Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, who also served two terms as mayor of Baltimore, has endorsed Karl Dean in the Democratic primary for Tennessee’s next governor, as The Tennessee Star reported on Monday.
The possibility has been floated that O’Malley will campaign in Tennessee on behalf of Dean.
O’Malley, like Dean, is into the “big chicken industry” which in Maryland is considered to anchor the state’s agri-business:
The 300 million chickens produced in the state rank ninth nationally, and the nearly $1 billion in sales they account for makes up 41 percent of Maryland farm cash receipts.
On top of that, much of the nearly $300 million in corn sold here is linked to chicken farming, as feed. The chicken business is credited with employing about 7,000 people in the state.
Dean is the Democrat’s gubernatorial “big chicken” cheerleader in Tennessee, who spent time hobnobbing with Tyson Foods CEO Tom Hayes at the Tyson Foods ground-breaking ceremony in Humboldt last week.
Anne Davis, Dean’s lawyer wife left her position as managing attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center which has opposed chicken slaughterhouses just in time to avoid potential conflicts of interest for Dean should he become governor.
O’Malley like Dean, has focused on select environmental issues but supports the “big chicken” industry by focusing on the economic benefits. In Tennessee, concerns for the potential negative environmental impact or the potential negative impact on communities adjacent to the megafarms needed to supply the slaughterhouses as Tyson Foods expands it operations is being left to Dean’s gubernatorial opponent Craig Fitzhugh.
Lawsuits alleging Clean Water Act violations and more recently, price-fixing, is part of an industry that some view as negatively impacting people living in proximity to the industrial size chicken farms. Chicken farmers contend that regulations, the competition built into contract farming used by companies like Tyson Foods and Perdue and economies of scale drive the “megafarm” operations.
Maryland residents living near these industrial chicken farms complain of odors and the consequences of excessive chicken manure. The Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation acknowledges that “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs)” can pose problems for air quality:
- CAFO manure and litter, as it breaks down, can emit different gases, including ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and methane. Ammonia can cause irritation to the skin, eyes, throat, and nose. Hydrogen sulfide, at low concentrations, can cause eye irritation, a sore throat and cough, and shortness of breath. Exposure to methane can make a person feel tired, dizzy, and have a headache. Methane can also form a dangerously explosive mixture with air.
- Particulate matter from CAFOs can also cause human health impacts. Particulate matter of a size between 2.5 and 10 micrometers (PM10), or particulate matter small enough to get into your lungs, can cause a wide range of respiratory symptoms such as pulmonary disease.
Airborne emissions from these operations are not regulated under either federal or state law. Fitzhugh has asked Tennessee’s Attorney General about the authority of counties to regulate CAFOs despite the fact that Tennessee is a “right to farm” state, meaning that generally, agriculture operations have a built-in defense against claims involving issues such as noise and odor.
Like Tyson Foods in Tennessee, Perdue Farms is the dominant chicken slaughterhouse and processor in Maryland. And like Tyson Foods, Perdue has had its share of legal troubles involving Clean Water Act violations.
While O’Malley was governor of Maryland, a lawsuit alleging Clean Water Act violations was filed by Food & Water Justice against a chicken farmer contracted to Perdue. The student law clinic at O’Malley’s alma mater, the Maryland School of Law, assisted with the suit which sought to hold Perdue responsible for the pollution caused by chicken manure from the contracted farmer’s chickens.
With the “hundreds of thousands of tons of manure” produced by chicken growers contracted with Perdue, the company is considered “the largest source of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and many other waterways across the country” some of which comes from runoff when excessive amounts of chicken manure is used for fertilizer.
Emails obtained by Food and Water Watch through open records requests documented 70 pages of conversation between the lawyer representing Perdue in the lawsuit and O’Malley who censured the legal action and reportedly supported legislation to defund the student law clinic involved in suing Perdue’s chicken farmer.
Even though the lawsuit was unsuccessful, O’Malley’s strong opposition to it was criticized and seen as an unwillingness to hold the “big chicken” producers accountable for environmental issues connected to disposal of excessive amounts of chicken manure. His relationship with Perdue was described as “cozy” and his reticence in looking further into the chicken industry’s contribution to pollution concerns was later ascribed to his aspirations for the Democratic presidential nomination.
In 2010, fifty-five farmers sent a petition to O’Malley confirming their support for holding “big chicken” responsible for it’s role in polluting the Chesapeake Bay. They also claimed that Perdue and Tyson Foods were able to “keep their prices low by leaving the costs of poultry industry pollution to taxpayers and to the individual small farmer paid to raise the chickens.”
According to the Co-Director of the Food & Water Justice Project that sued Perdue:
Privately, the poultry contract growers will tell you that there’s simply no way for them to responsibly manage all the waste left behind by Perdue’s chickens. Many will tell you that CWA [Clean Water Act] co-permitting — making the integrators such as Perdue equally liable for their highly-polluting waste — would be one of the biggest benefits to overburdened contract growers. Yet in one draft email O’Malley writes to Jim Perdue, he promises the industry CEO that he will never pursue co-permitting in his state.
Tyson Foods utilizes a vertically-integrated operation meaning they control every aspect of poultry production from growing the chicks to distributing the end product. Growing the chickens that end up in their slaughterhouses is accomplished through contracts with independent chicken farmers where Tyson Foods owns the chickens but not the manure.
The media arm of the progressive Center for American Progress claims that Tyson Foods “dumps more pollution into waterways each year than ExxonMobil.” Mighty Earth, an environmental advocacy organization has charged that Tyson Foods is the leading contaminator from manure and fertilizer pollution.
In Maryland, Tyson Foods’ contribution to the estimated thousands of pounds of chicken manure that ended up in the Chesapeake Bay resulted in the 2016 Democrat-backed bill referred to as The Poultry Litter Management Act. The bill sought to do what the lawsuit failed to accomplish and shift responsibility for disposal of excess chicken manure to the corporate entity instead of the contract farmer.
While GOP gubernatorial candidate Randy Boyd did not attend the Tyson Foods ground-breaking ceremony, Gibson County’s mayor Tom Witherspoon credits Boyd for helping “Gibson County stay in the race to land the Tyson Foods plant.”
Speaker Beth Harwell, another GOP gubernatorial primary candidate attended the ground-breaking ceremony. Harwell was appointed by Governor Haslam to the “TNH2o” Steering Committee tasked with developing a statewide plan for future water availability in Tennessee. Kevin Igli, Senior Vice President, Tyson Foods joins Harwell on the water Steering Committee.