The lawsuit was brought in 2005 by Oklahoma’s then-Attorney General Drew Edmondson, reportedly due to pressure from wealthy environmental extremists. The defendant companies included Tyson, Cargill, Cobb-Vantress, Aviagen, Cal-Maine Foods, George’s, Peterson Farms, Simmons Foods, Willow Brook Foods, and a number of their subsidiaries. The lawsuit claimed that the poultry companies improperly disposed of chicken litter (manure), which allegedly led to excessive phosphorus pollution in the Illinois River Watershed. Excess nutrients in water can create eutrophication, which is a chain reaction resulting in increased algae growth and low-oxygen waters that can harm fish populations.
The Illinois River Watershed (IRW) encompasses the tributaries of the Illinois River and the river itself, which originates in Arkansas and flows into Oklahoma’s Tenkiller Lake, and then on into the Arkansas River. The Oklahoma section of the Illinois River is designated as a scenic river and is therefore granted special protection by state law.
The case was heard by Judge Frizzell between September 2009 and February 2010, and the long-overdue ruling was issued on January 18, 2023.