
A: Once dust and other particulates drift past the farm, they are so dissipated that they are less of a concern than what’s already naturally in the air. Concentrations of particulate matter studied at residences close to other farms found that the levels are much lower than those known to impact human health.
Q: What about nitrates getting into the water?
A: The litter in poultry houses is enclosed. A recent health department study that looked at more than 100 poultry farms found no correlation between the location of chicken houses and wells.
Q: What about avian influenza?
A: The strains of avian influenza identified in North?America are not the same as those associated with rare cases of human infection in Asia. Biosecurity, continuous health monitoring and testing of each flock minimize the potential for an outbreak in commercial chicken flocks. Since avian influenza originates in migratory waterfowl, birds flying overhead present a much greater risk for spreading avian influenza than a does a nearby poultry farm.
Q: What kind of run-off is there from a poultry farm?
A: Poultry houses are enclosed and there is no liquid waste, so there is no manure discharge from poultry houses. Litter stored on the farm has to be kept in a covered manure storage building with a concrete floor to prevent run-off. Concrete pads at the main doors to the poultry house provide further assurance that litter is not tracked from the poultry house to the environment by the occasional farm vehicle traffic in and out of the poultry house.
Even though manure on a poultry operation is not exposed to rain, every poultry operation has to have an approved storm water management plan.
Q: What about airborne emissions? Aren’t there nutrients in the air blowing out of a chicken house?
A: Farmers maintain grassy areas and plant vegetative buffers to absorb any nutrients that might be drawn out by exhaust fans
Q: But what about all the nutrients in the litter; don’t they still eventually get into the water?
A: Every poultry operation must have a state-approved nutrient management plan. Perdue will not place chickens on a farm that does not have one. The nutrient management plan ensures that the litter from the farm is managed in an environmentally responsible manner, no matter where or how it ends up being used.
Q: Don’t poultry farms spread their litter on the land?
A: Not all poultry growers use manure on their land, and not all farmers who use manure have poultry houses. While poultry growers are responsible for making sure the litter from their farms is used in accordance with an approved nutrient management plan and Maryland Phosphorus Management Tool (PMT), crop farming and poultry production are two separate activities. No matter who uses the litter, that use has to be in accordance with an approved nutrient management plan and PMT that ensures the soil can accept the nutrients.
Q: What about growers who don’t have a use for their litter? What happens to that litter? Where does it go?
A: No Perdue grower is stuck with litter they can’t use or don’t want. Perdue is the first, and still only, poultrycompany on Delmarva providing an alternative to land application. For 15 years, Perdue AgriRecycle has been collecting litter – for free – from any grower who can’t or doesn’t want to use it. Perdue AgriRecycle converts litter into a pasteurized, pelleted organic fertilizer that supports organic production across the US and is also a component in organic fertilizers sold in stores.
Q: But isn’t putting litter on the land bad for the environment?
A: Any fertilizer, when applied in greater quantities than needed by crops, has the potential to generate nutrient run-off. However, crops need fertilizers. Nutrient management plans govern what kinds of nutrients, and in what amount the crops need and can use. For fields that can use the mix of nutrients in poultry litter, chicken manure provides organic material and micronutrients that improve soil health and reduce potential run-off in a way chemical fertilizers cannot. That is why manure is a cornerstone of organic production methods.
Q: What kinds of pesticide, herbicides and chemicals will be used? Any poisons for pest control?
A: Organic production prohibits the use of any chemical pesticides, herbicides or chemicals.
Q: Don’t poultry houses use a lot of water, and will that affect our aquifers?
A: You can’t raise animals or crops without water, but the amount of water used by a chicken farm is not enough to impact normal water supplies. On average, a chicken consumes less than 7 ounces of water per day. By comparison, the EPA estimates that the average family of four uses 400 gallons of water per day. A farm with 120,000 chickens will use less water than 16 residential properties, and does not send a drop to septic systems or wastewater treatment outputs.
Q: Won’t there be an increase in truck traffic?
A: Truck traffic to a poultry farm is spread out and not continuous. Chick trucks will deliver day-old chicks to the farm, and live haul trucks will take the chickens to the plant when they reach market age. In between, feed trucks deliver to the farm about once a week – less often when the chickens are small, and a little more often as they mature.