Arsenic Suit Seeks To Pit Arkansas Chicken and Rice Sectors Against Each Another

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Nov. 19, 2012 12:00 am  

The suit, filed by the Alabama-based firm of Hare Wynn Newell & Newton LLP, alleges that the defendants “knew that excessive arsenic in chicken litter used as fertilizer on many rice farms in Arkansas would contaminate the entire U.S. rice crop and infiltrate the general U.S. rice supply … .” It adds that publicity about the contamination “would result in devastating financial losses to U.S. and Arkansas rice producers.”

Hare Wynn represented 2,500 rice farmers, including a number in Arkansas, in a case that last year ended in a $750 million settlement with Bayer AG over contamination of the U.S. rice supply by Bayer’s genetically modified rice.

Asked last week what damages his clients in the arsenic case had suffered, Hare Wynn lawyer Scott Powell of Birmingham, Ala., cited the move by South Korea to stop importing American Rice. “Arkansas accounts for 50 percent of all of the U.S. exports, so by virtue of that there has been an adverse economic and market impact to the price,” he said.

In addition, Powell said, remediation of his clients’ contaminated rice fields is expensive, costing as much as $500 an acre.

Not So Fast

At the time of the suit’s filing, Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson told Arkansas Business that the suit “appears to be an example of creative lawyers trying to use frivolous litigation to extract money from companies that have done nothing wrong. We will vigorously defend ourselves. None of our chickens are given feed additives containing arsenic.”

In a response last week to emailed questions, Tyson elaborated: “We are confident in the safety of our products. Tyson and USDA food safety personnel regularly conduct testing to confirm the safety of chicken products.

“Tyson does not test litter produced by contract growers. Tyson does not own or operate the farms on which chicken litter is produced and is not involved in the use or sale of chicken litter as fertilizer. However, the use of chicken litter as a fertilizer is a practice that has been approved by state and federal agencies for many years under very detailed regulations. The regulations vary across states but most regulations require certain testing of poultry litter to confirm that it can be safely used as fertilizer.”

The rice farmers claim in their suit that poultry producers like Tyson completely control “every stage of poultry production” and are responsible for additives fed to chickens.

And though rice farmers are the suit’s plaintiffs, the Arkansas Rice Federation has no use for the complaint, saying: “We were not involved in the filing nor do we support this lawsuit. Arsenic is naturally occurring and we are currently working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to best determine the next steps on addressing this issue. FDA has repeatedly stated rice is safe to eat and should continue to be part of a balanced diet.”??©The federation said it had received no complaints from Arkansas rice producers about potential arsenic contamination of rice crops by poultry litter. And asked whether the Consumer Reports report had affected rice prices, the trade group said it was too early to tell.

As for South Korea, on Oct. 12 it lifted its Sept. 21 suspension of U.S. rice imports after that country’s agriculture ministry said tests showed consumption of the rice posed no significant risk.

Congress Enters the Picture

 

 

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