BALTIMORE, Md. – Testimony wrapped up Oct. 24 in an environmental lawsuit against Perdue Farms Inc. and one of its contract growers, Berlin, Md.–based Hudson Farm.

The trial, held in US District Court in Baltimore, got underway Oct. 9 to settle a case launched three years ago. The Waterkeeper Alliance alleged that chicken manure from Hudson Farm was polluting local waters that ultimately flow to the Chesapeake Bay. The group argued that Perdue Farms also should be liable for it.

Environmentalists and agriculture interests each say the trial could have far-reaching impact. Agriculture groups have said the suit could set a harmful precedent for other family farms. Environmentalists say poultry giants such as Perdue should be held responsible for pollution by their contract growers. Currently, poultry companies have not been held liable for pollution associated with contract farms.

"After almost three years, this case came down to the proposition that any chicken house with a door or a fan is a source of pollution and therefore likely in violation of the Clean Water Act," said Julie DeYoung, a Perdue Farms spokesperson, in a prepared statement. “To make this ridiculous argument, the Waterkeeper Alliance, Assateague Coastal Trust and Univ. of Maryland Environmental Law Clinic put a farm family through hell, drove a wedge between farmers and environmentalists, and wasted taxpayer resources.

“While we are prepared for any outcome, and thank Judge Nickerson for his hard work in conducting the trial, we don’t believe the plaintiffs’ proved their case on any front and we look forward to being vindicated by the judge’s ruling,” she added.

“We remain committed to responsible environmental stewardship and share that commitment with the farm families who raise our chickens,” De Young said. “Perdue is an environmental leader and has a long history of investing millions of dollars in research, technologies, equipment upgrades, awareness and training to address environmental issues.”

Lawyers for both sides are expected to submit post-trial briefs by Nov. 14 to US District Court Judge William Nickerson, who is hearing the case. Responses are due by Nov. 21, and closing arguments are tentatively scheduled for Nov. 30.