Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Okla. Lawmakers Ask State's Attorney General Not to Sue Poultry Companies

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Okla. Lawmakers Ask State's Attorney General Not to Sue Poultry Companies

Article excerpt

Members of the Oklahoma House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee urged Attorney General Drew Edmondson on Thursday to back away from threatened lawsuits targeting poultry companies.

In a letter signed by committee members, the bipartisan group warned of the dire economic consequences of suing an industry that has a symbiotic relationship with thousands of Oklahomans and their communities.

Edmondson has warned five companies - Tyson Foods, Cargill, Georges Inc., Simmons Foods and Peterson Farms - they could be sued by the state if they do not dramatically reduce phosphorous runoff pollution in watersheds in northeast Oklahoma.

The runoff is associated with the management of poultry litter.

Edmondson's threat worries many Oklahoma poultry producers who contract with the five companies and believe the cost of complying with Edmondson's demands could be astronomical. They believe that expense will threaten their financial viability.

Jeramy Rich, director of governmental relations for the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, noted that the chicken litter is actually owned by the grower and not the integrators, meaning the growers could face significant financial consequences even though the lawsuits would target large poultry integrators.

I don't think the attorney general has in any way taken that into account, Rich said.

He said growers can typically sell chicken litter for $8 to $10 per ton for application as fertilizer. If that market is destroyed, Rich predicted poultry growers would lose thousands and potentially even millions in income.

We're talking about thousands of tons that would be lost for utilization, he said.

The committee's letter, presented Thursday by Chairman James Covey, D-Custer City, says legislators are gravely concerned about Edmondson's development of agricultural and environmental policy (questions of a phosphorus index and excess litter) without participation by the Oklahoma Legislature.

As legislative leaders, we welcome your input into the development of sound policy, the letter states. However, to create such policy in a vacuum without the consent of the elected legislative representatives attempts to violate the separation of powers in government through lawmaking by litigation. …

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