ANNAPOLIS, Md. – A debate is brewing in Maryland over who should be responsible for poultry litter disposal. Legislators introduced the Poultry Litter Management Act which would shift the burden of poultry litter disposal from contract poultry growers to large poultry companies.

Supporters of the bill argue that current industry practices place an unfair burden on poultry farmers to deal with litter disposal. Also, environmentalists are concerned about the Chesapeake Bay, which is at risk from pollutants generated by agriculture, sewage and other sources.

“A responsible dog owner picks up after his or her dogs. Poultry companies must be responsible for cleaning up after their chickens,” Alison Prost, Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said in a statement. “The big companies own the birds, and control almost all aspects of the chicken production process, but they bear no responsibility for any manure left behind. Ensuring the excess manure is managed properly will help improve the quality of the Bay and the eastern shore rivers.

Perdue Farms, which was the focus of a lawsuit brought by environmental groups, didn’t comment on the legislation. But Julie DeYoung, spokeswoman for the company, explained the company’s litter disposal practices.

“Perdue already voluntarily takes poultry litter from Perdue contract growers and any other poultry grower on Delmarva who doesn’t have an outlet for it,” DeYoung said in a Statement. “For nearly 15 years through our Perdue AgriRecycle organic fertilizer facility, we have been the only poultry company in the Chesapeake Bay region that provides an environmentally responsible alternative to land application. Those who claim that Perdue is putting the responsibility for poultry litter on our farmers are choosing to ignore this fact.”

DeYoung added that Perdue invests millions of dollars annually to fully fund grower participation in the Maryland manure transport fund; to contribute to the Bay Restoration Fund and to support environmental programs and organization — in addition to investing more than $50 in Perdue AgriRecycle.

“We are currently constructing a composting facility at a cost of more than $10 million to take poultry litter and other organic materials,” she said. “And we have evaluated more than 70 proposals and been a partner in litter-to-energy projects as we continue to look for alternative uses for poultry litter.”