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Poultry Litter Incineration: An Unsustainable Solution

Fact Sheet May 2012 he poultry industry continues to inuence 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 nancing poultry litter incinerators.
In 2011, Maryland requested proposals through its Clean Bay Power Project for a new 10 megawatt (MW) plant that generates electricity by burning poultry litter, which consists of manure, bedding, feathers and spilled feed. Poultry processing giant Perdue Agribusiness, Inc., in partnership with energy company Fibrowatt LLC, submitted a proposal targeting Marylands Eastern Shore, with construction and operating costs estimated at $100 million.1 If approved, the project would allow Perdue and Fibrowatt to sell its energy to the state despite the well-documented health and environmental hazards of burning chicken litter. Despite concerns that burning poultry litter does not provide clean energy, similar projects have been proposed or are in planning stages in North Carolina, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Texas,2 Connecticut3 and Virginia.4 In regions where factory farming is concentrated, too much animal waste is generated for crop elds and waterways to absorb without signicantly harming the health of communities and of the environment, despite industry claims that burning litter for energy is a long-term solution for agribusinesss waste problem.5 Building new power plants to burn this waste only provides another band-aid for a corporate agriculture system that is environmentally damaging and unfair to farmers and workers. Moreover, such projects are not economically feasible without signicant government subsidies. In order to improve the livelihoods of farmers and protect environmental and public health, state lawmakers should shift their attention to the unchecked power of Big Ag and reexamine the policies that have encouraged the transformation of the nations farms into factories.

Corporate Power and Abuse

The poultry industry is highly concentrated, with four processing companies controlling 58.5 percent of the industrys broiler chickens.6 These vertically integrated companies own the birds and control multiple stages of production including the delivery of ocks and feed to the growers.7 Growers are hired by the poultry companies through take-it-or-leave-it contracts that dictate how much growers get paid8 and when a grower must rebuild a chicken house, thus incurring new debt.9 In the broiler industry, production contracts are near universal, covering 98.9 percent of growers.10 There has not been an open cash market for broilers since the 1950s.11 Poultry companies also abuse the workers further down the chain in their processing plants, an industry with rates of injury and illness among the highest of any industry.12 In addition to facing dangerous working conditions and systematic obstacles to receiving workers 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 all hours worked.14 Poultry companies use production contracts to force poultry growers to accept all nancial and legal responsibility for securing environmental permits and for managing the massive quantities of manure generated.15 For example, Marylands broiler industry produces 700 million pounds of poultry litter each year, which is routinely spread on Maryland elds16 and ends up polluting waterways like the Chesapeake Bay.17 A 2010 study estimated that factory farms on Marylands Eastern Shore produce 300,384 tons of excess poultry litter beyond the capacity of local

0 200 Miles

Figure 1: Number of Broilers and Other Meat-Type Chickens Sold: 2007



1 Dot = 1,000,000 Broiler

1 Dot = 1,000,000 Broilers US Total: 8,914,828,122

0 0 100 100 Miles

United States Tota 8 914 828 122

cropland to assimilate nutrients.18 (See Figure 2 for more on manure amounts exceeding land capacity.) The annual cost of managing animal manure to protect water quality throughout the Chesapeake Bay Watershed is estimated between $127 and $350 million, with the bulk due to poultry litter.19

and wind as part of the states Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) target, which requires electricity suppliers to generate 20 percent of retail sales from Tier 1 sources by 2022.26 At present, Fibrowatts 55 MW Fibrominn plant in Benson, Minnesota, is the only operational poultry litter-fueled power plant in the United States.27 In 2000, the state effectively handed Fibrowatt a substantial taxpayer subsidy by expanding its biomass energy mandate to include facilities that use poultry litter as fuel.28 The state again accommodated its laws in 2007 to provide the poultrylitter power projects with property tax exemptions.29 North Carolina is another state with intensive poultry production (fourth among states in pounds produced in 2010).30 In 2007, the North Carolina state legislature passed a renewable energy bill mandating the use of renewable energy sources including animal waste and requiring that utility companies obtain at least 900,000 megawatt-hours of electricity from poultry waste by 2014.31 However, even with these incentives in place, prices offered by Fibrowatt for poultry litter to North Carolina poultry growers in 2009 were signicantly lower than the market price of poultry litter used as fertilizer.32

