Like it or not, the poultry wastewater treatment facility can be a processor’s first, and most memorable, point of contact with the public. Not the advertising for the company’s nutritious poultry products or the well-manicured plant entrance, and certainly not the press release that attempts damage control when a wastewater discharge violation is reported in the newspapers.
Why are wastewater treatment operations so front-and-center in public attention today? First, environmental laws and regulations are increasingly stringent. And publicity driven by environmental groups heightens public attention. All this leads to heightened environmental concerns on the part of customers and consumers.
That’s why wastewater treatment is no longer the out-of-sight, out-of-mind department in the U.S. poultry industry. Poultry companies are investing heavily in wastewater treatment facilities and shining a light on their excellence. Rather than placing wastewater treatment operations behind defensive moats to keep them from public attention, companies are educating customers and consumers about these facilities and are even conducting public tours.
Take, for example, GNP Company’s wastewater treatment facility in Cold Spring, Minn., where millions of dollars are invested in a state-of-the-art membrane bioreactor to keep the effluent discharged into the Sauk River orders of magnitude cleaner than federal and state limits. The company conducts tours of the odorless and clean facility for groups like the local chamber of commerce and Boy Scouts.
Clay Watson, environmental services manager, takes corporate accountability into the neighborhood with at least quarterly visits with owners of other businesses in the vicinity of the plant. He checks for any complaints about odor, in addition to keeping lines of communication open. This is in recognition that what happens in the wastewater treatment operation is inevitably a public affair. As Watson explained, it also helps his wastewater treatment team continue to “walk the talk” in environmental sustainability.
Finally, it comes down to customers and consumers wanting their values to match up with the values of the companies that produce the food they consume. How poultry companies care for the environment is more important than ever before to consumers.