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Report: Few poultry farms pay fines when concerns raised

October 28, 2021 GMT

BALTIMORE (AP) — Regulators’ inspections of Maryland poultry farms in recent years turned up water pollution concerns in the majority of cases, but only a few of those operations paid fines, an environmental watchdog group has found.

An Environmental Integrity Project review of inspection records from 2017 through 2020, covering 182 of about 500 Eastern Shore poultry operations, found that more than half the time, regulators found improper animal waste handling, The Baltimore Sun reported. Chicken litter is a major pollutant in the Chesapeake Bay.

The group released a report Thursday raising concerns that the Department of the Environment rarely collects fines, the newspaper said. The department says it tries to help farms fix problems before penalizing them.

“If we are ever going to meet our Chesapeake Bay cleanup goals, Maryland is going to have to get serious about its oversight of the poultry industry, start penalizing chronic waste violations and holding the big poultry companies accountable,” Eric Schaeffer, the project’s executive director, said in a statement.

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State environmental officials told the Sun on Wednesday that they hadn’t seen the report, but said in general that, “a high percentage of violations that are found are associated with record-keeping requirements, as opposed to water quality issues.”

The Department of the Environment is responsible for enforcing permits that set limits on pollution in stormwater runoff or other large releases into waterways.

“Where we do find environmental concerns we focus on returning facilities to compliance with regulations, but we will go after polluters and impose financial penalties when needed,” department officials said in a statement.

A poultry industry group noted that farms have cut the amounts of nutrients that go into the bay in the past 25 years and suggested the report aims to “cripple the business models of family-owned chicken farms in the name of activism.”

“There’s still work to be done by farmers and everyone else who lives in the Bay’s watershed, but reports like this one are simply attempts to distract from the real, tangible progress farmers have made in protecting water quality,” Delmarva Chicken Association spokesman James Fisher said in a statement.

The report found that about 95% of poultry operations that failed inspections had record-keeping problems, but two-thirds of failed inspections also involved waste management problems, including inadequate waste storage. Of the farms that failed an initial inspection, 43% failed a follow-up inspection, the report found.

The state imposed $20,500 in fines on eight of the 78 poultry farms with repeat violations, but actually collected $8,250 in penalties from four, the report said. In some cases, fines were issued but later revoked after paperwork was filed, or when an operation was sold or closed.