State acts on poultry companies
By Chad Previch
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 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."