August 20, 2020


US state rules fail to keep up with poultry sector


In the past 20 years, very few changes have been made to the laws and rules regulating US' Oklahoma's poultry sector, despite new large-scale poultry businesses rising in the state's eastern area, lawmakers said, Tahlequah Daily Press reported.


On Wednesday, the Oklahoma House of Representatives' Agriculture and Rural Development Committee met at the Capitol for one of the fist interim studies to be held this year examining poultry management guidelines.


The issue of requirements on poultry feeding operations has been an issue of contention since 2018, when, prompted by an expansion of a Simmons poultry processing plant in Arkansas, eastern Oklahoma and especially Delaware County saw an enormous influx of large-scale poultry operations locating in the area.


In addition to several sensitive rivers and streams in the area that residents fear could be affected by poultry waste runoff, those living in the area said they received no notification that the poultry houses were moving in to the area until construction on them began. The houses, which often hold tens of thousands of birds, are a source of multiple issues, ranging from county roads being destroyed by large trucks that service the houses to the overwhelming odour of chicken litter in the air, residents say.


"As these houses came in, I was like every other landowner out there—I thought this is happening, there's nothing you can do about it. This is just the way it is," said Grant Hall, a Tulsa resident who owns property in southern Delaware County.


"We were shocked there was no notification, there was no involvement of citizens," Hall said.


The only requirements for opening a poultry feeding operation is submitting an application to the Oklahoma Department of Food and Forestry with basic information about the operation and paying a US$10 application fee, said Teena Gunter, general counsel for ODAFF. Poultry operations must also submit a nutrient management plan—which details how chicken waste will be disposed of—but there are not time limits imposed for submitting those plans, she said.


It is a "rarity" for a poultry feeding operation's application to be rejected by ODAFF, Gunter said.

The last substantive legislative revision to poultry feeding operation regulation came about 20 years ago, Gunter said, and mostly dealt with regulating how chicken litter, which is often used to fertilise fields and crops, was applied to land.


"In 1998 people were not concerned about the siting of these facilities and where they were located and those kinds of things, people were concerned with the land application of the waste from these sites," Gunter said. "So virtually everything in that law is aimed toward the land application. What we've been regulating all these years is nutrient management plans, making sure people are not putting too much phosphorus on a field and abiding by phosphorus standards."


"It's not been until the last three or four years we've seen people concerned about the siting of these faculties," she said.


In 2002 the Legislature passed a bill requiring setbacks from certain public water sources and residences for all corporate-owned poultry feeding operations, Gunter However, that same year, the Legislature passed a law prohibiting those corporate-owned poultry feeding operations, she said.


"In other words, if Tyson owned their own facility, they could not locate in these places. But at the same time, the Legislature also passed a law that said Tyson can't own a facility," Gunter said. "So this particular group of setbacks confuse a lot of people because in reality, they don't mean anything. There are no facilities that are allowed to build that would be subject to these in the state of Oklahoma."


Since then, all of the new poultry feeding operations that have been established in the state are owned by contractors for those chicken processing companies, she said.


Hall said he and a group of other residents, who later formed a group known as Green Country Guardians, set out to find out "why this influx of mega-houses seemed to have no control."


It turns out, little in the way of how poultry operations are managed has changed since the late 1990s, he said.


"We've seen great changes in the industry and the size of poultry houses since 1999, yet the process has not changed," Hall said. "State law has no parameters, no tests, guidelines. And yet the growth is overwhelming to the resources, the people and surroundings."


Though ODAFF adopted rules requiring set backs for new poultry operations near residential areas, wells and city limits, those set backs only took effect in September 2019, after the establishment of the large poultry houses in eastern Oklahoma had peaked, he said.