Poultry Companies Face 'Day of Reckoning' over Pollution

US - Several large poultry companies are said to be at risk of going broke if they do not settle claims that they have contaminated Oklahoma waterways.
calendar icon 11 August 2008
clock icon 4 minute read

This was part of a statement from state Attorney General W.A. Drew Edmondson in an interview with Legal Newsline.

Mr Edmondson, a Democrat, is suing several large poultry companies, claiming that waste from their farms has polluted the Illinois River watershed and Lake Tenkiller in eastern Oklahoma.

"You cannot destroy a watershed in the name of profit"
OK state Attorney General, W.A. Drew Edmondson

"To a very large extent, it is in their interest to try to reach a negotiated settlement that is a doable deal," he said.

Instead, he said, the companies are "trying to exhaust every avenue they can to avoid the kind of financial outlay we are talking about here."

"I would expect that the damage model that we create showing what is actually happened in the watershed will be beyond the reach of the companies," he said.

"It's going to be far more significant than the resources that are available even though it's a multi-billion dollar industry."

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

As for the potential financial impact the lawsuit could have on the poultry companies, Mr Edmondson said he is "sympathetic, but not sympathetic enough to drop the lawsuit" because the companies' potential losses "does not deter us from the overriding objective of having a business operate in an environmentally sound manner."

The attorney general does not expect the poultry companies to "craft a solution" until their attorneys have "filed every motion they can think of" to stop the lawsuit from progressing.

"It's only when they have exhausted what they reasonably think are methods of avoiding a day of reckoning that they will get realistic about resolving the issue," Mr Edmondson said.

The lawsuit is being handled primary by the attorney general's office with the assistance of outside counsel, which has borne most of the costs associated with the lawsuit, Edmondson said. The case has a tentative trial date of September 2009.

"We're gearing for trial at the same time we're always willing to talk," the attorney general said. "If there is not a negotiated settlement between now and then, we'll take the case to court next year."

Mr Edmondson added that the poultry companies are responsible for the run-off of polluted water from tons of poultry waste that has flowed into the waterways as the result of improper storage.

For the alleged damage, he wants an undisclosed amount, to be "hopefully" negotiated with the companies. If no deal is reached, an amount will be submitted to a jury, he added.

"We want enough to do some work reclaiming and restoring the river and the lake and the tributaries to the river," he said.

"The bottom line," Mr Edmondson said, "You cannot destroy a watershed in the name of profit."

Pollution from poultry farms in an issue of national importance, Mr Edmondson said.

Closing the interview, the attonrey general called for a "national solution" to protect the nation's waterways, especially in Georgia, the Carolinas and the Delmarva Peninsula states of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.

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