WASHINGTON – A new study from the Pew Environment Group claims millions of broiler chickens are produced in industrial facilities concentrated in 15 states, producing waste that pollutes the nation’s waterways. The study, “Big Chicken: Pollution and Industrial Poultry Production in America,” triggered a response from the US Poultry & Egg Association and the National Chicken Council in the form of a joint statement categorizing the study as “a cheap shot at a responsible business.”

“In just over 50 years, the broiler industry has been transformed from more than one million small farms spread across the country to a limited number of massive factory-style operations concentrated in 15 states,” said Karen Steuer, who directs Pew’s efforts to reform industrial animal agriculture. “This growth has harmed the environment, particularly water, because management programs for chicken waste have not kept pace with output.”

The Pew study claims to have compiled and analyzed 50 years of federal and state government data. Findings include:

  • In less than 60 years, the number of broiler chickens raised yearly has increased 1,400 percent, from 580 million in the 1950s to nearly 9 billion.
  • Over the same period, the number of producers has decreased by 98 percent, from 1.6 million to just more than 27,000 and concentrated in just 15 states.The size of individual operations has grown dramatically.
  • The typical broiler chicken today comes from a facility that raises more than 600,000 birds per year.

To address “the environmental toll of industrialized poultry production,” the Pew Environment Group recommends:

  • Limits on the density of animal production based on the capacity of crops to absorb nutrients in a given area, especially in areas without alternatives to managing the animal waste.
  • Shared financial and legal responsibility between poultry growers and corporate integrators (the large corporations that contract with growers) for managing waste.
  • Monitoring and regulation of waste transported off CAFO sites.
  • Requirements for all medium and large CAFOs to obtain Clean Water Act permits.

In the joint statement the US Poultry & Egg Association and the NCC said America’s broiler chicken companies and the 30,000 farm families that grow broiler chickens are committed to the responsible production of food that is safe, affordable and abundant for consumers around the world.

“In contrast to Pew Charitable Trust’s well-known antipathy towards poultry farmers, the industry is more diligent and innovative than ever in pursuing environmental improvements,” the statement said. “The fact that Pew seems to be unaware of the scope of environmental progress underway in the poultry community is evidence this report is little more than a cheap shot at a responsible business.”

The report’s critique “is terribly misplaced, and once again demonstrates Pew’s bias against modern farming practices,” the statement charged.

Both poultry organizations pointed out the US poultry community has already taken meaningful steps to further reduce nutrient impacts on the environment. The sources of nutrients into the Chesapeake Bay and other watersheds are ubiquitous. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledges the positive steps agriculture has implemented in reducing its environmental footprint in the Bay region, even as the nutrient contribution from non-agricultural sources continues to grow, the statement continued.