US: Poultry Companies Turned Watershed Into Mess

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New York Times

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Motivated by greed, several Arkansas poultry companies cut corners when getting rid of thousands of tons of waste and allowed it to pollute a sensitive watershed, an attorney for the state argued Thursday.

But the 11 companies accused of poisoning the Illinois River watershed shared by Oklahoma and Arkansas accused the state of using bad science and flimsy evidence to make its case.

After a trial that lasted four months, attorneys made their closing arguments Thursday. U.S. District Judge Gregory K. Frizzell, who heard the trial from the bench, gave no indication when he might rule.

Louis Bullock, an attorney for Oklahoma, said the poultry industry had turned a once-pristine recreational area enjoyed by tens of thousands of visitors each year into a ''green, slimy mess.''

''Judge, I'm all in favor of making a buck, but it's never an excuse to destroy the beauty of this country to make a buck,'' he said.

The state says the companies, including industry giants Tyson Foods Inc. and Cargill Inc., for decades disposed of hundreds of thousands of tons of chicken litter each year by giving it to local crop farmers to use as fertilizer. The state says the companies knew the litter -- or the feathers, droppings and bedding left in barns after birds are taken to slaughter -- was harming the watershed, but that it was cheaper to give it to the farmers than to dispose of it properly.

''They knew better, but they did it anyway,'' Bullock said.

Attorneys for the poultry companies said their clients handled the waste responsibly and lawfully. They said Oklahoma failed to produce evidence that the waste threatens people or the environment, and they instead blamed the pollution in the watershed on 12 wastewater treatment plants and the runoff from cattle waste.

''We've got scattered dots and scattered lines of evidence that are not connected,'' Tyson attorney Mark Hopson said of the science Oklahoma presented to make its case.

Frizzell ruled last year that the state can't pursue monetary damages, but Oklahoma is seeking injunctive relief, including a temporary moratorium on application of the litter to farmland and the appointment of special monitors to ensure the companies properly dispose of the waste.

The case is being monitored by other states that are considering challenges to the poultry industry.

The other defendants named in the lawsuit are 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.

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