Judge does an 'about face' on poultry trial evidence

by Bryan Salvage
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TULSA, OKLA. — A federal judge hearing Oklahoma's pollution lawsuit against the Arkansas poultry industry decided on Sept. 30 to reverse an earlier decision he made and admit government reports describing problems associated with chicken waste in the Illinois River valley and what to do about it, according to The Associated Press.

Earlier in the day, attorneys for the 11 poultry companies being sued by the state of 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 following a midday break, Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson told the judge the poultry companies had not objected to the reports before the trial began. Mr. Edmondson told the judge the studies, which were 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., Cargill Inc., Cal-Maine Foods Inc., Tyson Poultry Inc., Tyson Chicken Inc., Cobb-Vantress Inc., Cargill Turkey Production L.L.C., George's Inc., George's Farms Inc., Peterson Farms Inc. and Simmons Foods Inc., argued the reports were "political" documents aimed more at developing a legal strategy against them than providing scientific information to the public.

The judge’s 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.

Farmers in northeastern Oklahoma have emptied litter from their chicken houses and spread the droppings on their fields to grow other crops for decades, AP said. Oklahoma's lawsuit claims runoff from the fields has polluted the river with harmful bacteria. The industry says it has acted responsibly and within the law in the way it handles poultry waste.

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