There’s a federal judge in Tulsa who probably feels like he is driving behind a slow-moving chicken truck on a narrow two-lane road. He’d like to go faster, but can’t. He’d like to pass and leave this all behind him, but that isn’t possible either.
Welcome to the world of U.S. District Court Judge Gregory K. Frizzell who has moved well into the second month of a civil trial pitting the State of Oklahoma against 11 of the country’s top chicken companies over the issue of “poultry litter” pollution in the Illinois River Basin.
There is no jury. Only a courtroom full of attorneys who do not agree on much, but did opt to let Judge Frizzell decide the case on this own. Oklahoma sued the poultry producers to step them from spreading bird waste on the land in the river basin because the state argues, its is degraded water quality.
In the last week, testimony showed the State of Oklahoma has done little if anything to stop or even regulate the use of poultry litter as a cheap source of fertilizer but one chicken company executive did try and do something about it.
The lawyer for the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food & Forestry testified that the state has just two poultry inspectors to cover vast numbers of chicken farms in the river basin. The state has the power to enforce water quality standards, but has not done so, the lawyer said.
The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food & Forestry has standing in state district court to stop actions believed to be violating water quality standards, an attorney for Tyson Foods Inc. told the court.
The state’s failure to take corrective actions, however, stood in sharp contrast with former George’s Inc. President Monty Henderson who In 2005 distributed a memo in his company newsletter to employees and the chicken farmers it contracted with to urge hauling “poultry litter” out of the area.
Henderson was concerned about phosphorus loading and, when asked, he testified that the nutrient management plans imposed on George Inc.’s contract farms after his memo were “well on the way to a solution.”
Defendants in the case include Cal-Maine Foods Inc., Cargill Inc., Cargill Turkey Production LLC, Cobb-Vantress Inc., George’s Inc., George’s Farms Inc., Peterson Farms Inc., Simmons Foods Inc., Tyson Foods Inc., Tyson Poultry Inc, and Tyson Chicken Inc.
Oklahoma did not sue the individual chicken farmers who are actually left with the “poultry litter” after birds are raised and sold.