The hazards of the poultry industry extend beyond workers and consumers.

The large henhouses used to raise chickens for slaughter – known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs – produce a massive volume of waste, about 1.8 million tons annually in Alabama alone.

This waste is a significant source of contamination for surrounding surface and ground water. It also emits 168 different gases, including hazardous chemicals such as ammonia, hydrogen sulfide and methane, into the atmosphere.

The disposal of chicken carcasses, too, can lead to environmental problems. Plus, these operations use large amounts of water, electricity and fuel.

There are currently 424 CAFOs for broiler chickens in Alabama and another 82 pending approval.

In northwest Alabama, the hub of the nation’s poultry industry, many streams are off limits to swimming because of pollution from livestock waste. This should not be surprising.

While CAFO owners and operators spend millions of dollars annually on technologies to increase production, they resist changes needed to properly treat and dispose of animal waste. Though CAFO operators may use some of this waste as fertilizer, it is not a solution. The heavy volume of waste overwhelms the ability of land, crops and watersheds to absorb it all.

All Alabama CAFOs are required to register with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. They must maintain “best management practices for animal waste production, storage, treatment, transport and proper disposal or land application” that meet or exceed the technical standards and guidelines of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

In many cases, the waste is put in anaerobic lagoons, sometimes known as manure lagoons. The waste typically isn’t treated to reduce disease-causing pathogens or to remove chemicals, pharmaceuticals and other pollutants. These lagoons have contributed significantly to environmental and health problems.


          
Elton Robinson, The Latest Scoop on Chicken Litter, Southeast Farm Press (Nov. 16, 2005), http://southeastfarmpress.com/latest-scoop-chicken-litter.

 Sierra Club, Michigan Chapter, Facts about CAFOs, http://michigan.sierraclub.org/issues/greatlakes/articles/cafofacts.html.

 Id.

 Al. Dep’t of Envtl. Mgmt., Animal Feeding Operations, http://adem.alabama.gov/programs/water/cafo.cnt. 

 See Sierra Club, Michigan Chapter, supra note 2.

 Al. Dep’t of Envtl. Mgmt., supra note 4.

 NRDC, Pollution from Giant Livestock Farms Threatens Public Health, http://www.nrdc.org/water/pollution/nspills.asp. Retrieved Nov. 2, 2011.