Tyson and others lose Oklahoma lawsuit over poultry pollution

The world’s largest poultry producer, Tyson Foods, is among nearly a dozen poultry companies that have less than two months to reach an agreement with the state of Oklahoma on how to clean up a chicken manure-polluted watershed.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Frizzell in Tulsa ruled Wednesday that Arkansas-based company Tyson Foods, Minnesota-based Cargill Inc. and other companies are polluting the Illinois River, causing a public nuisance and trespassing by dumping the waste or spreading dung on land in eastern Oklahoma. and that it was then leached into the river divide.

The companies and state have until March 17 to come up with an agreement to address the effects of the pollution, including oxygen depletion in the river, algae growth and damage to fish populations.

According to former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who filed the lawsuit in the case in 2005, that’s enough time to reach such a settlement.

“Whether (poultry companies) will ultimately agree to a sensible solution, I don’t know,” Edmondson said.

“They don’t have much leeway” to make demands in an agreement, he added, but “I don’t know if they know that yet.”

Edmondson noted that if an agreement is not reached, the court will enter judgment on the remedies pursuant to Frizzell’s ruling.

Cargill spokesman Daniel Sullivan said in an email Thursday that the company has a record of “taking proactive steps to protect the environment,” but he didn’t say what the next step would be.

“We received and are reviewing the verdict related to the … Oklahoma case. We remain committed to conducting our business in a responsible and sustainable manner.”

A spokesman for Tyson did not immediately respond to a call Thursday for comment. The company told Tulsa World on Wednesday that it was reviewing the ruling.

The lawsuit was directed against 11 companies. The trial ended in 2009 without Frizzell having decided for more than 13 years.

The judge eventually dismissed the companies’ arguments, including that the state was ignoring other sources of pollution, such as sewage treatment plants and waste from livestock farms.

Frizzell wrote that the companies spread an estimated 354,000 to 528,000 tons of chicken manure on the land each year.

“The Court therefore finds that while other sources contribute to the phosphorus load on the (watershed), poultry offal is the primary contributor to the phosphorus causing water damage,” Frizzell wrote.

The verdict says the once “crystal clear” waters of the Illinois River are now cloudy.

Current Attorney General Gentner Drummond called the ruling “great and historic” for Oklahoma.

“We will carefully review the judge’s decision and determine the appropriate path forward,” Drummond said in a statement.

Edmondson declined to say what he thought would be a fair resolution, adding that he hoped to speak to Drummond about the case.

The other defendants named in the lawsuit are Cal-Maine Foods Inc., Tyson Poultry Inc., Tyson Chicken Inc., Cobb-Vantress Inc., Cargill Turkey Production LLC, George’s Inc., George’s Farms Inc., Peterson Farms Inc. and Simmons Foods Inc.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/business/2023/01/19/tyson-others-lose-oklahoma-lawsuit-over-poultry-pollution/ Tyson and others lose Oklahoma lawsuit over poultry pollution

Sarah Y. Kim

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