There’s a revolution in environmental management going on in the U.S. poultry industry that can be seen as the efforts of four producers were recognized at the 12th annual Clean Water Awards at U.S. Poultry & Egg Association's (USPOULTRY) Environmental Management Seminar.

Poultry processors’ focus was once on regulatory compliance with poultry wastewater quality limits but today is increasingly about having the cleanest water possible flowing from their facilities into America’s streams and rivers.

Simmons Foods and Keystone Foods claimed top awards in the wastewater full-treatment and pre-treatment categories, respectively; and River Valley Animal Foods (Tyson Foods) and Claxton Poultry each earned runner-up status in the full-treatment of poultry wastewater.

The definition of a revolution is a dramatic and wide-reaching change in the way something works or is organized, or a change in people’s ideas about it. I have covered the Clean Water Awards since their inception and served as a judge on the awards selection committee, where I have seen the revolution taking place.

The best environmental managers – and these are becoming the norm in the U.S. poultry industry – are not oriented to meeting regulatory limits; they are driven to help the environment and their communities. And they’re proud of their companies’ progress.

“I’ve watched the growing level of pride on the part of the poultry industry’s environmental managers and wastewater operators in recent years,” said Paul Bredwell, USPOULTRY’s vice president of environmental programs. “They are happy to talk about their clean water results and want to show people their operations."

“In the past, wastewater operations were thought of as being something out back of the poultry complex and just a necessary part of the business. Today, U.S. poultry companies are very proud of treating their wastewater far better than their regulatory permits require,” he added.

Dr. Brian Kiepper, one of my fellow Clean Water Award judges and an expert on environmental management at the University of Georgia’s poultry science department, says poultry companies are setting lofty goals for their wastewater treatment programs: “More and more, I am seeing poultry processors set goals that really cause them to stretch to achieve their targeted environmental results. A number of poultry processors, for example, have set a goal to be zero landfill by 2020.

“Some poultry processors, as another example, are experimenting with technologies (reverse osmosis) that would ultimately allow wastewater to be cleaned to the point where it could conceivably be used in food production processes,” he added.

Clean Water Award judge Jeff Carroll of Wayne Farms said: “There’s an increasing number of poultry companies that are high performers when it comes to environmental performance. Their managers are passionate about environmental matters and they are setting new standards. This group is beginning to drive the environmental aspirations of the entire industry."        

The bottom line is that the team members in the wastewater and environmental departments in the U.S. poultry industry no longer work behind the scenes. Most of them are justifiably proud of their work and performance, and more and more ready to be showcased by the poultry industry.