On October 5 our local paper, the Eastern Shore News, published an article about bringing the poultry industry into the county in a big way. "Can this work in Northampton?" by Stacia Childers suggested that the industry could provide revenue, "preserve agriculture," and "help farmers." Currently, there is one chicken "breeder" complex in the county, while just above us is one of the most infamous chicken industry-owned counties in the country – Accomack. The article gave UPC considerable coverage, summarized as: "United Poultry Concerns is totally opposed to poultry production anywhere." Below is UPC’s follow-up letter in the Eastern Shore News on Wednesday October 12, 2005.
To the editor:
I oppose bringing commercial chicken houses into Northampton County. A landscape dotted, and eventually covered, with 600-foot-long, solid-wall blacked-out chicken houses, filled with thousands of crippled, sick, and miserable birds, "hidden" in the trees, is not a bright outlook for the county’s future.
If, as indicated, Accomack County is the model for this bleak prospect, the houses won’t stay hidden for long. Like the trees planted to hide them from view, talk about "state-of-the-art" chicken houses is a see-through cover-up.
That concentrated chicken production has brought great harm to the Eastern Shore environment has been amply documented by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other environmental impact research groups.
Inside the chicken houses, the combination of poisonous gases, bacteria, viruses, dander, feathers, feces, and mold toxins cause poultry workers and chickens alike to develop chronic respiratory infections, and there is evidence that these environments promote cancer in workers as well as in chickens. (See, e.g., Sara Shipley, "Scientist suggests link between bird viruses, human cancer," St Louis Post-Dispatch 12/21/2003.)
As for the suffering of the birds, don’t just take it from me. The agribusiness publication "Feedstuffs" stated, for example, in 1997, that chickens "now grow so rapidly that the heart and lungs are not developed well enough to support the remainder of the body, resulting in congestive heart failure and tremendous death losses."
Recent studies note that, in addition to the above, gangrenous dermatitis (also called "wing rot" and "red leg"), immunosuppressive viruses, painful skeletal disorders, and "hysteria" are among the rampant "diseases of production" found in 2-8 week-old birds.
As for the "state-of-the-art" houses, former chicken contract grower, Mary Clouse, wrote in 2005 that "the present solid-walled, dark, damp, smelly 60 X 600 ft broiler houses present a real problem for growers. Most growers would prefer to raise fewer birds per barn in the curtained houses that can be wide open to fresh air, sunlight, and dry litter for the birds."
Two years earlier, Clouse wrote that the dimly lighted interiors of the newer-type (tunnel-ventilation and solid-walled) sheds make it "difficult for farmers to see the birds and that sudden light or a flashlight frightens the birds into piling up, causing injuries and suffocation."
Poultry growers have famously described themselves as "serfs on their own land" in relation to the companies they lopsidedly contract with – as being, in essence, human serfs overseeing animal slaves under conditions that confer dignity on no one. Surely Northampton County can come up with a more inspiring and responsible plan than this.
Karen Davis, President
United Poultry Concerns