Judge extends agreement date for Oklahoma poultry lawsuit

A federal judge is giving Oklahoma and nearly a dozen poultry companies, including the world’s largest poultry producer, Tyson Foods, an additional 90 days to reach an agreement on plans to clean a watershed polluted by chicken litter.

U.S. District Judge Gregory Frizzell on Friday scheduled a June 16 status conference in Tulsa, saying both sides requested the extension. The state and the poultry companies are to submit a joint status report by June 9.

Frizzell ruled in January that Arkansas-based Tyson, Minnesota-based Cargill Inc. and other companies polluted the Illinois River, caused a public nuisance and trespassed by spreading the litter, or manure, on land in eastern Oklahoma, and that it then leached into the river’s watershed. The ruling came from a 2005 lawsuit filed by Oklahoma.

“We have had lengthy and productive discussions with the poultry companies about a resolution,” state Attorney General Gentner Drummond said in a statement.

“The poultry industry has made significant improvements over the years in its litter abatement process, and I am hopeful we can craft a plan that protects Oklahoma’s natural resources without placing unreasonable burdens on the companies,” Drummond said.

Attorneys for the companies did not immediately return phone calls for comment on Saturday.

The January ruling had ordered the companies and the state to present an agreement by March 17 on how to remedy the pollution’s effects, which includes low oxygen levels in the river, algae growth and damage to the fish population.

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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