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[Archived] Poultry defendant says growers control waste

| News | January 31, 2018

Cargill: Growers in control of waste

BY ROBERT J. SMITH Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Cargill Inc. said in a court filing Monday that it can’t control how its poultry growers use waste from their farming operations.

The filing was the first response to a lawsuit Oklahoma filed in June accusing nine poultry companies of contributing phosphorus to the watersheds that feed six Oklahoma scenic rivers. One source of phosphorus is poultry waste that’s used as fertilizer after it’s cleared from poultry houses.

Eight other companies named in the lawsuit hadn’t filed responses when the U.S. District Court offices in Tulsa closed Monday. The other companies could file responses electronically after the clerk’s office closed to meet Monday’s response deadline.

Oklahoma’s lawsuit is based in part on its limit for phosphorus in scenic rivers, among them the Illinois River. Arkansas is required to meet the phosphorus limit — 0.037 milligrams per liter of water — in four streams that start in Arkansas before flowing into Oklahoma.

Among Cargill’s claims in the response is that Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson is trying to impose Oklahoma statutes and laws upon practices in Arkansas in violation of the due process clause of the 14 th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Tulsa attorney John H. Tucker, who wrote Cargill’s response, also alleges Edmondson’s claims "violate the sovereignty of Arkansas."

Later in the 44-page document, Tucker wrote that Cargill "has neither the ability nor authority to control or affect the timing, manner and location of the application of poultry litter."

Janet Wilkerson, a vice president for Peterson Farms and a spokesman for the companies being sued, wouldn’t comment on the court filing. The companies plan news conferences in Oklahoma City and Tulsa today to answer questions, she said.

Emily Lange, a spokesman for Edmondson’s office, said the attorney general won’t comment prior to the poultry companies’ news conference.

The defendants in the lawsuit include Aviagen Inc. of Huntsville, Ala.; Cargill Inc. of Minneapolis; Cobb-Vantress Inc. of Siloam Springs; George’s Inc. of Springdale; Peterson Farms Inc. of Decatur; Simmons Foods Inc. of Siloam Springs; Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale; and Willow Brook Foods of Springfield, Mo. An egg producer — Cal-Maine Foods Inc. of Jackson, Miss. — is also a defendant.

Oklahoma’s lawsuit says the companies have violated the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act, state and federal nuisance laws and Oklahoma environmental quality and agriculture codes and have trespassed. Cargill denied all of those claims in its filing.

The history of legal spats involving Oklahoma government agencies, Arkansas’ governments and poultry companies dates to the 1980s. That’s when Oklahoma began a long legal battle against Fayetteville’s quest to build a sewer plant in the Illinois River basin.

The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, and in 1993 the court ruled that Fayetteville could build a sewer plant. But the decision also required upstream states such as Arkansas to meet downstream states’ water quality standards.