A case pitting the Chesapeake Bay Waterkeeper’s Alliance against an Eastern Shore chicken farm and Perdue Farms is slated to begin today in a Baltimore federal courtroom.  The The Waterkeeper Alliance filed a suit three years ago against farmers Alan Kristin Hudson and Perdue Farms, for whom the Hudsons raised chickens, accusing them of polluting a stream that ultimately flows to the Chesapeake Bay, reports the Baltimore Sun.

The legal struggle is being tracked by environmentalists, farmers and the poultry industry, as the Waterkeeper group tries to hold a poultry company legally responsible for the first time for pollution caused by one of its contract growers.

"This could be the landmark case that changes how we do business when it comes to producing our meat,'' said Tom Jones, president of the Assateague Coastal Trust, a Berlin-based environmental group that helped bring the suit. "This is a national issue, and it goes beyond just chickens; it goes to cattle, hogs and other poultry operations."

"We feel like it's a lawsuit against all of us," said Tom Super, spokesman for the National Chicken Council, who contended a ruling against the Hudsons and Perdue would set "a dangerous precedent."

A preliminary ruling in the case denied Perdue's bid to be excused, making it at least potentially liable if the court rules the farm polluted the water.

Judge William M. Nickerson, who is to preside at the trial, expressed some skepticism earlier this year about the environmental group's evidence that the farm was the source of high levels of fecal coliform bacteria found three years ago in a drainage ditch that runs by the Hudsons' chicken houses.

The judge went even further, though, noting he could order the environmental group to pay the Hudsons' and even Perdue's legal expenses if he found no violation. Those costs could reach into the hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.

Source: Baltimore Sun