TULSA, OK -- Tyson Foods Inc., the world's largest meat producer, is fighting a request by Oklahoma's attorney general to depose its chairman in a federal court case over poultry litter pollution.
Earlier this month, Tyson filed a motion for a protective order in attempts to keep company chairman John H. Tyson from being deposed.
Tyson is the grandson of company founder John W. Tyson, who died in 1967.
A judge has not ruled whether Tyson should be deposed for the case, but company spokesman Gary Mickelson on Monday called the state's request "simply harassment and totally unnecessary."
"We have already been giving the attorney general access to the information and company representatives directly involved in the issues relating to this case," Mickelson said.
Tyson is one of 13 Arkansas companies being sued by Attorney General Drew Edmondson for allegedly polluting the Illinois River watershed with bird waste, which could pose a danger to human health. A trial is expected to begin in September.
"Since he ran the company for so many years, we are interested in talking to Mr. Tyson about the company's operation," said Charlie Price, spokesman for the attorney general.
In its motion for protective order, company attorneys argued that in the three and a half years since the case was filed, Oklahoma has never sought to depose Tyson.
It also claims the state scheduled the deposition for Tyson only after Tyson Foods sought to depose Edmondson regarding his allegations that a deadly E. coli outbreak in the state last year could have been caused by poultry litter contamination.
Those allegations have been repeatedly denied by the industry, and the court later rejected Tyson's request to question Edmondson.
"This tit-for-tat deposition practice is contrary to this court's rulings," Tyson's attorneys claimed in their brief.
"Plaintiff's attempt to match deposition for deposition is unnecessary and would waste the parties' resources at a critical time."
The state has claimed in court records that it wants to depose Tyson because one relevant witness the company provided for "was either ill-prepared or generally unknowledgeable on pertinent topics."
Companies named in Edmondson's lawsuit include Tyson, Tyson Poultry Inc., Tyson Chicken Inc., Cobb-Vantress Inc., Cal-Maine Foods Inc., Cargill Inc., Cargill Turkey Production L.L.C., George's Inc., George's Farms Inc., Peterson Farms Inc., Simmons Foods Inc., Cal-Maine Farms Inc. and Willow Brook Foods Inc.