U.S. Water News Online
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- After years of continuing violations,
Tyson Foods Inc. has pleaded guilty to 20 federal violations of the
Clean Water Act at its Sedalia chicken poultry complex.
The company, the nation's largest meat producer, agreed to pay a
$5.5 million fine to the federal government, $1 million to the
Missouri Natural Resources Protection Fund and another $1 million to
the state to settle a separate civil enforcement action.
The Springdale, Ark.-based company also will be on probation for
three years, will hire an independent consultant to perform an
environmental audit and will implement an improved environmental
In the plea agreement, the company admitted that between September
1998 and March 2001 it repeatedly discharged untreated wastewater
from its poultry plant into a tributary that empties into the Lamine
River. It also acknowledged that employees at the plant knew about
The company's state permit, issued under the federal Clean Water
Act, requires Tyson to treat the wastewater before discharging it
into the stream.
``We regret that these failures occurred,'' Les Baledge, executive
vice president and general counsel for Tyson, told U.S. District
Judge Howard Sachs. ``We are here today to take responsibility for
those failures. You have the company's commitment that it will work
hard to make sure they don't recur.''
Tyson officials said the company has made significant capital
improvements at the Sedalia plant since 2001 to improve its handling
of waste discharges and has improved its employees' training in this
State and federal prosecutors alleged that over the last decade
Tyson repeatedly ignored civil fines, state orders and other
violation notices about its wastewater discharges. The violations
continued even after the FBI and the Environmental Protection Agency
executed search warrants at the plant in 1999, said Jeremy Korzenik,
attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice's environmental crimes
The company repeatedly blamed the problems on inattentive
employees or innocent mistakes, Korzenik said. But internal Tyson
documents showed that managers ``at the highest levels'' knew about
the violations, he said.
``The government is not making crimes out of innocent mistakes,''
Korzenik said. ``Tyson's violations were not limited to incidents of
He said no individuals were charged because the responsibility for
the violations was widespread throughout the company.
In accepting the agreement, Sachs said the government had
convinced him that Tyson continued to violate the clean water
regulations despite knowing of problems at its wastewater and
He said the fine was ``less than impressive'' because of Tyson's
size and history of violations. But he accepted the deal to end the
lengthy case and because the company had agreed to be monitored by an
Sachs also suggested that the U.S. Congress increase fines in such
``If there is a next time for this offense, a much bigger fine
would be desirable,'' the judge said.
Dan Stewart, assistant U.S. Attorney for the Western District,
said the fine was the largest environmental criminal penalty against
a corporation in the district's history.
The 1,000-acre Sedalia complex includes a hatchery, feed mill and
rendering plant and its own wastewater plant. It processes about 1
million chickens per week and generates hundreds of thousands of
gallons of wastewater a day.
Korzenik said federal and state officials hope the fine and
prosecution will send a message to large corporations.
``We want to establish in the minds of large corporations and
their managers that there are costs for violating these laws,'' he
said. ``There's a cost in the loss of public good will as well.''
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