Tyson Foods Pleads Guilty to 20 Felonies, Agrees to $7.5 Million Fine

June 27, 2003
Tyson Foods Inc., the world's largest meat producer, pleaded guilty in federal court in Kansas City to 20 felony violations of the federal Clean Water Act at its Sedalia, Mo., poultry plant and agreed to pay $7.5 million to the United States and the state of Missouri.

Under an agreement with the Environmental Crimes Section of the DOJ and the U.S. Attorney's Office, Tyson admitted to illegally discharging untreated wastewater from its poultry processing plant near Sedalia into a tributary of the Lamine River. A consent judgment between Tyson and the Missouri Attorney General's Office that resolves allegations of state environmental violations over the same discharges also was entered in Pettis County Circuit Court.

Under the two pleadings, Tyson agreed to pay $5.5 million in penalty to the federal government, $1 million in penalty to the state and $1 million to the Missouri Natural Resources Protection Fund to help remedy the harm caused by the illegal discharges. In addition, Tyson agreed to hire an outside consultant to perform an environmental audit and then to implement an enhanced environmental management program based upon the audit's findings to assure that the Sedalia facility will remain in compliance with all applicable environmental laws and regulations.

"Violators should know that their failure to comply with the law and their failure to heed state warnings and orders, may result in serious federal criminal charges. Companies that violate environmental laws endanger public health, harm natural resources and gain an unfair economic advantage over their law-abiding competitors," said Assistant Attorney General Thomas L. Sansonetti.

Tyson's Sedalia plant processes approximately 1 million chickens per week and generates hundreds of thousands of gallons of wastewater per day. Tyson's state permit issued under the federal Clean Water Act requires the company to treat the wastewater before discharging it into a nearby stream. The permit also establishes limits on the concentration of pollutants that the wastewater may contain.

Between 1996 and 2001, Tyson repeatedly discharged untreated or inadequately treated wastewater from its Sedalia plant in violation of its permit.

"Ensuring that each of our operations meets all environmental requirements is a top priority," said Greg Lee, chief administration officer of Tyson Foods Inc. "The government has identified instances in which this one facility did not meet those high standards. With [this] agreement, we have resolved all issues relating to this matter and we take full responsibility for these incidents. We have implemented and are committed to enhanced efforts to protect our environment."

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources cited the plant several times and the State of Missouri filed two lawsuits against Tyson in an effort to stop its illegal discharges. Tyson continued to discharge untreated wastewater through its storm drains, in spite of the company's assurances that the discharges would stop and even after numerous warnings, administrative orders, two state court injunctions, and the execution of a federal search warrant at the Sedalia facility.

While company officials acknowledge mistakes were made at Sedalia, they claim there was never any effort to intentionally bypass the wastewater treatment system. Most of the incidents happened prior to 2001. Since then, they say, the company has made significant capital improvements at the site to further enhance the storm water handling capabilities at the facility. In addition, Tyson Foods instituted mandatory storm water management training for all plant employees and aggressively moved to put in place stringent water conservation measures at the site.

"Our people and communities are very concerned about the effects of pollutant discharges on the nation's waters," said Jim Gulliford, administrator for Environmental Protection Agency Region 7. "It is in the best interests of agriculture and the public that processing plants operate properly. The teamwork between federal and state agencies in this case sends a clear message to polluters that they must prevent illegal discharges to ensure that human and ecological health are protected."

The violations were initially discovered by Department of Natural Resources investigator Billy Rogers, who then investigated the matter with investigator Terry Ball of the Missouri Attorney General's Office. Rogers is now an investigator for EPA. The federal case was investigated by Special Agent David Clark of EPA's Criminal Enforcement Division and by Special Agent Julia Jensen of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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