Delamarva Industry Fights to Keep Roxarsone

DELMARVA, US - The chicken industry is facing a tough year, say officials, who are urging the authorities not to ban the use of the feed additive, roxarsone, and to ease stormwater regulations for new poultry houses.
calendar icon 10 February 2011
clock icon 4 minute read

Poultry industry officials met with state lawmakers from the Eastern Shore last week to discuss the industry's regulatory and environmental challenges, reports The Cecil Whig.

Bill Satterfield, the executive director of Delmarva Poultry Industries Inc., said the poultry industry is dealing with record-high grain prices, high fuel prices, a dwindling export market and declining restaurant sales due to the struggling economy.

"This is going to be a tough year in the chicken industry, a real tough year of belt-tightening, because of a number of factors," he said.

Mr Satterfield said some large poultry companies – including Allen Family Foods, Perdue and Mountaire Farms – have been invested in new buildings and expanded operations on the Delmarva Peninsula, although production has remained flat.

He also noted that many in the industry are concerned about a possible ban of the feed additive, roxarsone, an arsenic-based compound used to control digestive parasites and promote growth, according to The Cecil Whig.

Although the US Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of roxarsone with certain limitations, concerns have been raised about whether the additive is linked to high cancer rates in areas where chicken manure is used as fertilizer.

According to the Maryland Department of Agriculture, about 258,000 tons of chicken manure is produced each year by the four Lower Shore counties, or about 76 per cent of the state-wide total.

Cancer death rates in those counties are among the highest in the state and exceed the national average, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Mr Satterfield, however, dismissed concerns that roxarsone might be responsible for those high cancer death rates, claiming it contains "one molecule of arsenic in the compound".

He said banning the additive also would result in a higher occurrence of digestive parasites, which would lead to higher nutrient levels in manure.

"It does serve a legitimate poultry health purpose," he said. "It helps with the welfare of the birds and it is not harmful to the environment or to humans who eat the chickens."

Delegate David Rudolph (D-Cecil) asked about the environmental impacts of roxarsone and whether or not arsenic in chicken manure has any cumulative impact in soils, groundwater or the Chesapeake Bay.

Mr Satterfield said with all the discussions on nutrient reductions for the Bay, he has never heard mention of arsenic as an element of concern. He said there are studies showing that arsenic, which is a naturally occurring element, does accumulate in soil.

On the Delmarva Peninsula, geologic surveys have shown arsenic levels do not spike in soil treated with chicken manure, he said, adding that the arsenic level in the region's soil is amongst the lowest in the country.

Meanwhile, The Cecil Whig reports that the state's stormwater management regulations are having a negative impact on the poultry industry, according to the chairman of DPI's government relations committee.

Kenny Bounds said site work for a new poultry house now costs 300 per cent more, making construction of new poultry houses financially prohibitive. He said a report on the issue has been prepared for the Maryland Department of the Environment.

"We're not asking for a get-out-of-jail free card," he said. "We're asking for a reasonable approach – a non-Walmart-sized approach – to stormwater."

State Senator James Mathias (D-Lower Shore) asked if more farmers would return to the poultry industry if the state were to relax its regulations.

Mr Bounds said it would take several years to reverse the trend of farmers leaving the industry due to enhanced regulations and increased media criticism.

Mr Satterfield said 100 new poultry houses a year would be needed to show growth in the industry.

Mr Bounds also told state legislators that the poultry industry also is dealing with thieves stealing copper from irrigation systems. He said many have figured out how to get around anti-theft devices used on the systems.

The Cecil Whig report concludes that Delegate Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio (R-Talbot) said the state is trying to get a handle on the issue through stronger reporting and licensing requirements.

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