State Prosecutors Rest in Poultry Litter Case

US - The state has finished presenting its case in the the trial alleging that poultry companies caused pollution of the Illinois River. The defence is now arguing for a dismissal.
calendar icon 15 December 2009
clock icon 3 minute read

The state rested its case in its pollution lawsuit against the chicken industry on 14 December, prompting the defence team to spend the rest of the day trying to persuade the judge to throw out the case.

Tulsa World reports that the state took 12 weeks to present its case, which accuses Tyson Foods and 10 other poultry companies of polluting the Illinois River watershed and surrounding lakes and streams with excessive levels of phosphorus, which is present in poultry waste. The waste, known as chicken litter, is spread on pastures and crop-land.

US District Judge Gregory Frizzell will hear more arguments from the defence today (15 December).

One of Tyson's attorneys, Jay Jorgenson, said the case is unusual because the state controls chicken litter use with regulations designed to protect its natural resources. High amounts of phosphorus cause algae blooms in the water, creating a habitat for bacteria and depriving fish of oxygen.

Judge Frizzell pointed out that part of the alleged pollution comes from Arkansas, outside Oklahoma's jurisdiction.

He asked Mr Jorgenson what would prevent him from imposing an injunction on the spread of chicken litter if the regulations are not preventing a nuisance.

"You can't ignore that phosphorus builds up," Judge Frizzell said. Mr Jorgenson argued that there can't be a remedy because the state has not proved the cause of the pollution.

Another Tyson attorney, Gordon Todd, said: "There's no evidence tying specific companies with certain growers and Oklahoma streams."

Mr Jorgenson said that the growers – not the companies – own the litter and keep the profits when they sell it.

Mr Todd said there is a 'soup' of many different phosphorus sources, including cattle with access to streams and commercial fertilizer.

"We have to deal with the cows, your honour, if we're really concerned about water quality," he said.

Fred Baker, an attorney for the state, said chicken litter was the most plausible source of water pollution.

Mr Baker said that evidence does not support chicken litter being highly valued by farmers as fertiliser. A survey showed that a good number of them do not want it, he told Tulsa World.

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