Greenwashing Corporate Welfare

Projects such as the one proposed by Perdue and Fibrowatt depend on state fuel mandates, tax credits and other incentives. Two assessments conducted in the early 2000s, including one specic to Fibrowatts earlier proposed plant of the same name, concluded that generating electricity from poultry litter on the Delmarva Peninsula would not be economically feasible without government subsidies.22 In addition to funds from Marylands Clean Bay Power Project, the new plant could potentially also qualify for tax credits worth hundreds of thousands of dollars each year through Marylands Clean Energy Production Tax Credit, which provides a 0.85/kWh tax credit over a ve-year period. If eligible, the 10 MW plant would receive over $600,000 in tax credits annually, assuming that it operates at or above 90 percent capacity, like Fibrowatts plant in Minnesota.23 Several state legislatures have accommodated their laws specically to incentivize poultry litterto-energy projects. The current proposal in Maryland follows previous efforts by Fibrowatt to build a poultry litter-red power plant in the state going back to 2001.24 That year also saw a failed proposal in the state legislature to provide tax credits for energy generated from poultry litter.25 In 2008, Maryland qualied poultry-litter incineration facilities as Tier 1 renewable sources on par with solar

Environmental Health Impacts

Burning poultry litter may actually produce as much or more toxic air emissions than coal plants. Analysis conducted by the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources found that a 57 MW poultry litter combustion plant was permitted to emit levels of carbon monoxide (CO), particulate matter (PM), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and carbon dioxide per unit of power gen-

Pollutants from poultry waste incineration include35: Carbon monoxide Sulfur dioxide Nitrogen oxides PM-10 Sulfuric acid Hydrochloric acid Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) Dioxin Arsenic

10 (particulate matter on the order of 10 micrometers or less) causes higher rates of respiratory and cardiovascular disease as well as higher mortality.37 Another byproduct of burning chicken litter, dioxin, is classied by the National Toxicology Program as a known human carcinogen.38 Poultry litter incineration also releases arsenic. Arsenicbased drugs such as roxarsone are commonly added to poultry feed in factory farms to control intestinal parasites and to promote growth.39 Most arsenical drugs fed to chickens are excreted in waste.40 Tyson Foods and Perdue Farms, two of the largest U.S. poultry companies, claim to have stopped regularly using arsenic compounds in 2004 and 2007, respectively.41 Nevertheless, arsenic emissions remain a concern for poultry litter-red power plants. A 2009 modeling study by the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources Toxics Evaluation concluded that emissions from a 50 MW plant in North Carolina would put ambient arsenic levels at several times the current regulatory limit.42 The negative impacts of poultry litter incineration are likely to be borne disproportionately by already vulnerable communities. In 2011, all three proposed poultry

These often odorless and colorless pollutants have been known to cause respiratory diseases, cardiovascular diseases and cancer, among other illnesses.36

eration higher than those for new coal plants.33 In addition, according to information released by the Minnesota Pollution Agency, Fibrominn committed various alleged violations of its permit in 2009, including exceeding its permitted emissions for CO, NOx, and sulfur dioxide.34 According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the evidence is suggestive that exposure to PM-

Figure 2: Ratio of Manure Available For Land Application To Assimilative Capacity For Phosphorous, Assuming Off-Farm Export of Manure Within The Country, 1997

litter incinerators in North Carolina targeted rural counties with rates of hospitalization for cardiovascular disease and diabetes as well as poverty rates above averages for the state.43 The siting of poultry litter incineration plants in these communities may further exacerbate these preexisting disparities.

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State Legislatures Should Support Better Alternatives

Capital-intensive technologies such as waste-to-energy combustion, which requires the continued production of excess manure, may serve to further entrench the factory farm model of animal agriculture while impeding the transition to a more sustainable animal agriculture and value chain that is fair to farmers and workers. Perdue AgriBusiness President Dick Willey recently admitted, Our conclusion at this point is that the only commercially viable technology is combustion.44 Unfortunately for both corporate agribusiness and host communities of proposed incinerator projects, burning poultry litter does not reduce the amount that is generated in the rst place and is likely to disproportionately harm the environmental health of nearby communities. It is no wonder that communities in Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia that are opposed to the unjust environmental and public health implications of such projects have mobilized to defeat proposals for poultry litter incinerators.45 To effectively address the problem of factory farm pollution, state legislatures should implement policies that enable local governments to enforce adequate environmental regulations for concentrated animal feeding operations. State legislatures must also support the shift away from the industrial food system and the overwhelming amount of waste it produces by helping to build the economic infrastructure needed for smaller, independent and diversied farmers to thrive within resilient, regionalized food systems that protect workers and consumers as well.

