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Chicken Laywers May Ring in ’10 in Tulsa

The trial pitting Oklahoma against the poultry industry over disposal of chicken waste in the Illinois River Basin probably won’t be over until some time next year.

Charlie Price, spokesman for Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson, says the state has three or four more weeks to go before it will finish its case.  Only then will the busload of defense attorneys representing the poultry companies get to put on their case.

Oklahoma’s “poultry litter” trial against the mostly Arkansas-based chicken industry began in September.   It is being heard in U.S. District Court in Tulsa before Judge Gregory Frizzell.

Since it began, the trial, which is proceeding without a jury, has logged a couple dozen days of actual trial testimony.  Last week the judge heard from Mark Simmons, chairman and chief executive officer of Simmons Foods Inc., one of the defendants.

Simmons said his company is “a gnat on Tyson’s behind” with weekly production of just four million chickens.  He said poultry waste “is a great fertilizer.”  He acknowledged there was a concern about “nutrients in the waters.”

Also testifying last week was Oklahoma State University Professor Lowell Caneday. He said the number of people floating the Illinois River for recreation has declined by about 30,000.  The professor said he’s personally witnessed the pollution from the chicken industry.

As it presents its witnesses, Oklahoma is trying to persuade the judge that current chicken industry practices are responsible for polluting the Illinois River.

The defending poultry companies routinely hire chicken farms to raise their birds. When they are taken away for slaughter, the bedding upon which they were raised along their droppings is known as “poultry litter” and is usually spread on surrounding farmland as a low-cost fertilizer.

Oklahoma negotiated with the poultry companies for years before filing the lawsuit in 2005. Its goal now is to stop disposal of poultry litter throughout the river basin.

Defendants include: Cargill Inc., Cal-Maine Foods Inc., Tyson Poultry Inc., Tyson Chicken Inc., Cobb-Vantress Inc., Cargill Turkey Production L.L.C., George’s Inc. George’s Farm Inc., Peterson Farms Inc. and Simmons Foods Inc.

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