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Edmondson's poultry lawsuit may be based on bad science

By Chris Rizo | Mar 10, 2009

Drew Edmondson (D)

TULSA, Okla. (Legal Newsline) - Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson's landmark lawsuit against poultry companies could be based on faulty science, a report said Tuesday.

The Democrat is suing 13 large-scale poultry companies over claims they polluted the Illinois River Watershed by allowing bird waste from their facilities to flow into the 1 million-acre watershed.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that the microbiologist's method for linking poultry producers to the water contamination has been rejected for publication twice by a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

The editors of the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology said in a memo hat reviewers are concerned about a "lack of necessary controls" and the "lack of appropriate statistical analyses" to support conclusions made by microbiologist Valerie Harwood.

Defendants in the lawsuit are: Tyson Foods Inc., Tyson Poultry Inc., Tyson Chicken Inc., Cobb-Vantress Inc., Cal-Maine Foods Inc., Cargill Inc., Cargill Turkey Production LLC., George's Inc., George's Farms Inc., Peterson Farms, Simmons Foods Inc., Cal-Maine Farms Inc. and Willow Brook Foods Inc.

The attorney general's office claimed the poultry industry tried to meddle in the journal's peer-review process by contacting editors at least three times to try to discredit Harwood's work.

"Lawyers for the poultry companies went so far in their communications with the publication to suggest that if they did choose to publish Dr. Harwood's work, the publication's selection process and, therefore, credibility would come under fire," Emily Lang, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, was quoted by AP as saying. "This is bordering on if not overtly threatening."

The AG's lawsuit is being handled primary by the attorney general's office with the assistance of outside counsel, which has borne most of the costs associated with the lawsuit.

In an earlier interview with Legal Newsline, the attorney general said the poultry companies risk going broke if they don't settle before the trial, which is scheduled for September.

"I would expect that the damage model that we create showing what is actually happened in the watershed will be beyond the reach of the companies," Edmondson said. "It's going to be far more significant than the resources that are available even though it's a multibillion dollar industry."

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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