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Center for a Livable Future

 

December 5, 2016

Maryland Voters Support More Oversight of Poultry Industry

New Survey Finds Voter Consensus on Fair Grower Contracts, Community Health Protections


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Food Citizen Project   |  Survey Results

A majority of Maryland voters favor measures that would increase oversight of the state’s poultry farming industry, according to a new survey from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) within the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of Environmental Health and Engineering. The survey found significant agreement among voters statewide and on the Eastern Shore, where the poultry industry plays an important role in the local economy.

The survey’s findings are based on 600 interviews with registered Maryland voters conducted in August 2016 by a leading political polling firm, Greenberg Quinlan Rosner on behalf of the CLF. The survey presents evidence of strong voter support for a variety of measures geared toward improving economic fairness in the poultry industry and safeguarding community health and the environment.

“This poll shows that Marylanders value the poultry industry and the jobs it brings to the state, but are also looking to their legislators to ensure that the industry is working well for everyone,” said Bob Martin, director of the Center’s Food System Policy Program. “For instance, even though Eastern Shore residents are more reluctant about government oversight generally, they share a lot of common ground with voters statewide on the concerns they have about the industry and the changes they want to see.”

According to the survey, one issue that many Maryland voters agree on is chicken farm waste management. Fifty-nine percent of voters statewide and 58 percent of voters on the Eastern Shore said they wanted more oversight of the handling of chicken waste from industrial farms. After voters heard arguments both in favor and against increasing oversight of chicken waste management, voter support for increased oversight jumped to 66 percent and 64 percent, respectively. Voters also strongly support specific measures that would shift the responsibility for waste management costs away from taxpayers and contract growers. Eighty-six percent of voters statewide and 84 percent of Eastern Shore voters said they favor requiring large poultry processing companies to pay for the removal of excess chicken waste from their local contract growers.  

Maryland voters also overwhelmingly support initiatives that would empower local counties and communities to make decisions about the size and scale of the industrial poultry operations that would be allowed in their area. Eastern Shore voters in particular value measures that would give localities the ability to make determinations about poultry operations. Seventy-seven percent of voters statewide and 82 percent of Eastern Shore voters think that local areas should be able to limit the overall number of chickens contained in one area. A further 76 percent of voters statewide and 71 percent of Eastern Shore voters want local areas to be able to pass laws that would limit new poultry house construction. These findings may reflect the concerns that some Eastern Shore community members have expressed in recent years about the rapid expansion of poultry operations in the region.

The voter sentiment expressed in the survey may also have political implications in the future. Maryland voters indicated a willingness to reward state and local government leaders for taking steps to increase oversight of the poultry industry. Fifty-eight percent of voters statewide and on the Eastern Shore said they would be more favorable toward their legislator if they supported proposals increasing oversight of the industrial chicken industry. In recent years, the Maryland Legislature has struggled to find consensus on proposals that would address urgent issues in the poultry sector. For instance, the Poultry Litter Management Act proposed reforms to chicken waste management, but failed to pass during the 2016 legislative session.

“These survey results speak to a disconnect between what many voters say they want and what they’ve been getting from their representatives in government.  Given the results of the recent national election, that could be of serious concern to state-level incumbents,” said Martin. “We hope this survey will inform the ongoing debate around Maryland’s poultry industry, and encourage legislators and local officials to start up a conversation with their constituents.”