Tyson: Order AG to testify in lawsuit

Source of Article:  http://www.nwanews.com/adg/News/255629/


Posted on Tuesday, March 24, 2009



Tyson Foods Inc. on Monday asked a federal magistrate to force Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson to answer questions under oath about his E. coli investigation near an Oklahoma town.

The request before Magistrate Judge Paul Cleary was made by Springdale-based Tyson and is part of a federal lawsuit filed by Edmondson in 2005 that accuses Tyson and seven other poultry companies of fouling the Illinois River watershed with poultry manure.

The watershed includes portions of Benton and Washington counties in Arkansas. While the Oklahoma town of Locust Grove isn't in the watershed, Edmondson has said he intends to use any evidence of pollution he finds in the federal lawsuit.

Edmondson is the best source for information about the investigation in Locust Grove, which is 35 miles west of Siloam Springs, writes Michael Bond, a Fayetteville attorney working for Tyson Foods.

"The ridiculous claims made by Edmondson are his claims, not the claims of the state of Oklahoma," Bond wrote in court papers. "The real environmental agencies that Edmondson has publicly and improperly accused of 'incompetence' do not share his belief that every tragic event that occurs in eastern Oklahoma must have been caused by 'out of state' poultry companies."

Edmondson said he's unwilling to be deposed without a court order. He will answer Tyson's questions through written questions, he said.

"They are talking about a half day or a full day out of my schedule for a fishing expedition," Edmondson said. "I don't intend to be a witness. It's gamesmanship, and I don't intend to play."

Edmondson last month revealed his office's environmental protection unit started an investigation of an Escherichia coli outbreak at Country Cottage, a buffet-style restaurant in Locust Grove. The outbreak in August sickened more than 300 people and led to the death of a Pryor, Okla., man.

Edmondson claimed poultry manure spread on farm fields near Locust Grove polluted the restaurant's well with E. coli, a bacteria commonly found in the intestines of humans and other warm-blooded animals. Some strains of E. coli can cause illnesses and even death.

Just before the outbreak, the restaurant began using the water from a well during a disruption in city water service. The restaurant returned to city water service after two days.

A Tyson Foods spokesman has said the strain of E. coli that caused the restaurant illnesses known as "O111" is "primarily associated with cattle and humans, and not poultry."

The Oklahoma State Department of Health never connected the E. coli in the well to poultry manure. Edmondson claims the agency "botched" the investigation.

In 2007, attorneys working for Edmondson blocked an attempt by Simmons Foods to take Edmondson's deposition. U.S. Magistrate Judge Sam Joyner wrote in his decision that the court was not convinced that Edmondson's deposition was "currently necessary."

It's now necessary, said Gary Mickelson, a Tyson Foods spokesman.

"He personally involved himself in the Locust Grove matter by choosing to disrupt the investigations of other agencies for the purpose of his personal crusade against the poultry industry," Mickelson said in a statement.

Tyson has asked Cleary to expedite a decision on the deposition, but no time frame has been given.



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