Iowa Public Television

 

Poultry Industry Claims Oklahoma Didn't Enforce Water Rules`

posted on October 23, 2009


TULSA, Okla. — Arkansas poultry companies claimed Wednesday that an Oklahoma agency could have gone to court long ago to enforce water quality standards in a sensitive watershed, but failed to do so until 2005, when it filed a federal lawsuit blaming the companies for pollution there.

That accusation came during poultry company attorneys' questioning of Teena Gunter, the deputy general counsel for the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food & Forestry.

Gunter described a state agency that seemed overwhelmed and understaffed, with only two poultry inspectors responsible for dozens of chicken houses in the 1 million-acre Illinois River watershed, which spans parts of Oklahoma and Arkansas.

Oklahoma is suing 11 companies, accusing them of polluting the river valley with tons of bird waste.

The companies have maintained their contract growers — the farmers who raise the birds — have broken no laws in their handling of the waste because they received permits from Oklahoma and Arkansas to spread the waste as an inexpensive fertilizer on fields or sell it to other farmers.

Mark Hopson, an attorney for Tyson Foods Inc. and its subsidiaries, Tyson Poultry Inc. and Tyson Chicken Inc., pointed to a 1998 opinion by the Oklahoma attorney general that essentially gave Gunter's agency the power to go to district court and get an order to stop practices it believed were violating water quality standards.

Hopson added that Gunter's department was supposed to notify the poultry companies of any violations that their contract growers were cited for and said she could have proposed regulations to curb any pollution problems.

Gunter did not deny any of Hopson's claims. At one point, U.S. District Judge Gregory K. Frizzell asked Gunter directly if there was "any action" by her department to limit the application of chicken waste in the watershed.

"No, sir," Gunter responded.

Gunter's testimony came in the afternoon session of the trial, which began last month.

Earlier Wednesday, geologist J. Berton Fisher, who first took the stand Oct. 8, finally wrapped up his testimony as an expert witness for the state.

As usual, the trial slogged along, as objections from attorneys and delays over housekeeping matters ate up a fair chunk of time — something that has plagued this trial since opening arguments.

The other defendants named in the lawsuit are Cargill Inc., Cal-Maine Foods, Inc., Cobb-Vantress Inc., Cargill Turkey Production LLC, George's Inc., George's Farms Inc., Peterson Farms Inc. and Simmons Foods Inc.


Tags: agriculture animals chickens courts industry judges livestock news Oklahoma pollution poultry water quality