Lawsuit challenges illegal use of federally backed loans for industrial-scale poultry operation
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of a local community group, Concerned Citizens of West Tennessee, filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that a federal loan program meant for “family farms” is illegally being used to finance industrial poultry operations controlled by massive corporations.
The first-of-its-kind lawsuit centers around an industrial poultry operation recently built in a predominantly Black farming community in Henderson County, Tennessee. The operation includes 16 industrial-scale poultry warehouses that are more than 50 feet wide and 600 feet long and would raise millions of chickens for Tyson Foods each year. Operations at those facilities – including how they are built, how the chickens are raised, and even at what temperature the facilities are kept – are nearly completely controlled by Tyson Foods. Those facilities function not as individual farms, but as extensions of Tyson’s multi-billion-dollar industrial meat complex.
Despite Tyson’s control over operations, the Henderson County facilities received more than $3.5 million in federally backed loans through a Farm Service Agency program intended to help “family farms” with start-up and operational costs. Because Tyson Foods will control virtually all aspects of the operations at those industrial chicken facilities, the facilities do not qualify for the federal lending program reserved for helping “family farms.”
“It is clear that these industrial animal operations – including the poultry facilities in Henderson County – are neither small nor family run,” SELC Senior Attorney George Nolan said. “The Farm Service Agency’s abuse of loan programs meant to help small, family farmers is a blatant violation of federal law and of the agency’s own regulations. FSA leaders should stop using lending programs meant for family farms to subsidize massive, multi-billion-dollar corporations like Tyson Foods.”
Once built, large-scale poultry operations cause significant harm to nearby communities. The facilities create noxious odors and emit ammonia, which is a pungent gas that can irritate and burn the skin, mouth, throat, lungs, and eyes of area residents.
Large-scale chicken operations also create thousands of tons of waste each year, including chicken feces, bedding material, and even dead and decomposing birds. When poorly managed, that waste can pollute nearby rivers, streams, and drinking water sources.
“These huge, smelly, and dirty industrial poultry facilities threaten to pollute our air, contaminate our water, and ruin our way of life,” said James Lavel, member of Concerned Citizens of West Tennessee. “The Farm Service Agency should be helping real family farms, not subsidizing massive corporations and rubberstamping dangerous industrial operations that can destroy our communities.”
Despite the numerous environmental and community impacts associated with these large-scale chicken operations, FSA officials performed a hurried and insufficient environmental review before rubber-stamping federal loan guarantees. The lack of a proper environmental review prevents the agency from knowing the full impact of the industrial facilities and violates the National Environmental Policy Act.
In the lawsuit, the groups are asking the court to vacate the loans illegally awarded to the Henderson County facilities, stop the FSA from granting additional “family farm” loans to facilities that act as extensions of large corporations like Tyson Foods, order federal officials to do proper environmental reviews before guaranteeing loans, and ensure there are safeguards in place to protect community members from the negative impacts of these facilities.