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[Archived] Warrants issued for poultry inspections

| News | October 19, 2005

Farmers: Search warrants likely to pass bird disease

BY ROBERT J. SMITH Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Posted on Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Eastern Oklahoma poultry farmers worried Tuesday that search warrants allowing soil and poultry litter inspections on their farms will fuel the spread of a deadly bird disease. 

Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson requested the soil and poultry litter sampling by the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry as part of the state's lawsuit against nine Arkansas-based poultry companies. 

The farmers are worried about laryngotracheitis, which is commonly referred to as LT. The respiratory disease can kill chickens, turkeys and other birds. Humans can carry it from one poultry house to another, said Jack Carson, a spokesman for the Oklahoma agriculture agency. 

Delaware County District Judge Robert Haney issued search warrants Tuesday allowing samples from four farms, but inspectors who visited the farms didn't serve the warrants. The inspectors were turned away at all four farms, said Keith Morgan, head of Poultry Partners, an organization that includes 400 farm families in Oklahoma and Arkansas. Farmers, inspectors and
attorneys expected the warrants to be taken to the farms today. Carson said the inspectors won't enter poultry houses. "They are taking soil samples where the litter had been spread on the fields," he said. "We are aware of the LT issue and are taking precautions." 

Michael Graves, an attorney Poultry Partners, said the group could move to have the warrants quashed. 

"Part of this has to do with the whole concept of due process. You don't want the government traipsing around the farm for no good reason. It's a very serious situation," he said. 

Poultry Partners asked to participate in negotiations with Edmondson about regulations for poultry waste earlier this year, but he declined. Edmondson filed the lawsuit in U. S. District Court in June, accusing poultry companies of allowing poultry litter to pollute the Illinois River. 

Farmers typically spread manure-rich poultry litter on fields as a
fertilizer. Nutrients in the litter that aren't used by plants can wash into streams, contributing to overgrowth of aquatic plants. 

Phosphorus is among the nutrients contained in poultry litter that can cause problems. 

In 2002, Oklahoma set a limit for phosphorus in streams, saying the maximum must be 0. 037 milligrams or less per liter when the water crosses from the Arkansas-Oklahoma line. 

The poultry inspectors didn't have warrants when they arrived at Joey Reed's farm near Colcord around 9 a. m. Tuesday, but they sought permission to get samples anyway. His wife, Rhonda, turned them away. 

"My husband wasn't here and I wasn't going to give them permission," said Rhonda Reed, who husband raises chickens for Siloam Springs-based Simmons Inc. "With the outbreak of LT, I wouldn't let them on and they didn't show a search warrant." 

The sampling plan didn't sit well with Morgan. He spent Tuesday following poultry inspectors. 

"We're looking at health security right now," Morgan said. "We've written letters to the department of agriculture. We're very concerned about this LT. It could put you out of business for a couple of months, and they know that." 

Poultry inspector John Littlefield and a team of Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry employees were aware Morgan was following them throughout the day. 

"I know them," Littlefield said. "They are decent folks. It's just weird being followed, but we're trying to be very careful about the LT. It's a big concern of ours."