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— The chairman of Simmons Foods on Nov. 9 said his company’s portrayal of itself as a good environmental steward helps “combat the folks who are lying about us.”

Mark Simmons’ comment about his Siloam Springs company came during the 19th day of a federal trial in which Simmons Foods and six other poultry companies operating in the Illinois River watershed are said to have polluted the area with poultry manure.

Attorneys never asked Simmons who he felt had lied about his company, but he said after his testimony that he was referring to people in Oklahoma involved with the lawsuit filed in 2005 by Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson.

“A lot of statements by Oklahoma have been inaccurate and in some cases intentionally inaccurate,” Simmons said. “The [poultry] industry has properly addressed the concerns.”

Attorneys for Oklahoma spent much of last week Monday trying to show District Judge Greg Frizzell that poultry company managers and executives knew about the threat posed by poultry litter as early as the late 1980s.

The attorneys repeatedly asked representatives of Simmons Foods about who the company sent to meetings and symposiums on the dangers of poultry litter - a combination of bird manure and either rice hulls or wood chips that serves as bedding in poultry houses. Farmers often use the litter as fertilizer for other crops.

They quizzed them about a 1988 report issued by a former Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality water division director about the threat posed by poultry manure in Benton and Washington counties.

Simmons and the company’s former vice president of live production, Claud Rutherford, testified they did know more than 25 years ago about the growing concerns regarding phosphorus, a nutrient found in poultry litter that can lead to degradation of water quality.

Rutherford, a vice chairman of former Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton’s task force on animal waste, told Oklahoma attorney Louis Bullock there was a concern that poultry litter was a problem. The task force issued its final report in January 1993.

“We were talking about potential,” Rutherford said.

Bullock asked Simmons about the company’s Web site, which lists a goal of being “good stewards of our environment.” He asked whether that’s the “perception” the company wants for itself from the public.

“It’s more than a perception,” Simmons told him. “We want them to be actuality.”

Later, Bullock asked whether a good steward “leaves the world at least as good as we found it.”

Simmons said he’s not sure that’s possible. “We want to have as minimal an impact as we can reasonably have,” he said.

Simmons also described some of the companies’ environmental efforts in recent years, ranging from the $1.1 million gift in 2005 that went to the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission to the company’s work earlier this year to locate matching money needed to obtain a $30 million federal grant to lease land in the Illinois River watershed as riparian areas.

Attorneys also bickered about how much longer the trial would go, and it seems clear that it’s no longer the planned 50-day trial.

Bullock asked Frizzell to grant Oklahoma an additional 11 days to present its case, meaning the state’s time would increase from 20 days to 31 days, pushing that phase into early December.

Tom Green, an attorney representing defendant Tyson Foods, suggested that’s not reasonable, saying Oklahoma should be done by Nov. 24, the last day of testimony before the Thanksgiving holiday break.

“That is a reasonable compromise,” Green said.

Frizzell said he wanted to think about how many more days Oklahoma deserves before ruling.

“I certainly believe the plaintiff is entitled to some additional time,” he said.

News, Pages 21 on 11/18/2009

Print Headline: Firm a victim of lies, Simmons chief says

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