Factory Farms in Maryland
Fact Sheet • February 2011


ver the last two decades, small- and medium-scale livestock farms have given way to factory farms that confine thousands of cows, hogs and chickens in tightly packed facilities. In Maryland, there were 7,000 dairy cows and 33.2 million chickens on the largest operations in 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Census of Agriculture. Poultry
Chicken meat comes from billions of chickens raised on large-scale broiler chicken operations where farmers raise birds on contract for the few poultry processing companies that dominate the industry. The scale of poultry farms has grown rapidly, as growers try to eke out a living by increasing the volume of birds they produce. The number of factory-farmed broiler chickens in Maryland more than doubled, from 13.7 million birds in 1997 to 30.8 million birds in 2007. The average size of broiler operations in Maryland grew 17.3 percent, from about 133,000 birds in 1997 to 156,000 in 2007. Although the poultry companies own the chickens and the feed that goes into them, the farmers are responsible for managing the manure. In many dense poultry production areas, the volume of poultry litter greatly exceeds the capacity of nearby farmland. Total Factory-Farmed Broiler Chickens in Maryland

Concentration of factory farms in Maryland, taken from factoryfarmmap. org. Dark red indicates the most severe density.

The silos and gentle meadows pictured on the labels of the food most Americans buy have little relation to how that food is actually produced. The significant growth in industrial-scale, factory-farmed livestock has contributed to a host of environmental, public health, economic and food safety problems. Tens of thousands of animals can generate millions of tons of manure annually, which pollutes water and air and can have health repercussions on nearby communities. Consumers in distant markets also feel the impacts, either through foodborne illness outbreaks or other public health risks, or through the loss of regional food systems. As consumers saw during the 2010 egg recall, food safety problems on even a few factory farms can end up in everyone’s refrigerators. Even the producers are not benefitting from this system of production because they are not getting paid much for the livestock they raise. The rise of factory farming was no accident. It resulted from policy choices driven by big agribusinesses, especially meatpackers and processors that dominate the links in the food chain between livestock producers and consumers.

Source: USDA.

The nearly 31 million broiler chickens on factory farms in Maryland — mostly on the Eastern Shore — produce as much untreated manure as the sewage from 10 million people, nearly twice the state’s population. Livestock manure from the watersheds that feed the Chesapeake Bay are the source of about one-fourth of the pollution that causes oxygen-depleted dead zones in the bay.

Congress, regulatory agencies and state goverments need to put a stop to the policies that have allowed these facilities to proliferate. They must create and enforce farm and food policies that allow farmers to make a living and do not harm communities, the environment or public health. Take action: Go to to learn more about factory farms in Maryland and to take action to stop the spread of factory farms.

Perdue’s poultry operations in the Chesapeake Bay produce so much more waste than the region can handle that the manure has to be trucked out of the state. In 2009, the Waterkeeper Alliance and Assateague Coastkeeper filed suit Endnotes against a broiler farm and Perdue, which contracted with the farm, for allegedly allowing an uncovered manure pile 1 Taylor, C. Robert. Auburn University. “The Many Faces of Power in to drain into a tributary of the Pocomoke River, leading to the Food System.” Presentation at the DOJ/FTC Workshop on Merger elevated nitrogen, E. coli and fecal coliform levels. Enforcement. February 17, 2004 at 6.

Poultry companies like Perdue control every step of broiler production — they own the birds from the egg to the grocery store. The companies exert tremendous pressure on the farmers that raise the birds, often under abusive contracts that dictate to farmers how to raise the chickens and then collect the birds when they have reached their full weight.1 About half of growers only have one or two processors nearby, so they have little choice but to accept whatever terms the companies offer,2 including requiring significant upgrades to their farms to secure contracts.3 New broiler houses often cost between $350,000 and $750,000 for the two types of facilities that most growers use.4 The contracts do not pay more to the farmers to make these required upgrades.5 Many contract poultry growers barely break even.6 Poultry growers lost money 10 of the 15 years between 1995 and 2009.7 Factory farms cause extensive environmental damage and leave communities with fewer independent family farms, unsafe water, reduced air quality and depressed economies. Instead of benefitting, consumers face foodborne illness outbreaks and public health threats like antibioticresistant bacteria, and fewer real choices about how their food is produced.

3 4 5 6 7

MacDonald, James M. USDA ERS. “The Economic Organization of U.S. Broiler Production.” EIB-38. June 2008 at 13. American Antitrust Institute’s Transition Report on Competition Policy: Chapter 8 Fighting Food Inflation through Competition. 2008 at 304. MacDonald, James M. and William D. McBride. USDA ERS. “The Transformation of U.S. Livestock Agriculture: Scale, Efficiency, and Risks.” EIB-43. January 2009 at 7 and 18. Moeller, David. Farmers’ Legal Action Group, Inc. (FLAG). “Livestock Production Contracts: Risks for Family Farmers.” March 22, 2003 at 5. MacDonald, James M. USDA ERS. “The Economic Organization of U.S. Broiler Production.” EIB-38. June 2008 at 22, 24. Taylor, C. Robert and David Domina. “Restoring Economic Health to Contract Poultry Production.” May 13, 2010 at 9.

For more information: web: email: phone: (202) 683-2500 (DC) • (415) 293-9900 (CA) Copyright © February 2011 Food & Water Watch

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