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Poultry Litter Incineration: An Unsustainable Solution

Poultry Litter Incineration: An Unsustainable Solution

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The poultry industry continues to influence lawmakers to prioritize corporate interests over public health, sound food policy and environmental concerns. Citizens in Maryland and in other states are being asked to bail the industry out of its massive waste problem by financing poultry litter incinerators.
The poultry industry continues to influence lawmakers to prioritize corporate interests over public health, sound food policy and environmental concerns. Citizens in Maryland and in other states are being asked to bail the industry out of its massive waste problem by financing poultry litter incinerators.

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Published by: Food and Water Watch on May 24, 2012
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07/10/2013

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Poultry Litter Incineration: An Unsustainable Solution
In 2011, Maryland requested proposals through its CleanBay Power Project for a new 10 megawatt (MW) plantthat generates electricity by burning poultry litter, whichconsists of manure, bedding, feathers and spilled feed.Poultry processing giant Perdue Agribusiness, Inc., inpartnership with energy company Fibrowatt LLC, sub-mitted a proposal targeting Maryland’s Eastern Shore, with construction and operating costs estimated at $100million.
1
 If approved, the project would allow Perdue and Fi- browatt to sell its energy to the state despite the well-doc-umented health and environmental hazards of burningchicken litter. Despite concerns that burning poultry litterdoes not provide clean energy, similar projects have beenproposed or are in planning stages in North Carolina, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Texas,
2
Con-necticut
3
and Virginia.
4
In regions where factory farming is concentrated, toomuch animal waste is generated for crop
elds and water- ways to absorb without signi
cantly harming the healthof communities and of the environment, despite indus-try claims that burning litter for energy is a long-termsolution for agribusiness’s waste problem.
5
Building new power plants to burn this waste only provides another band-aid for a corporate agriculture system that is envi-ronmentally damaging and unfair to farmers and workers.Moreover, such projects are not economically feasible without signi
cant government subsidies.In order to improve the livelihoods of farmers and protectenvironmental and public health, state lawmakers shouldshift their attention to the unchecked power of Big Ag andreexamine the policies that have encouraged the transfor-mation of the nation’s farms into factories.
Corporate Power and Abuse
The poultry industry is highly concentrated, with fourprocessing companies controlling 58.5 percent of theindustry’s broiler chickens.
6
These vertically integratedcompanies own the birds and control multiple stages of production including the delivery of 
ocks and feed tothe growers.
7
Growers are hired by the poultry companiesthrough “take-it-or-leave-it” contracts that dictate how much growers get paid
8
and when a grower must rebuilda chicken house, thus incurring new debt.
9
In the broilerindustry, production contracts are near universal, cover-ing 98.9 percent of growers.
10
There has not been an opencash market for broilers since the 1950s.
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Poultry companies also abuse the workers further downthe chain in their processing plants, an industry with ratesof injury and illness among the highest of any industry.
12
 In addition to facing dangerous working conditions andsystematic obstacles to receiving worker’s compensation,
13
 poultry processing workers are also subject to widespread wage theft. A survey of 51 poultry processing plants by the U.S. Department of Labor found that each one had violated labor laws by not paying employees wages for allhours worked.
14
 Poultry companies use production contracts to force poul-try growers to accept all
nancial and legal responsibility for securing environmental permits and for managing themassive quantities of manure generated.
15
For example,Maryland’s broiler industry produces 700 million poundsof poultry litter each year, which is routinely spread onMaryland
elds
16
and ends up polluting waterways likethe Chesapeake Bay.
17
A 2010 study estimated that factory farms on Maryland’s Eastern Shore produce 300,384tons of excess poultry litter beyond the capacity of local
T
he poultry industry continues to in
uence lawmakers to prioritize corporateinterests over public health, sound food policy and environmental concerns.Citizens in Maryland and in other states are being asked to bail the industry outof its massive waste problem by 
nancing poultry litter incinerators.
Fact Sheet • May 2012
FOOD
 
cropland to assimilate nutrients.
18
(See Figure 2 for moreon manure amounts exceeding land capacity.) The annualcost of managing animal manure to protect water quality throughout the Chesapeake Bay Watershed is estimated between $127 and $350 million, with the bulk due topoultry litter.
19
 
