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Poultry Processors’ Pollution Proves Perilous

October 13, 2009

chicken-broiler-03A trial pitting the state of Oklahoma against the biggest players in the poultry industry, including Cargill, Tyson Foods, George’s and eight other companies, got underway earlier this month. The state alleges that the massively expanding industry’s chicken litter contaminates state waterways, posing health threats to tens of thousands of people and despoiling the aquatic environment.

For decades, farmers used chicken litter as fertilizer, but growth of factory poultry farms resulted in massive overuse of litter, resulting in toxic run-off polluting regional waterways. The state alleges that Big Poultry’s 1800-plus factory farms in the Arkansas-Oklahoma area are responsible for 345,000 tons of chicken waste produced in the Illinois River watershed annually. According to trial testimony from a state scientist, the poultry industry grew from producing about 12 million birds in 1950 to about 152 million in 2002. The state scientist also noted that poultry in the area has “for some time” outweighed the total weight of cattle, swine and humans. “This shows the amount of phosphate produced (by poultry) far exceeds the amount of waste by any other creature,” he told the court. Oklahoma has estimated that the impact of the poultry waste on the state’s watershed is equivalent to the impact from untreated human wastes produced by as many as 10.7 million people (Arkansas and Oklahoma have a combined population of about 6.5 million people).

Earlier, the Cherokee Nation petitioned to join the state in its suit against Big Poultry, but a federal judge last month ruled against the tribe. The state and the tribe had agreed that the state’s suit would include tribal claims, but the judge found that the agreement was not properly approved as required by state and federal laws. The Cherokee are appealing the ruling.

Meanwhile, defendant and the nation’s leading poultry producer Tyson Foods yesterday announced plans to expand production in Indiana. The chicken giant promised that the new operations would bring 78 new jobs to the area.

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