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1 Maryland Department of General Services. [Press Release]. State of Maryland Seeks Proposals for Renewable Energy Generated from Animal Waste. October 13, 2011; Gates, Deborah. Delmarva biomass boiler operation proposed. Daily Times (Salisbury, MD). January 8, 2012. Fibrowatt. [Press Release]. Fibrominn, the nations rst poultry litter-fueled power plant, opens in Benson, Minnesota. October 12, 2007. Macdonald, James M. et al. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS). Manure Use for Fertilizer and for Energy. June 2009 at 35. Shenandoah Valley Poultry Litter to Energy Watershed & Air Advisory Group. Meeting Summary. Harrisonburg, Virginia. March 28, 2011. Fibrowatt. [Press Release]. Economic development agreement signed with Sampson County. November 7, 2008; Potter, James S. Clearview Renewable Energy, LLC and Clearview East Canaan Energy, LLC. Testimony on SB 6636. Connecticut Energy and Technology Committee, March 10, 2009 at 3.


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Hendrickson, Mary and Bill Heffernan. Concentration of Agricultural Markets. University of Missouri-Columbia, Department of Rural Sociology. April 2007. Taylor, C. Robert. Auburn University. The Many Faces of Power in the Food System. Presentation at the Department of Justice/ Federal Trade Commission Workshop on Merger Enforcement. February 17, 2004 at 6. Carstensen, Peter C. University of Wisconsin Law School. Statement Prepared for the Workshop on Merger Enforcement. February 17, 2004 at 10; MacDonald, James M. USDA ERS. The Economic Organization of U.S. Broiler Production. EIB-38. June 2008 at 13. American Antitrust Institutes Transition Report on Competition Policy: Chapter 8 Fighting Food Ination through Competition. 2008 at 304. MacDonald, June 2008 at 7. Taylor, February 17, 2004 at 5. U.S. Government Accountability Ofce. Safety in the Meat and Poultry Industry, While Improving, Could Be Further Strengthened. GAO-05-96. January 2005 at 21. Human Rights Watch. Blood, Sweat, and Fear: Workers Rights in U.S. Meat and Poultry Plants. 2004 at 57 to 62. U.S. Department of Labor. Poultry Processing Compliance Survey Fact Sheet. 2001 at 2. Moeller, David. Farmers Legal Action Group, Inc. (FLAG). Livestock Production Contracts: Risks for Family Farmers. March 22, 2003 at 4; Urbina, Ian. In Maryland, Focus on Poultry Industry Pollution. New York Times. November 29, 2008. Parker, Doug and Qing Li. Mid-Atlantic Regional Water Program. Poultry Litter Use and Transport in Caroline, Queen Annes, Somerset and Wicomico Counties in Maryland: A Summary Report. (MAWP 0601). January 2006 at 1 to 2. Perez, Michelle et al. Environmental Working Group. Facing Facts in the Chesapeake Bay. September 2009 at 5. Kovzelove, Caitlin et al. Water Stewardship. Quantication and Implications of Surplus Phosphorus and Manure in Major Animal Production Regions of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. February 2010 at 13. Catma, Serkan and Alan Collins. Phosphorus Imbalances in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed: Can Forestland and Manure Processing Facilities Be the Answers? Agricultural and Resource Economics Review, vol. 40, iss. 1. 2011 at 117. USDA, Census of Agriculture. Number of Broilers and Other Meat-Type Chickens Sold: 2007. 2007. Available at http://www.,_Poultry_and_Other_Animals/07-M161.asp, accessed February 27, 2012. Kellog, Robert L. et al. USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Manure Nutrients Relative to the Capacity of Cropland and Pastureland to Assimilate Nutrients: Spatial and Temporal Trends for the United States. (nps00-0579). 2000 at 87, Map 37. Map available at nrcs143_011456.gif, accessed February 27, 2012. Lichtenberg, Erik et al. Economic Value of Poultry Litter Supplies In Alternative Uses. (Policy Analysis Report 02-02). University of Maryland, Center for Agricultural and Natural Resource Policy. 2002 at 24-25; Electrotek Concepts. FibroShore Power Market Assessment: PJM/Delmarva Peninsula. Report prepared for Maryland Environmental Service. May 2001 at 10 to 11. Maryland Annotated Code of Regulations; Maryland Energy Administration. Plan to Increase Marylands Renewable Energy Portfolio by 20% RPS by 2022. March 2010 at 2; Fibrowatt. Power from Poultry Litter. Presentation at 1st Annual Waste to Fuels Conference and Trade Show, Orlando, Florida, April 7, 2008 at 25. Alternative Resources, Inc. A Review of the Expected Air Emissions for the Proposed Fibroshore 40-MW Power Plant to Be Fueled With Poultry Litter and Wood. Report prepared for Maryland Environmental Service. February 2001 at 1. Maryland H.B. 1406 (2001). Maryland Energy Administration, March 2010 at 2; Maryland S.B. 348, Chapter 135. Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard - Tier 1 Renewable Source - Poultry Litter. 2008 at 1.



