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Farmers Want 'Big Chicken' Held Responsible for Polluting Chesapeake Bay

Environmentalists and farmers want "Big Chicken" to pay.

Fifty-five farmers signed a petition sent to Gov. Martin O'Malley on Thursday, asking him to hold large poultry producers responsible for pollution from chicken houses seeping into the Chesapeake Bay.

The petition circulated by Environment Maryland says companies like Salisbury-based Perdue Inc. and Tyson Foods Inc. keep their prices low and market share large by leaving the costs of cleaning up poultry industry pollution to taxpayers and individual farm owners paid to raise the chickens.

An O'Malley spokesman said large poultry companies could find themselves held responsible for some of the farm pollution when the state builds its comprehensive plan for dealing with runoff into the bay. The Environmental Protection Agency will finalize the plan later this year, laying out pollution limits for the bay's watershed.

"I think there's certainly a need from everybody in the industry and on the regulatory side to work together," said Shaun Adamec, O'Malley's press secretary. "It certainly doesn't do anybody any good for poultry farmers to say we own the chickens, but not the manure they produce."

Perdue and Tyson executives deflected the criticism in the petition, and touted their own environmental records.

"We've partnered with EPA through the historic Clean Waters Environmental Initiative to work with the farm families who grow our chickens to help ensure environmental compliance of their poultry operations," said Steve Schwalb, Perdue's vice president of environmental sustainability.

A Tyson spokeswoman called the petition "a cheap shot."

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