Up until now I’ve refrained from commenting about a monumental lawsuit which has been brewing in my neck of the woods, the Delmarva Peninsula. I’ve done so because I knew that despite public persona there would come a time when the little guy in the case would be offered up as the sacrificial lamb.
The lawsuit filed by attorneys for the Waterkeepers Alliance (plaintiffs) against co-defendants Perdue and Alan and Kristin Hudson (defendants) claims discharge of pollutants from the Hudson’s farm in violation of the Clean Water Act and that Perdue has legal responsibility for it.
Locally known as the “Hudson Lawsuit” the case has a lot of history and has turned neighbor against neighbor. At the crux of the issue is that the Hudson’s raise chickens under contract for Perdue and do so accordingly to dictates by the company. Since the farmer doesn’t own the chickens or the feed they eat its questionable as to who owns the manure (chicken poop).
In the beginning, claims by the Hudson’s and Perdue were that photographs of mountains of manure stored on the Hudson farm were piles of bio-solids (waste) from Ocean City, MD not chicken poop. Regardless of what was in the photographs, at issue is that the farm, that houses Perdue’s chickens, is a point source of discharge of nitrogen, phosphorous, and ammonia as well as bacteria (fecal coliform and E Coli) which the Waterkeeper Alliance sampled at high levels downstream from the farm and also citing on-site and leaving the farm sampling conducted by the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE). Plaintiffs say this “confirms the poultry house pollutants are reaching the facility’s drainage ditches.”
The drainage ditches on the farm drain into Franklin Branch a tributary of the Pocomoke River which drains into the Chesapeake Bay. Nitrogen and phosphorous have been long standing culprits in the killing of the Chesapeake Bay and efforts to clean up the Bay and revive it to its natural state have failed miserably over the years at the cost of millions to taxpayers.
We have a volatile mixture of people involved and interested in the outcome of the lawsuit and this is where the story gets really good. Earlier motions filed by Perdue attempted to have the company dismissed as a defendant in the case which was denied. This puts Big Chicken into hot water because if found guilty a precedent will be set for the country where corporate ag is responsible for the manure their animals produce. I say “their animals” because legally they own the chickens, not the farmer.
Backing up Big Chicken are the usual attendees such as the Delmarva Poultry Industry INC. (DPI) the local industry trade union, allied industries and Farm Bureau.
Farmers have been propaganda-ized to the point of fearing for their livelihoods and believe that the environmentalists want to put them out of business.
The environmentalists, taxpayers, and the local public have become the nemesis of the farming community and are accused of not getting how it all works. Outsider’s is what they’ve been labeled.
Just recently Maryland’s Governor, Martin O’Malley, stepped outside the bounds of legal decorum weighing in on the case and in a letter asked attorney’s for the plaintiffs to drop the case.
If anyone is confused by now don’t feel bad, you’re not alone. I specifically recall asking the question in 1995 – who owns the manure. In all of the initiatives set out toward cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, no one, including our illustrious politicians, has answered that question in 16 years. It’s come down to a lawsuit to determine the answer.
On November 17, 2011, court filings in U.S. District Court have asked for “summary judgment” in the case scheduled for a 3 week trial March 5, 2011. Both sides presented arguments why the case should be resolved in their favor immediately.
This is where the story confirms my belief that the little guy (the farmer) would be thrown to the wolves. Throughout the past couple of years Perdue and the camp followers have publically supported the Hudson’s, holding fund raisers for their legal defense fund and publishing a website in defense of the Hudson’s. Court documents recently filed cite internal Perdue email’s – the Hudson Farm “is one of its 10 worst on the Eastern Shore of Maryland”. This was based on an informal survey of Perdue farm managers. I can only imagine what the farmer must think after staunchly defending Perdue.
Furthermore, in an effort to absolve the company from blame, Perdue legal arguments suggests ways that the judge could find the Hudson’s to be at fault for polluting – it was the Hudson’s cows that are the source of any pollutants. I have to laugh because we have now moved from waste from Ocean City to waste from the cows. In one deposition a suggestion is introduced that it was the wild geese. Oh no folks, it can’t be from the chickens.
Perdue arguments also contend that Mr. Hudson “did not always follow Perdue’s advice”… and “Mr. Hudson has not adopted various ‘best management practices,’ (such as hosing down the vents in a chicken house) recommended by Perdue.”
Could this be a case of “he who speaks with forked tongue”? This is a perfect example of talking out of both sides of the mouth depending on who the target audience is at the moment.
I have to step up on my soap box……. Big Chicken adamantly claims that they want to save farm families and then turn around and submit legal arguments to the contrary. It reminds of little kids who get into trouble over something and they all claim “I didn’t do it” all the while coming up with some of the most ridiculous arguments as to why they shouldn’t be blamed and putting the blame off on another! PROPAGANDA – ized indeed!
Somewhere within the tangled web weaved practiced to deceive responsibility for pollution of the Chesapeake Bay from industry chicken poop will be decided.
I’ve spent countless hours reading over court documents. Evasiveness and playing just plain dumb is the theme. I especially loved reading some of the Perdue internal emails. It’s quite obvious how the company big shots go about business. One asks about farms that don’t have “curb appeal” meaning farms which don’t present a pretty picture. Guess esthetically pleasing is now part of grower performance and whether the farmer has a contract to raise chickens for the company!
It’s my bet that the Hudson’s will not continue to contract with Perdue and more than likely any other chicken company on the Delmarva Peninsula. It’s easy to sacrifice the little guy!