The recent release of the government’s draft Chesapeake Bay restoration strategy gives us a sense of how the Obama administration plans to deal with environmental issues. The strategy was released on Sept. 10 by EPAUSDA and Department of Interior, in response to an executive order from the president in May. The strategy will set a precedent for how the administration will deal with nutrient and sediment runoff to accelerate cleanup of the bay.

While the recommendations are intended to focus only on the bay’s nutrient and sediment problems, the poultry industry understands that what happens in the clean-up of the Chesapeake will be viewed as a national model for nutrient reduction requirements for agriculture and other sectors. The recommendations will contain new, more rigorous accountability and regulatory elements that will place additional demands on the poultry industry to reach specified goals with accompanying practices.

In response to the executive order and to attempt to put the force of law behind it, the House Environment and Public Works Water and Wildlife Subcommittee released the Chesapeake Bay Ecosystem Restoration Act of 2009, which would give state and local governments of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Area strong new enforcement tools and more than $1.5 billion in new grant authority to restore the bay and the firm deadline of May 2020 for all efforts to be in place.

Agriculture making progress

In its reports on the bay, EPA has acknowledged that agriculture has made progress in attaining its nutrient and sediment reduction goals, as opposed to other sources, such as urban development and construction sources. In fact, these sources have been moving in the opposite direction and getting worse. EPA’s seeming inability (or unwillingness) to regulate nonpoint source of pollution from outside animal agriculture also is a concern. The agency appears reluctant to regulate potential nutrient contributions from residential neighborhoods, parks, golf courses, etc.

While animal agriculture will remain a target for regulations, strides have been made in enhancing our environmental practices and we will continue towards further reducing nutrient and sediment levels. Being an industry that already operates under stringent environmental regulation, it is important for those in the poultry industry to educate the public about the positive progress made in the Chesapeake Bay and our commitment as good environmental stewards.

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Climate change regulation

Meanwhile, we can’t forget that Congress and the administration also are focused on climate change legislation – which proposes to limit the emission of greenhouse gases from industrial sources – and that presents another potential source of environmental regulation for the industry. Many in the poultry and meat industries, along with others in the food chain, have expressed concern about possible implications of climate legislation for the food supply chain. One particular area of concern is that such legislation would increase the cost of production and any potential benefits from a carbon offsets market would not be enough to balance the system.

NTF has expressed to elected officials that climate legislation has the potential to significantly increase transportation and energy costs for poultry producers and processors at a time when they are already suffering through severe economic hardship because of other federal policies and trade restrictions. The vertically integrated turkey industry operates on narrow margins and cannot easily pass increased costs on to consumers, yet higher production costs will ultimately result in higher food prices.

The turkey industry puts a strong emphasis on environmental stewardship with a commitment to control air releases and water discharge that result from poultry production. Each turkey producer ensures they are in full compliance with any local and state environmental laws and regulations. The federation also provides Environmental Management Guidelines to ensure the best management practices for the industry.

NTF will continue to push for a more thorough examination of proposed legislation and regulations to ensure there are no unnecessary economic burdens placed on the poultry industry and the American consumers.