Greenwashing Corporate Welfare
Projects such as the one proposed by Perdue and Fi- browatt depend on state fuel mandates, tax credits andother incentives. Two assessments conducted in the early 2000s, including one speci
c to Fibrowatt’s earlier pro-posed plant of the same name, concluded that generatingelectricity from poultry litter on the Delmarva Peninsula would not be economically feasible without governmentsubsidies.
22
In addition to funds from Maryland’s CleanBay Power Project, the new plant could potentially alsoqualify for tax credits worth hundreds of thousandsof dollars each year through Maryland’s Clean Energy Production Tax Credit, which provides a 0.85¢/kWh taxcredit over a
 ve-year period. If eligible, the 10 MW plant would receive over $600,000 in tax credits annually, as-suming that it operates at or above 90 percent capacity,like Fibrowatt’s plant in Minnesota.
23
Several state legislatures have accommodated their lawsspeci
cally to incentivize poultry litter–to-energy proj-ects. The current proposal in Maryland follows previousefforts by Fibrowatt to build a poultry litter-
red powerplant in the state going back to 2001.
24
That year alsosaw a failed proposal in the state legislature to providetax credits for energy generated from poultry litter.
25
 In 2008, Maryland quali
ed poultry-litter incinerationfacilities as Tier 1 renewable sources on par with solarand wind as part of the state’s Renewable Portfolio Stan-dard (RPS) target, which requires electricity suppliers togenerate 20 percent of retail sales from ‘Tier 1’ sources by 2022.
26
  At present, Fibrowatt’s 55 MW Fibrominn plant in Ben-son, Minnesota, is the only operational poultry litter-fu-eled power plant in the United States.
27
In 2000, the stateeffectively handed Fibrowatt a substantial taxpayer sub-sidy by expanding its biomass energy mandate to includefacilities that use poultry litter as fuel.
28
The state againaccommodated its laws in 2007 to provide the poultry-litter power projects with property tax exemptions.
29
North Carolina is another state with intensive poultry production (fourth among states in pounds producedin 2010).
30
In 2007, the North Carolina state legislaturepassed a renewable energy bill mandating the use of renewable energy sources including animal waste andrequiring that utility companies obtain at least 900,000megawatt-hours of electricity from poultry waste by 2014.
31
However, even with these incentives in place,prices offered by Fibrowatt for poultry litter to NorthCarolina poultry growers in 2009 were signi
cantly lowerthan the market price of poultry litter used as fertilizer.
32
Environmental Health Impacts
Burning poultry litter may actually produce as muchor more toxic air emissions than coal plants. Analysisconducted by the North Carolina Department of Environ-ment and Natural Resources found that a 57 MW poultry litter combustion plant was permitted to emit levels of carbon monoxide (CO), particulate matter (PM), nitrogenoxides (NOx), and carbon dioxide per unit of po wer gen-

1 Dot = 1,000,000 BroilersUS Total: 8,914,828,122
0 100Miles
0 200Miles0 100Miles
Figure 1:
Number of Broilers and Other Meat-Type Chickens Sold: 2007
 
eration higher than those for new coal plants.
33
In addi-tion, according to information released by the MinnesotaPollution Agency, Fibrominn committed various alleged violations of its permit in 2009, including exceeding itspermitted emissions for CO, NOx, and sulfur dioxide.
34
 According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the evidence is suggestive that exposure to PM-10 (particulate matter on the order of 10 micrometers orless) causes higher rates of respiratory and cardiovasculardisease as well as higher mortality.
37
Another byprod-uct of burning chicken litter, dioxin, is classi
ed by theNational Toxicology Program as a known human carcino-gen.
38
 Poultry litter incineration also releases arsenic. Arsenic- based drugs such as roxarsone are commonly added topoultry feed in factory farms to control intestinal para-sites and to promote growth.
39
Most arsenical drugs fed tochickens are excreted in waste.
40
Tyson Foods and PerdueFarms, two of the largest U.S. poultry companies, claim tohave stopped regularly using arsenic compounds in 2004and 2007, respectively.
41
 
Nevertheless, arsenic emissionsremain a concern for poultry litter-
red power plants. A 2009 modeling study by the North Carolina Departmentof Natural Resources Toxics Evaluation concluded thatemissions from a 50 MW plant in North Carolina wouldput ambient arsenic levels at several times the currentregulatory limit.
42
 The negative impacts of poultry litter incineration arelikely to be borne disproportionately by already vulner-able communities. In 2011, all three proposed poultry 
Figure 2:
Ratio of Manure Available For Land Application To Assimilative CapacityFor Phosphorous, Assuming Off-Farm Export of Manure Within The Country, 1997
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