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Case Opens against Farmers in Poultry Litter Lawsuit

by 5m Editor
25 September 2009, at 10:20am

US - The state of Oklahoma has opened its case in a lawsuit in which poultry producers in Oklahoma and Arkansas are accused of allowing litter to pollute the catchment area of the Illinois River.

Attorney General, Drew Edmondson, painted a bleak picture of the Illinois River watershed yesterday (24 September) as the state of Oklahoma opened its case in a pollution lawsuit against the poultry industry, reports Tulsa World.

Lake Tenkiller, once described as 'crystal clear', has become polluted, with a 'great deal of the responsibility' at the hands of the poultry industry, Mr Edmondson said. Hundreds of thousands of chickens and turkeys are raised each year in the watershed, which straddles the Oklahoma-Arkansas state line, he said. The resulting poultry waste is applied to area fields as fertiliser for crops, he said.

The attorney general said the state would present evidence during the trial – which is expected to involve 40 to 50 days of testimony – that will show how excessive use of poultry litter has contributed to the degradation of its lakes and streams.

Jars of brownish water, reportedly run-off from land where poultry litter had been applied, were displayed before US District Judge Gregory Frizzell, who is presiding over the non-jury trial in Tulsa federal court.

Attorneys for the state said the poultry industry practices 'factory farming' and is not dealing with its own waste.

Mr Edmondson said the state would present evidence showing that excessive amounts of bacteria and other pathogens in the watershed have been traced to poultry litter.

"We are here today to determine the future of the Illinois River watershed," he said during the state's opening remarks.

Attorneys for the poultry industry, meanwhile, said it has been a good steward of the land, reports Tulsa World.

"Poultry farms are not factories; they are farms," said Robert George, an attorney for Tyson Foods. He said testimony will be heard from farmers who contract with Tyson to raise chickens. The growers care about clean water and, in fact, have never become ill from drinking well water at their homes, he said.

Attorneys for the other companies echoed Mr George's contention that their companies have acted responsibly and that the state has no evidence tying any pollution to their operations.

John Tucker, an attorney for Cargill Inc. and Cargill Turkey Production LLC, showed the court a copy of an Animal Waste Management Plan issued to one of the companies' growers on behalf of the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.

The plan, which Mr Tucker called the 'elephant in the corner of the room', outlined how the poultry waste could be safely used on the farmer's fields.

"If the recommended management practices are followed, there should be no adverse environmental impact," the plan indicates.

Attorneys for other companies highlighted what they have done to mitigate any problems that might be caused by poultry litter.

A representative for George's Inc. and George's Farms Inc. said the companies have been hauling litter out of the Illinois River watershed at a 'fairly substantial cost' since 2003.

"We are responsible people running a responsible company acting in a responsible way," said the attorney, Woody Bassett.

John Elrod, an attorney for Simmons Foods Inc., wrapped up the defendants' opening statements with their own version of show-and-tell.

He showed a video of a man in or near various creeks and rivers in the watershed. In each location, he was shown dipping a glass pitcher into the water, filling it up and holding it before the camera. Each time, the water appeared to be clear.

The trial is scheduled to resume on 30 September, when the state is expected to call its first witness, according to Tulsa World.