Chicken Tax Bill Worries Shore

BERLIN — In what appears to be another attempt to hold large poultry companies accountable for their contribution to pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, a pair of state lawmakers this week introduced legislation in the General Assembly that would apply a tax, or “fee,” of five cents for every chicken raised across the Eastern Shore including Worcester.

Senator Richard Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) and Delegate Shane Robinson (D-Montgomery) on Monday cross-filed bills in the General Assembly under the banner of the Poultry Fair Share Act of 2014. The bill, if approved, would force the major poultry integrators, or big companies such as Perdue and Mountaire, on the Eastern Shore, for example, to pay a five-cent tax for every single bird they provide to chicken farmers across the Eastern Shore and all over the state.

The intent of the legislation is to provide a mechanism for the large poultry companies to pay their fair share of the cost to clean up nutrient pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. Large poultry companies provide hatchlings to independent contract chicken farmers all Eastern Shore and across Maryland, and the contract growers raise the birds until they are ready to head to market in a variety of different ways.

The bills introduced on Monday would charge the large poultry integrators five cents for every chicken they place with the contract growers. The proceeds of the “chicken tax” would be used help fund the Maryland Department of Agriculture’s Water Quality Cost Share Program. More specifically, the funds raised through the five-cent tax per chicken would force large poultry companies to help foot the bill for the MDA’s Cover Crop Program, a $20 million per year initiative designed to address the large amounts of chicken waste produced on the Eastern Shore where a large percentage of the contract farmers operate.

“A healthy bay is important to Maryland’s economy and all Marylanders benefit from making the bay cleaner,” said Madaleno. “So, it’s important that all major polluters of the bay pay their fair share, and this legislation ensures that one of the biggest sources of pollution begins to do just that.”

For his part, Robinson agreed his bill cross-filed in the House will help hold the large poultry companies accountable for their contributions to the pollution of the Chesapeake and its tributaries.

“Poultry companies are polluting with impunity while the public pays for the cleanup,” he said. “Poultry companies need to pay their fair share by contributing to the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund. It’s important that we all do our part to save the pay.”

Meanwhile, the poultry industry has responded to the proposed legislation, calling it an unfair tax. Perdue spokesperson Julie DeYoung said this week the company holds out hope state lawmakers will see the legislation for what it is.

“We have confidence that the leadership in Annapolis will recognize that this is an unfair tax on one industry,” she said. “From Perdue’s perspective, we’ve done our fair share and then some.”

DeYoung said this week Perdue has been ahead of the curve in terms of nutrient pollution in the bays.

“Because we’ve long believed it is the right thing to do for the farmers who raise out chickens, and for the Chesapeake Bay, Perdue has provided an alternative to land application of poultry litter for more than a decade,” she said. “Since 2001, we have invested more than $45 million in Perdue AgriRecycle, which has yet to make a profit. Perdue remains the only poultry company in the Chesapeake Bay region providing a large-scale alternative to land application of poultry litter.”

DeYoung said Perdue has fully funded grower participation in the Maryland manure transport fund so any farmer raising chickens for the company can take advantage of the program. In addition, Perdue has paid more than $1.7 million into the manure transport fund since 2006.