The Politics of Poultry on Maryland's Eastern Shore | WYPR

The Politics of Poultry on Maryland's Eastern Shore

Lower Eastern Shore residents live among tens of millions of chickens being raised for poultry companies like Perdue Farms, Tyson Foods and Mountaire Farms. As they urge state and local lawmakers to curb the growing billion-dollar industry, they face stiff opposition.

They've pressed elected officials to study how those chickens — and all that manure — affect the air they breath. Studies suggest the chickens' dust, dander, and ammonia can affect neighbors' health. But as they urged the Maryland General Assembly to fund a local study, the poultry industry pushed back with more  studies that show the opposite — that the chicken farms have no negative health impacts. 

Eventually, the poultry industry trade group, Delmarva Poultry Industry (DPI), joined forces with the Campbell Foundation and the Maryland Department of Environment, which is charged with regulating poultry farms. The group proposed their own air monitoring project to collect data at two locations on the Lower Eastern Shore. That project has yet to begin.

Meanwhile, the community  fighting for new legislation in Maryland’s General Assembly to create some limits for the state's chicken industry.

The WYPR News series The Politics of Poultry on Maryland's Eastern Shore explores what happens when the community rasies questions about their health and the powerful industry behind the massive chicken farms next door.

Mary Rose Madden / WYPR

Maryland’s chicken industry, centered on the Eastern Shore, produces billions of pounds of broilers and fryers every year. It also has produced millions of pounds of chicken waste that environmentalists say have harmed the health of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

Now, folks who live near those farms are worrying about how all those chickens are affecting their health as well.

Rachel Baye

The farm in Delmar where April Ferrell grew up and still lives is surrounded by chicken farms. 

Sitting on a golf cart in her yard, Ferrell indicated the lot next door, where she said her parents built two small chicken houses in the 1980s. Then she pointed in the other direction, across the street, where four newer, 600-foot-long chicken houses were visible.

According to data from the Maryland Department of the Environment, that farm across the street — what’s known as a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, or CAFO — has about 47,000 chickens at a time.