Fowl Waste Fouls Our Soil and Water

What’s not “free as a bird” in North Carolina? That would be the costs of dealing with the five million tons of waste produced by the corporate poultry industry each year.

The most recent available data identifies more than 4,750 poultry farms operating in our state, raising over 900 million chickens, turkeys, and other fowl each year. The resulting ten billion annual pounds of poultry waste build up to damage soil health. The waste also pollutes both surface and groundwater via runoff and groundwater infiltration. 

The problems of regulating the corporate hog industry are huge and well-known after decades of public battles. In contrast, the fast-growing poultry industry has even less regulation, reporting to the state Department of Agriculture instead of the Department of Environmental Quality. The independently elected state Agriculture Commissioner traditionally acts as the elected representative of the farming industry, which is historically hostile to regulation — that is certainly the case today.

Like the hog industry, poultry farming is dominated by the major agribusiness corporations. They set the terms under which they contract with farmers to purchase huge numbers of birds. The terms of these contracts, therefore, control every aspect of the way these poultry farms operate. Standard operating procedure elevates cost controls over environmental quality, in service to the corporations’ bottom line. Corporate agribusiness also tends to be especially resistant to public transparency and accountability.

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