IDABEL, OKLA. – After a three-week trial ended in McCurtain County on Friday, 10 Oklahoma poultry growers in McCurtain County were awarded a $7.3 million judgment against Tyson Foods Inc., which the growers claimed used unethical practices. This was the first of several similar lawsuits in Idabel to come to trial against Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson, according to The Associated Press. Tyson plans to appeal the ruling.
Tyson pressured the growers into borrowing money to build new chicken houses but paid less than the growers needed to break even, the producers charged.
“We are extremely disappointed with the jury’s decision, but given the manner in which this trial was conducted, we are not surprised the jury reached a runaway verdict,” said a statement from Tyson sent to MEATPOULTRY.com by e-mail. “Throughout the trial, the jury was presented with a tabloid-style rumor mill of mostly fabricated evidence that had absolutely nothing to do with the plaintiffs’ claims in the lawsuit.
“This fostered an atmosphere in which a miscarriage of justice was almost certain to occur,” the statement said. “We moved for a mistrial on five separate occasions prior to the jury’s verdict and we believe we have strong and numerous grounds to appeal the outcome of this proceeding.”
This lawsuit should have never been filed, Tyson continued. “We have abided by the terms of our contracts with the growers involved in this lawsuit and we work hard to treat all our contract producers fairly,” Tyson said. “There are 225 contract producers who raise broiler chickens for our Broken Bow plant, including 79 in McCurtain County, and we believe we have good working relationships with them. They’re vital to our operations and we want them to be successful.”
Tyson has a significant economic investment in McCurtain County.”Our Broken Bow plant and related operations, including a feed mill and hatchery, generate an estimated annual economic benefit of $75 million,” the company pointed out. “This includes payroll, grower pay, utilities and other local purchases. Tyson employs almost 1,100 people in McCurtain County. The company is also in the process of investing more than $29 million in improvements to the Broken Bow plant. The project involves the installation of new production equipment and the creation of 230 additional jobs.
“We are very concerned about the legal climate in McCurtain County and we are assessing all options available to us to address this injustice and to prevent it from happening again,” Tyson concluded.