Give stakeholders a voice in poultry regulations

August 29, 2017

New regulations may be in store for poultry farmers. Sussex County Council is considering doubling the required distance from a new chicken house to a neighbor's dwelling. Another proposal requires buffers between a new house and an adjacent road.

These are good ideas.

What is not so good is that they are regulations proposed by the poultry industry. The public is not expected to have a voice in developing new regulations until public hearings before the plannning and zoning commission and council – far too late in the process for meaningful public input.

When council upgraded its sign ordinance, it established a task force that gave numerous stakeholders a voice. Why not proceed the same way for regulating the $1 billion Delaware poultry industry, a cornerstone of the county's economy?

Today's chicken houses can exceed 36,000 square feet – nearly one acre of chickens under roof.

In Sussex, people who live next to cornfields could one day find themselves living next to 10 new chicken houses with 400,000 chickens – and because raising chickens is a farming activity, it's permitted in an AR-1 zone. Those chicken houses could go up with no public hearing.

Farmers, on the other hand, may want assurances developers can't build up to their property lines, inviting future complaints.

As council considers new regulations, it should certainly consider the question that looms: Does farming in an AR-1 zone have limits? Poultry production, once a sideline to crop production, has for some farmers become the primary cash crop, leading to large-scale, intensive poultry production.

At what point should large broiler operations require public hearings? Should council limit the total square footage of chicken houses on one property?

Poultry producers say they want to be good neighbors. If that's really true, they should slow down, give the public an opportunity to help develop new ordinances and use the process to educate the public on the future of the industry.

When industry writes its own rules, the fox is clearly in charge of the henhouse. 

  • Editorials are considered by the editorial board and written by Laura Ritter, news editor, and Dennis Forney, publisher, with occasional contributions from other board members: Trish Vernon, editor; Dave Frederick, sports editor emeritus; Jen Ellingsworth, associate editor; Nick Roth, sports editor; and Chris Rausch, associate publisher.