Edmondson files notice of intent to sue poultry companies

Wednesday, March 16th 2005, 8:58 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Attorney General Drew Edmondson has filed a 90-day notice of intent to sue poultry companies over chicken litter pollution in eastern Oklahoma.

The filing is a required step before a lawsuit, but it doesn't necessarily mean a lawsuit will be filed in 90 days, said Charlie Price, Edmondson's spokesman.

The notice, dated March 9, demands the companies ``immediately cease all disposal and releases of poultry waste to the environment,'' a practice Edmondson says violates the U.S. Solid Waste Disposal Act.

The notice states the manure is hazardous because it contains phosphorus, hormones and antibiotics. Poultry companies know poultry waste contains materials that harm the environment and human health, it states.

At issue are poultry litter components suspected of contaminating the Illinois River watershed. An Oklahoma Water Resources Board study showed that the Illinois River has high phosphorus levels caused by runoff from Arkansas and Oklahoma poultry farms.

Increased phosphorus causes odor, taste and algae problems with water from area lakes, rivers and streams.

Edmondson has asked the poultry companies to take responsibility for the pollution and pay for cleaning Oklahoma's lands and water.

``We're not necessarily afraid of the lawsuit, but we feel in 90 days he's going to go ahead and file a lawsuit that will only hurt the farmers,'' said Sam Knipp, spokesman for the Oklahoma Farm Bureau.

Knipp said chicken litter is not hazardous material but a fertilizer, similar to other livestock manure. Knipp said the bureau won't instruct farmers to stop using chicken litter as fertilizer.

Jeramy Rich, bureau director of public policy, said there's no doubt a lawsuit is coming.

``This is at least a new day,'' he said. ``We have not seen someone throw down the gauntlet as of yet until March 9.''

But Janet Wilkerson, a spokeswoman for the poultry industry and vice president of Peterson Farms Inc., a company that received the notice, said a suit is not definite. She said the company has told farmers to think of other ways to get rid of waste, including shipping it to other areas in Oklahoma.

Tahlequah turkey farmer Gary Fisher said a suit could send some Arkansas companies packing.

He contracts through Cargill Inc., another company in the notice.

``We just got rocks here,'' he said referring to eastern Oklahoma. ``Poultry is about the only thing we can raise.''

Other companies Edmondson sent the letter to were: Aviagen Inc.; Cal-Maine Farms Inc.; Cobb-Vantress Inc.; George's Farms Inc.; Tyson Foods Inc. and Willow Brook Foods Inc.