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Tyson Foods Inc., the worlds largest meat producer, has pleaded guilty to 20 felony violations of the federal Clean Water Act at its Sedalia, Missouri, poultry plant and agreed to pay $7.5 million in penalties to the United States and the State of Missouri.
Under an agreement with the Environmental Crimes Section of the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorneys Office, Tyson admitted to having illegally discharged 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 Generals 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 has agreed to hire an outside consultant to perform an environmental audit and then to implement an enhanced environmental management program based upon the audits 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 advatage over their law-abiding competitors," said Assistant Attorney General Thomas L. Sansonetti.
Tysons Sedalia plant processes approximately one million chickens per week and generates hundreds of thousands of gallons of wastewater per day. Tysons 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. 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 companys 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.