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[Archived] State acts on poultry companies

| News | January 03, 2013

Oklahoman, 8/19/2005

State acts on poultry companies

By Chad Previch
The Oklahoman

Attorney General Drew Edmondson moved forward with a lawsuit against 
14 poultry companies as four years of negotiations finally broke down 
The two sides will meet in federal court.

"It's disappointing," Edmondson said. "I'm not surprised that we have 
not succeeded in these talks because none of the others were 
successful either, but it was worth the effort."

Edmondson filed the lawsuit on June 13, but issued no summons. He 
said Thursday he will file an amended complaint and summonses will be 
issued to the companies.

He also will file for a preliminary injunction to stop applications 
of poultry litter -- a mixture of chicken manure and bedding -- on 
land in the Illinois River watershed.

"It's a major development, perhaps predictable," Edmondson said of 
today's expected filings.

The complaint filed in June claims some of the country's largest 
providers of chicken, turkey and eggs violate the federal 
Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act, 
state and federal nuisance laws, and Oklahoma Environmental Quality 
and Agriculture rules.

Named in the lawsuit are Tyson Foods Inc., Tyson Poultry Inc., Tyson 
Chicken Inc., Cobb Vantress Inc., Aviagen Inc., Cal-Maine Foods Inc., 
Cal Maine Farms Inc., Cargill Inc., Cargill Turkey Production LLC, 
George's Inc., George's Farms Inc., Peterson Farms Inc., Simmons 
Foods Inc. and Willow Brook Foods Inc.

Janet Wilkerson, vice president for Peterson Farms and a spokeswoman 
for the poultry industry, said Edmondson is jeopardizing agriculture.

"We have tried to be part of this overall process but it does not 
sound like anyone in the attorney general's office wants to listen," 
she said. "Spending millions more on lawyers is not going to improve 
water quality, but it may well serve a devastating blow to the 
farming economy of Oklahoma."

Edmondson and the poultry companies have been meeting about litter 
components suspected of contaminating the Illinois River watershed. 
The Illinois River has high phosphorus levels partially caused by 
runoff from Arkansas and Oklahoma poultry farms, according to an 
Oklahoma Water Resources Board study.

Increased phosphorus causes odor, taste and algae problems in area 
lakes, rivers and streams.

Edmondson had asked the companies to take responsibility for the 
pollution and pay for cleanup.

The litter has damaged hundreds of millions of dollars worth of water 
and land, Edmondson said Thursday. He said the lawsuit could seek 
that much money, but a judge could rule the companies cannot afford 
the amount.

"The damage is enormous," Edmondson said.

The industry offered Edmondson several changes to avoid the suit, 
including immediately removing 202,500 tons of litter from the 
Oklahoma Scenic River Watersheds through the next three years.

Keith Morgan, president of Poultry Partners and a farmer in Kansas, 
OK, said the lawsuit would devastate farmers and is only about money.

"It's going to get big and ugly," he said. "Us being able to raise 
the national food supply in the United States is a very important issue here."

Edmondson said about 3,000 contract growers in Oklahoma and Arkansas 
will be affected.

"We have responsibility not only to those growers but also to the 
many thousands of people who are dependent on those waterways for 
recreation ... all of them who need clean water for a living," he 
said. "It's the municipal water supply for a dozen or more 
communities and we simply cannot allow it to be killed."