Processing Magazine

Judge reverses decision on poultry trial evidence

October 1, 2009
The Associated Press reports that a federal judge hearing Oklahoma''s pollution lawsuit against the Arkansas poultry industry decided to admit government reports describing problems associated with chicken waste in the Illinois River valley and what to do about it. Hours earlier, attorneys for the 11 poultry companies being sued by Oklahoma persuaded U.S. District Judge Gregory K. Frizzell to exclude some of the reports indicating the industry was largely responsible for pollution in the watershed on the Oklahoma-Arkansas border. But after a midday break, Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson told the judge the poultry companies had not objected to the reports before the trial began. Edmondson told Frizzell the studies -- conducted by state and federal agencies since the early 1990s -- identified poultry litter as a major source of phosphorus pollution in the 1-million-acre watershed. Attorneys for the defendants, which include Tyson Foods Inc. and Cargill Inc., had argued the reports were "political" documents aimed more at developing a legal strategy against them than providing scientific information to the public. The sudden reversal added a twist on the first day of testimony in the 2005 lawsuit, which claims hundreds of thousands of tons of bird waste spread on fields each year as a cheap fertilizer has been a major cause of pollution in the watershed. For its first witness, Oklahoma called Miles Tolbert, the state''s former environmental secretary who helped file the lawsuit. By questioning Tolbert and using historical documents and public records, Edmondson attempted to build a timeline tracing the decades-long deterioration of the watershed. Tolbert summarized reports from the late 1800s that described the Illinois River as among some of the "prettiest" on the continent and noted an outdoor guide published in the 1950s described a clear, cold river. The outcome of the case is being closely monitored by other states thinking about challenging the way the poultry industry does business.