Protests mount in Kansas against Tyson Foods’ plan to build poultry operation

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 800 views 

Tyson Foods’ plan to build a $320 million poultry operation near Tonganoxie, Kan., has met with opposition, including a Facebook post by Erin Brockovich, a Kansas native and environmental lawyer made famous by a hit Hollywood movie, who said she’s been inundated with requests from people near the proposed plant.

Tyson Foods has been accused of trying to sneak into the small community by cutting a deal with state officials and property owners to remain quiet until the official announcement was made Sept. 5. Tyson has said because it is publicly traded the non-disclosure agreements were not out of the norm.

Tyson Foods said it chose the Tonganoxie location because of support received from state and local officials in terms of incentives and a trained labor force in which to hire for the 1,600 jobs the project is estimated to create.

This is first new poultry plant Tyson Foods has tried to build since 1996 and since that time there have been incidents at facilities involving injuries and environmental concerns which has Kansas citizens on guard. Violation Tracker indicates Tyson Foods has incurred $13.178 million in penalties for environmental violations since 2010, and another $10.194 million in fines regarding employment discrimination and $1.619 million in workplace safety violations.

A coalition has formed in Leavenworth County, Kan., and the group that calls itself Citizens Against Project Sunset (CAPS) has launched a new website to help inform other citizens. Project Sunset refers to code words used by city and state officials when discussing the Tyson Foods project prior to the announcement.

The new website states “No Tyson in Tongie, Keep Leavenworth County Green” and it also references Tyson Foods and its subsidiaries having dumped more than 20 million pounds of pollution directly into waterways in 2014, according to a release by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The website is asking residents to sign a petition, volunteer to help inform the public, make phone calls and donate toward a legal fund. The group said residents should have been allowed to vote or voice opinions before the deal was made.

Tyson Foods did not respond to a request for comment on this opposition.

Brockovich noted in her recent Facebook post, “Tyson Foods dumps more than 18 million pounds of toxic chemicals into America’s waterways each year. I often struggle with how I can help in communities facing the hired guns from giant corporations… and the false promises of jobs… toting along paid off politicians. I was born and raised in Kansas… now living in California… where I too have been receiving pollution and environmental complaints about Tyson Foods for over a decade. I base my involvement on these matters based on a company’s current record… so here is a fun fact for Kansas Governor Brownback: Tyson Foods Inc. was the second biggest polluter of America’s waterways from 2010 to 2014, according to the most current data the company submitted to the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA’s) Toxic Release Inventory. Ranking only behind AK Steel Holding Corp, Tyson Foods and its subsidiaries’ processing plants dumped more than 104 million pounds of pollutants into waterways over those five years – more than Cargill Inc., Koch Industries Inc., and ExxonMobil Corporation combined.”

Tyson it not a newcomer to Kansas. The meat giant said it employs about 5,700 in the state with annual payroll of more than $210 million. Last year, the company also paid Kansas cattle suppliers more than $2 billion and hog suppliers more than $1.3 million. The company estimates its total statewide annual impact for fiscal 2016, including grain purchases, utilities, property taxes and charitable contributions to be more than $2.4 billion.

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