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Stingone, Jeanette A. and Steve Wing. Poultry Litter Incineration as a Source of Energy: Reviewing the Potential for Impacts on Environmental Health and Justice. New Solutions, vol. 21, iss. 1. 2011 at 29. Minnesota Session Laws 2001, 1st Special Session Chapter 5, Article 3, Section 18; Minnesota Statutes 216B.2424(5) (2011); Morris, David. Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Minnesotas Biomass Mandate: An Assessment. 2005 at 3 to 6. Minnesota Statutes 272.02(47) (2007). USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. Poultry - Production and Value 2010 Summary. April 2011 at 3. North Carolina General Statutes 62-133.7 (2007). Hubbard, Jule. Demand for farm litter still strong. Wilkes Journal-Patriot (North Wilkesboro, NC). February 11, 2009. North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Air Quality Division. Comparison of emissions from controlled coal and biomass combustion, Air Quality Committee Meeting, North Carolina Environmental Management Commission, Raleigh, NC, March 10, 2010 at 3. Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Stipulation agreement regarding permit violations of the Fibrominn plant. 2009 at 13 to 15. Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Air Emission Permit No. 15100038-004. Issue date February 9, 2005; Alternative Resources, Inc., February 2001 at 14 to 15. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Integrated Science Assessment for Particulate Matter (Final Report). EPA/600/R08/139F. 2009 at Chapter 2, 18-19; National Institutes of Health. [Press Release]. TCDD - Dioxin Is Listed as Known Human Carcinogen in Federal Governments Ninth Report on Carcinogens January 19, 2001. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Integrated Science Assessment for Particulate Matter (Final Report). EPA/600/R08/139F. 2009 at Chapter 2, 18 to 19. National Institutes of Health, January 19, 2001. Chapman, H.D., and Z.B. Johnson. Use of antibiotics and roxarsone in broiler chickens in the USA: analysis for the years 1995 to 2000. Journal of Poultry Science, vol. 81. March 2002 at 1; Love, Dave. CLF provides House testimony on Maryland Bill 953 to ban arsenic from poultry feed. Johns Hopkins University Center for a Livable Future. March 9, 2010; Nachman, Keeve. Personal Communication. August 10, 2010.




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Stolz, John F., et al. Biotransformation of 3-Nitro-4-hydroxybenzene Arsonic Acid (Roxarsone) and Release of Inorganic Arsenic by Clostridium Species. Environmental Science and Technology, vol. 41, iss. 3. 2007 at 819 to 820; Bellows, Barbara C. Arsenic In Poultry Litter: Organic Regulations. ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. 2005 at 1. Hileman, Bette. Arsenic In Chicken Production. A Common Feed Additive Adds Arsenic to Human Food and Endangers Water Supplies. Chemical and Engineering News, vol. 85, iss. 15. April 9, 2007 at 1; Hlad, Jennifer. Poultry farmers resist ban on arsenic in feed. The Daily Record (Baltimore, MD). March 16, 2010. Van der Vaart, Don. NC Toxics Emissions Evaluation from Poultry/Turkey Litter. Report presented at North Carolina Environmental Management Commission, Air Quality Committee. March 11, 2009. North Carolina Division of Air Quality. Air Toxics Program: Acceptable Ambient Levels (AALs). 2007at 1. Stingone and Wing, 2011 at 34 to 36. Perdue AgriBusiness and Fibrowatt Partner on Clean Bay Power Project. Business Wire. December 15, 2011. Available at http://, accessed February 26, 2012. Hyland, Michael. Fibrowatt a No-Go in Page County. WHSV/ Gray Television Group, Inc. March 17, 2010; Hinton, John. Surry drops Fibrowatt deal. Winston-Salem Journal (Winston-Salem, NC). May 22, 2010; Kneiser, M.J. Fibrowatt chicken litter energy plant not coming to Hart County. Independent Mail (Anderson, SC). August 6, 2010.

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