Rice farmers file suit against poultry producers over arsenic levels

A group of Arkansas County rice producers have filed a class action lawsuit against Pfizer, Tyson and others concerning reports of arsenic content in rice that recently received media attention.

The rice farmers filing the lawsuit include Arkansas County residents John Alter, Kenneth Graves and Mark and Joyce Hargrove. They are seeking class-action status for their suit in order to represent all Arkansas rice farmers. The suit was filed Sept. 24 in the Circuit Court of the Southern District of Arkansas County in Stuttgart against Pfizer Inc., Tyson Foods Inc. and three additional poultry producers.

The lawsuit alleges that arsenic found in Arkansas rice that received widespread media attention is caused by the use of “chicken litter” — made up of poultry excrement, feathers, spilled feed and bedding material — as fertilizer.

The suit alleges that Pfizer, Tyson and the other poultry producers knew how dangerous the arsenic in the chicken feed and litter was and yet failed to warn Arkansas rice farmers about the danger.

The suit requests that the court find the companies liable for their actions and asks for damages to be determined in a jury trial.

The suit alleges that Pfizer produces a chicken feed additive called “3-Nitro” that contains arsenic and is intended to improve the growth efficiency of broiler chickens and to prevent an intestinal disease called coccidiosis.

The suit alleges that the manure made of chicken litter is sold to farmers as a fertilizer that is spread using methods that allow it to contaminate the soil, the farming equipment and the rice crop.

The rice farmers allege that the use of the litter has caused high levels of arsenic contamination in their crop and that has, coupled with the recent worldwide publicity of the arsenic levels, caused harm to all Arkansas rice farmers by reducing the demand for rice and by decreasing the market value of their rice crops.

The suit accuses the defendants of negligence through their manufacturing and marketing of arsenic-containing poultry feed components when they knew or should have known that the resulting chicken litter would be used on rice farms in Arkansas as fertilizer and would result in arsenic contamination of the rice crop.