Processing Magazine

Journal rejects science used in Oklahoma poultry suit

March 10, 2009
A lawsuit accusing Arkansas poultry companies of polluting Oklahoma''s water with chicken waste rests on scientific research that has been called into question as the case nears a key hearing, according to the Associated Press. In order to prove that poultry waste and not something else is causing the water pollution, Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson relies on a microbiologist who says biological markers in the chicken waste allow her to track it from its source to the water supply. A federal judge has told Edmondson the research is not admissible unless other scientists find it reliable. And as Edmondson gets ready to appeal his case to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals the research has taken another hit. An editor for a leading, peer-reviewed scientific journal says in an e-mail obtained by The Associated Press that the journal will not publish the science Edmondson''s expert witness, microbiologist Valerie Harwood, uses to track the waste. Edmondson''s case is important to people throughout the region that have seen the quality of the once-pristine Illinois River watershed decline over the years. He has even made the suggestion that an E. coli outbreak that killed a man and sickened others who ate at a northeastern Oklahoma restaurant was caused by chicken waste getting into the restaurant''s well. The lawsuit is also being closely watched by the nation''s meat industry. If a judge were to rule that applying poultry waste to the land ends up polluting the water, the industry could be faced with the expensive and difficult task of finding others ways to dispose of the waste. Middleman farmers and poultry growers in Oklahoma and Arkansas whose livelihoods are tied to the success of the industry also have a major stake, If Edmondson were to prevail, it could set the stage for similar environmental lawsuits in other parts of the country.