Farmers Face Field Testing In Poultry Lawsuit

Farmers may soon have to open their gates to allow the state of Oklahoma to test for pollutants.

A federal magistrate granted Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson's request to sample soil, chicken litter and water on farms in Oklahoma and Arkansas at a hearing Thursday in that state's lawsuit against 14 poultry companies over water quality in the Illinois River watershed.

"I believe the judge recognized the importance of the issues raised by contaminated runoff and the necessity to begin testing this spring," Edmondson said.

Edmondson said the tests will likely not start for at least a week. Both the poultry companies and the court have to be satisfied with bio-security procedures to avoid possibly spreading disease from one farm to another that might affect the poultry. He said the tests may not start until April or May.

The water samples would be taken of both runoff from the fields during rain storms and water that has leached into the soil.

Poultry companies protested allowing the soil sampling ahead of normal discovery procedures.

Efforts to contact Janet Wilkerson, a spokeswoman for the companies, for comments on Thursday's decision were not successful by deadline.

Wilkerson said in an earlier interview that Edmondson's case has been pending for eight months and Edmondson has claimed for years that he has proof of the pollution.

"Now he comes to the court claiming that he needs help "confirming" that what he has been saying all this time is actually true. Frankly, Mr. Edmondson should have worried about getting his facts straight a long time ago," Wilkerson said in a previous statement.

U.S. Magistrate Sam Joyner said the state showed good cause for pursuing the sampling.

"This lawsuit is about whether the Illinois River watershed has been polluted by chicken litter," Joyner said in granting the state's request.

Edmondson requested the tests as a part of the discovery phase in a lawsuit he filed in June accusing the poultry companies of knowingly polluting the Illinois River watershed in eastern Oklahoma.

He claims the chicken litter running off of fields into streams and rivers contains metals, hormones, high levels of nutrients and other harmful substances.

Eight poultry companies and six of their subsidiary companies are named in the suit including Springdale-based Tyson Foods Inc.

Source:The Morning News
calendar icon 24 March 2006
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