The chicken wars

By Cathy Keim

Your worldview shapes how you see everything about you, and a great deal of that is shaped by your parents and the times in which they lived. I do not think it’s unfair to say that for older Americans our baseline assumptions about animals, food, and farms were less idealized than today’s vision of the family farm – particularly as much of the population had a rural background. My father grew up plowing behind mules and was eager to get away from the hard work by becoming a civil engineer. His mother told of plucking feathers from geese and chickens to make pillows. She was hilarious in her description of how mean the geese were and how they scared her when she was little. She also explained that during the Depression the only food they had to eat some days was what they got from her garden. There was genuine food insecurity in the everyday lives of average Americans less than one hundred years ago.

Since those days the explosion of technology has propelled the farmer into a world where the mule is replaced by mechanized equipment and the actual crops are genetically modified to produce many times the yield that my grandmother would have expected. Gone are the chickens pecking in her backyard for bugs, replaced by the much-maligned concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO). Where she enjoyed a Sunday dinner of a tiny chicken that took weeks to mature, we now have massive chickens weighing in at 8 pounds or more after a few weeks in a CAFO.

Americans have been so blessed with abundant food and are so far removed from the actual process of producing their food that we have begun to see a number of trends that are only possible due to our blessed abundance.

The demand for organic fruits and vegetables, locally sourced produce, heirloom tomatoes, and free range beef and chicken is all well and good for a financially independent society. However, a vast number of Americans with less financial flexibility are quite pleased to obtain their food at the local megastore at lower prices made possible by those terrifying “factory” farming methods.

It is rather amusing to see the same progressive crowd that is demanding that global warming deniers be shut up for their “anti-science” beliefs are the same progressives pushing to shut down the science-intensive, high-tech “factory” farms. The progressives loudly proclaim themselves to be the defender of science against the barbarians, i.e. conservatives. However, in the case of farming, they appear to be the ones who want us to retreat to archaic farming methods.

They show the same cognitive disconnect that the animal rights zealots exhibit. Their claims are correct, no matter the evidence against them, and other people are wrong. (They often dismiss the evidence as being bought and paid for by the agricultural mega-corporations, such as ADM or Monsanto. In their minds only the activists have pure motives.) Both groups ascribe to the time-tested progressive method of push as far as you can to achieve your goal, making any temporary alliances you need to succeed, drop back if the goal is unachievable, and then attack again at the next opportunity.

Thus we arrive at the current Chicken Wars on the Eastern Shore. Family farms are redefined as factory farms, which has a connotation better suited to rouse the troops. The new chicken houses that are being proposed are larger than older chicken houses. This is due to several reasons.

Maryland is a highly regulated state and those regulations cause people to change their behavior. Due to stormwater regulations, it may now be more advantageous to build several very large chicken houses together. Consider the local case of proposed chicken houses outside Salisbury, which is raising the ire of local neighbors and environmentalists:

The family considered permitting the two farms separately, (owner spokesman Basit) Zulfiqar said. But that would have doubled the amount of mandated stormwater structures and buffers areas, reducing the number of buildings they could put on the property.

Also, the demand to reduce the use of antibiotics in the poultry industry results in the need for additional space per chicken, thus larger chicken houses. Farmers, whether the family that lives down the lane or a person that is investing their life savings into their new venture, have to make a profit or they go out of business just like everybody else. You can be sure that farmers are looking to maximize their production and minimize their risk just like every other businessman, so if it is in their best interest to build larger chicken houses they will.

Their choice as to how to run their business on their own property and to feed hungry people in the process has been recast into a horror story of wicked businessmen abusing chickens in warehouses and polluting the earth. It is not to any farmer’s benefit to pollute his own property, nor is it beneficial for him to raise chickens in an environment that would not ensure the best growth with the best outcome.

Why are some groups so eager to impugn farmers with evil motives? Could it be that there is a larger agenda?

Progressives are infamous for using people to achieve their goals. In this case, the families that are protesting the building of the new chicken houses near their property are helping the progressives in their agenda. These families are using whatever “data” they can get to declare their concern for the paleochannel, their children’s health, and so forth. This really comes down to the “not in my back yard” argument dressed in the best clothes they can find.

Rather than grasping at these arguments, perhaps they should reflect on their decision to live next to zoned farmland. If we remove all farmland from use because somebody builds a house next to it, then we have two choices: we make people move into the city core, or we starve. Either of these two choices are in line with the progressive plans.

Take a look at Agenda 21 approved by the United Nations and our own elites and you will find that all the current rage to build in the city core so that no citizens will need a car is really the beginning of insisting that all citizens live in the city core and cannot have a car. Only those deemed worthy of having their own transportation, such as government workers, will be allowed to.

