This summer has been record-breakingly hot and our legal team is hard at work bringing the heat on agribusiness. While we campaign for a national ban on factory farms and moratoriums on factory farm construction in Iowa and Oregon, our attorneys are going head to head with the corporations and government agencies responsible for our unjust food system.
Everyone deserves to trust that their food is healthy and sustainably raised. Here’s an update on how we’re fighting back in the courts:
Suing Tyson for Deceptive Advertising
On Tyson Foods’ website they claim that “environmental stewardship is a core value of Tyson Foods’ business philosophy” and that they “believe protecting the environment and conserving natural resources is essential for maintaining clean air, water and land.” These words do not match how Tyson actually treats the land and water they use.
In 2014, Tyson dumped over 20 million pounds of toxic pollutants into US waterways and between 2013 and 2015 the company was guilty of more than 300 Clean Water Act permit violations. Meanwhile, the company states that their “animal welfare program promotes the health, safety and well-being of animals.” This is ridiculously untrue. Nearly a dozen undercover investigations have found systematic cruelty intentionally inflicted on chickens raised for Tyson products. Tyson’s animal treatment practices include:
Injection of chicken eggs with formaldehyde;
Production of chickens contaminated with antibiotic-resistant superbugs;
Washing of Tyson products with hazardous chemical disinfectants; and
Crowding of birds by the tens of thousands into massive industrial warehouses with no access to the outdoors.
So we are suing them for deceptive marketing and advertising. Joining the Organic Consumer Association, a few weeks ago we filed a lawsuit against Tyson Foods, Inc in the District of Columbia Superior Court under the D.C. Consumer Protection Procedures Act. Their marketing is intended to make consumers think their chicken products are produced in a humane and environmentally responsible manner, their actions demonstrate this is little more than an effort to sell more chicken.
Tyson needs to change its behavior and stop polluting our air and water, at the very least they should cease lying to consumers. Everyone deserves to trust their food, which is why our lawsuit seeks to end their deceptive marketing.
Demanding Accountability at Mountaire
The Mountaire slaughterhouse in Millsboro, Delaware produces 2.4 million gallons of chicken waste each day. This waste–comprised of manure, feathers, carcasses, organs, blood, dirt and massive amounts of wastewater–is stored in lagoons until the liquid waste is sprayed onto nearby disposal fields. The groundwater aquifer below the plant is the sole source of drinking water for the surrounding community. Groundwater monitoring has shown serious contamination of the water supply since at least 2000.
The effects have been devastating on nearby residents, some of whom have experienced serious health problems that they attribute to the plant’s pollution. So along with affected residents, we filed a letter notifying Mountaire and the state of our intent to sue Mountaire in March 2018 for its contamination of local groundwater. This letter called on Mountaire to fix the problem within 90 days or face a lawsuit under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), a law that gives citizens in the vicinity of toxic facilities a means of redress when their health or safety is damaged or at risk.
Before the required 90-day notice period had run, however, Delaware filed its own enforcement action against Mountaire, and as a result prevented us from being able to file our own case. While Delaware’s enforcement action to date shows it is taking Mountaire’s pollution seriously, it is focused on violations related to a 2017 wastewater treatment failure, not on long-term contamination due to Mountaire’s business as usual. So this year we moved to intervene in the case, along with over 60 affected residents, in order to ensure citizens nearby receive clean water and other necessary relief in the resolution of the enforcement action.
Mountaire, unsurprisingly, has opposed our intervention. But the law is on our side, and we will not give up until Millsboro residents receive justice.
Challenging Factory Farms in Delaware
Under the federal Clean Water Act, industrial operations that discharge waste must obtain discharge permits to pollute. They are required, under these permits, to monitor that pollution to demonstrate they are not violating the limits stated in their permit. In the case of violations, the state or citizens can bring enforcement actions.
Factory farms also require permits to discharge. Unfortunately, factory farms, known legally as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), are usually exempt from the monitoring that other industries are required to have. While CAFOs generally receive “zero discharge” permits that do not allow them to discharge any pollution to nearby streams, the lack of monitoring to ensure they meet this standard makes it virtually meaningless. “There’s a legal fiction that factory farms don’t pollute, so there’s no pollution to monitor,” according to Food & Water Watch senior attorney Tarah Heinzen. This ‘catch me if you can’ system makes it difficult to protect waterways from illegal CAFO pollution.
In Delaware, the state regulates numerous broiler chicken factory farms under one general permit, which lets them off the hook for monitoring their water pollution. We have filed a lawsuit to require CAFOs in the state to do so. At a bare minimum, the burden should be on the factory farms to show that they are not exceeding limits on contaminants rather than on citizens as is the case today.
Like many lawsuits, this case has had its ups and downs. After initially being dismissed by a citizen board, we successfully appealed and are now before the Delaware Superior Court. This summer we finished filing briefs arguing that the state’s permit is illegal. As with Mountaire, we will continue fighting for transparency and strong permits. Until we can ban factory farms, they must at least be accountable to our pollution laws.
Fighting for Food Justice
These cases are part of our work against factory farming, misleading food labeling and unsafe industry working conditions. We’re pursuing these legal fights and expanding our factory farm organizing team because we know that fighting for safe food systems is a priority to you.
The easiest way to support our work and allow us to continue growing is to become a donor. When conscientious people like you sign up to give in any amount, it’s a game-changing move that makes our courageous campaigns to protect food and water possible.