UPDATE: Poultry Lawsuit

Tulsa, OK – TULSA, Okla. (AP) Twelve poultry companies being sued by Oklahoma for polluting the Illinois River watershed are asking a judge to throw out a statement made by a member of their own legal team on how poultry litter is used.

In their filing Tuesday in Tulsa federal court, the companies cited a statement made by defense attorney Patrick Ryan at a preliminary hearing in 2008 that there's no question "that there has been an over-application of litter on some or many farms. That's not an issue in our book."

Oklahoma has said that the statement was an admission by the industry that the litter has been applied in violation of the law. The companies argue Ryan's statement should be excluded because it was taken out of context and does not constitute evidence.

"Even if Mr. Ryan's statement were somehow relevant evidence," the companies say in the filing, "it should nevertheless be excluded because its ... value is substantially outweighed by the danger it presents of unfair prejudice, confusion and delay."

Gary Mickelson, a spokesman for Tyson Foods Inc., one of the companies named in the suit along with its subsidiaries Tyson Poultry Inc. and Tyson Chicken Inc., declined to comment beyond the court filing.

The motion is among dozens expected to be filed before the trial starts Sept. 21 asking the court to decide which evidence can be introduced to a jury.

Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson sued the poultry companies in 2005, claiming that the estimated 345,000 tons of chicken waste produced in the watershed each year has wreaked environmental havoc on the land. He claims that runoff carries bacteria into lakes and streams and threatens the health of tens of thousands of people who boat and camp in the river valley every year.

The 1 million-acre watershed spans parts of Oklahoma and Arkansas and has 1,800 poultry houses. The area is among the largest in the U.S. for producing broilers, or birds raised for meat. More than 55,000 people in Oklahoma and Arkansas work in the poultry industry.

The companies have already won several key pretrial victories. In the most significant, a judge stripped more than $611 million in monetary damages Oklahoma was seeking from the companies because the state failed to include the Cherokee Nation whose lands lie within the watershed as a plaintiff.

The judge said the state could continue to pursue the lawsuit to stop poultry companies from disposing of what Oklahoma claims are excessive amounts of chicken waste on farmland in the watershed.

The case has drawn national attention because other states could use the Oklahoma lawsuit as a template for similar lawsuits seeking to change the way the industry does business.

The other companies named in the lawsuit are Cobb-Vantress Inc., Cal-Maine Foods Inc. and Cal-Maine Farms Inc., Cargill Inc. and Cargill Turkey Production LLC, George's Inc. and George's Farms Inc., Peterson Farms Inc. and Simmons Foods Inc.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.