The push for organic sustainable farming works into their plans also since they wish to decrease the world’s population significantly. If we turn back from using the GMO crops we will rapidly revert back to the food insecurity that is not such a distant memory.

But back to the Eastern Shore Chicken Wars of today. For those who believe that this is only about stopping mega-sized chicken houses next to family houses, just think back to the unsuccessful but prolonged attack on the Hudson family and their farm a few years ago. The same entities that are joining in this attack were there to drag the Hudson family through the mud for years.

Kathy Phillips and the Assateague Coastal Trust, John Groutt and the Wicomico Environmental Trust, and others will continue to agitate against farmers on the Eastern Shore even after this incident is settled.

Take some time to look at the principles involved and find out the facts rather than depending on the emotional arguments being presented. There will be an informational meeting on March 22, 2016, at 6pm at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center. Radical Green will be there – will you?

The course we should take

Ringing a bell about something that I was previously planning to post on anyway, my Central Committee cohort Julie Brewington wrote on social media today about a disagreement she had with the Assateague Coastkeepers regarding what they consider “factory farms” being proposed and built in Wicomico County. (So I’ll give the onetime blogger a hat tip.) Obviously the Coastkeepers have a concern about what they see as excessive pollution arising from what chickens naturally do, which is doo-doo. It’s been a concern of the state for years, and earlier this year you may recall Governor Larry Hogan thwarted the efforts of the outgoing O’Malley administration to curtail chicken farming via the Phosphorus Management Tool. Unfortunately, Hogan later conceded that these farms and their by-products are an issue worth regulating (with his Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative) to the point where some farmers would not be allowed to use this natural fertilizer. This edict disproportionately affects Eastern Shore farmers.

At the risk of excessive aggravation, I visited the Assateague Coastkeeper site for one simple reason: if they didn’t want the poultry industry and its huge economic impact of the area, what do they see as job creators? As I expected, I was disappointed in what I found: aside from a legislative agenda that would subsidize offshore wind, their overall strategic plan fails to address the economic impact their wish list would create or lay out an alternative scenario. (They are working on the “educational” part of the agenda, though.)

Not only do the Coastkeepers have an objection to the chicken farms, though, but they also object to offshore drilling off our coast despite its potential for good-paying jobs. In fact, their advocacy shuts the door to even doing the seismic testing needed to see how much oil and natural gas could be out there. It’s rather unfortunate that Ocean City and Lewes, Delaware have fallen for the scare tactics groups like the Coastkeepers use to try and prevent this technique, which is already used in the Gulf of Mexico. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (a federal agency) notes that:

To date, there has been no documented scientific evidence of noise from air guns used in geological and geophysical (G&G) seismic activities adversely affecting marine animal populations or coastal communities.  This technology has been used for more than 30 years around the world.  It is still used in U.S. waters off of the Gulf of Mexico with no known detrimental impact to marine animal populations or to commercial fishing.

If you want to know the truth, I think the Coastkeepers aren’t worried about the harm to marine life. They’re more worried that their smug assertions that there’s only a small amount of oil and natural gas out there – not really enough to be commercially viable – will be proven wrong. As technology improves for oil extraction, we could find there’s billions of barrels of oil or trillions of cubic feet of natural gas out there, meaning those nasty fossil fuels will be cheaper and obviously far more reliable than the bird-chopping windmills they want to build instead. Personally, I think if the market is there the wind turbines and oil rigs can co-exist – but I’ll bet the oil rigs create more local jobs.

Oil drilling, if it occurs, is probably a decade or more away, so in the here and now we have to be concerned with their opposition to expansion of the local poultry industry. And let’s face it: without Perdue, Mountaire, Tyson, et. al. there would be nothing on this part of the Eastern Shore to speak of except perhaps Salisbury University and Ocean City. Basically, Salisbury would be a slightly larger version of Princess Anne, which is a modest little county seat where the University of Maryland – Eastern Shore is located. That’s about it – there’s little commercial development in Princess Anne and not much to create jobs in Somerset County aside from UMES and the Eastern Shore Correctional Institution.

It’s understandable that someone who has chosen to live in a development bordering a rural area may object when a typical chicken farm opens up, but that is the deal with living by a farm. Any of us who grew up in a rural area can tell you that animals tend to smell sometimes, as does fertilizer. It’s all part of that “fresh country air.”

But to many thousands in the area, the smell of chicken poop is the smell of money – directly or indirectly, it’s how they make a living and thank God people around the world like to eat chicken. This region has had chicken farmers for generations, ever since the Perdue family put Salisbury on the map with their chickens.

So if this region is ever going to diversify its economic interests, one path we should explore is the path offshore. Let’s find out once and for all if there’s oil and natural gas out there, because as I said I think the Coastkeepers are worried that the answer is a resounding yes.

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