Sanderson Farms has sued chicken farms over the smell of “rotten death.”

Expanding in Texas, Sanderson Farms says its chicken farmers follow Texas air quality regulations and best practices.

WINONA, Texas – On a 600-acre East Texas farm near Tyler, Larry and Sandra James believed they had created a paradise.

Sandra, retired professor and dean of business school, and retired telecommunications director Larry enjoyed a herd of rescued horses and looked at their long horns. Their favorite is the long horn they call a baby.

It is said that they had a quiet rural life rose In the spring of 2019.

“Suddenly, this beautiful paradise we created was shrouded in clouds of stench,” Sandra said. “You would pass over the dam and suddenly the air would get heavier and you would be exposed to a smell that was unlike anything we had ever smelled before.”

Sandra initially believed that an animal had died.

“We thought there was a dead pig, or there must have been a dead body very close to us,” he said.

They soon learned that 16 chicken coops with several hundred thousand birds had been built months earlier from their farm. Swarms of flies came with the smell of nausea.

“They put these chicken houses in the middle of the residential community,” Larry James said. “That’s not right.”

chickens belonged Sanderson Farms, the country’s third-largest poultry producer. The buildings and land belonged to the farmers Sanderson contracted to raise chickens.

When they are large enough, the chickens are taken to Sanderson’s processing plant in Lindale, nine miles west, just outside Tyler.

“The smell is rotten death,” said Tony Jeffcoat, who carries chickens for Sanderson Farms in East Texas. “It’s just a smell that sticks to you.”


“I’ve seen live chickens eat dead chickens,” Jeffcoat said. “I’ve seen live birds put in compost and still alive and dead.”

Jeffcoat Sanderson Farms filed a lawsuit after being diagnosed with histoplasmosis, a fungal lung infection that usually results from exposure to bird droppings. He took a series of pictures and videos on chicken farms in East Texas.

“I.It’s a bad environment, ”Jeffcoat said of farms in general. “It’s a very dusty environment with feathers flying everywhere and a very bad smell, the smell of death. … They are wall-to-wall chickens. ”

Jeffcoat claimed he was exposed to “improperly stored dead and rotting chickens, improperly stored chicken manure, aerosolized dust with feces and feathers, and other air pollutants.”

He claimed that Sanderson Farms “did not provide the necessary equipment for safety” and did not provide “the necessary training and warnings about the dangers of histoplasmosis.”

“Every year, the business model produces hundreds of millions of pounds of manure, millions of dead chickens, significant aerosolized dust and other contaminants, including feces and feathers. Bad odors and air pollutants penetrate the work environment and are inevitable for workers, “he said.

Jeffcoat’s attorney, Ted Lyon, told WFAA that his client had “zero warning, zero training (and) zero equipment.”

Lyon said, “The smell is terrible, and all the feces, dust, and anything that falls into the air falls into a person’s lungs.” “He was not given any respirators recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. They did not give him any masks. It’s really sad. “

Jeffcoat told WFAA that he often suffers from shortness of breath and cannot be so active with his children.

“Now this man will probably have to live with it for the rest of his life,” Lyon said. “And that probably shortens his life.”

Sanderson answers

Sanderson Farms denied Jeffcoat’s claims. In a statement, the company claimed that Jeffcoat “did not take smart steps” to protect itself.

Any damages paid by Jeffcoat should be “reduced,” the company said, partly because “in a similar situation, an ordinary prudent person would not have taken reasonable steps to avoid damages claimed by the Plaintiff.”

Dr. Lisa Mani, an expert at the Centers for Disease Control and being held by Jeffcoat for her work, concluded in her report that her illness was caused by “significant and persistent workplace exposure to bird flu.”

Dr. Mani told WFAA: “It’s hard to imagine people working in this defenseless and very rough working environment these days to bring food to our tables.”

When neighbors asked if the farms could be in danger, Dr. Mani said he did not want to live nearby. “I would not want my children or teenagers to play to ride on all-terrain vehicles, bicycles, and even to cross these areas, ”Dr. Mani told WFAA.

The poultry industry is changing

Poultry farming has strengthened in recent decades. In the 1950s, each farm had more than one million chicken farms with an average of about 360 chickens.

There are currently a total of 25,000 chicken farms across the country, which means an average of more than 330,000 birds everywhere at any given time. According to government officials, there are about 1,200 farms in Texas.

“Industrial and corporate America wants to portray what is happening here as old-fashioned red-blooded American farming,” said Larry and Sandra James, a lawyer representing more than a dozen neighbors. “It’s a corporate economy.”

These farms are known as concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFO.

Baby chickens are transported to farms. According to a lawsuit filed against Sanderson Farms in Henderson County, each warehouse typically has between 25,000 and 30,000 birds. Each bird has an average floor area of ​​about one square foot.

A poultry specialist hired by residents in the Henderson County incident concluded that a farm operation of 16 warehouses produces about 5,000 tons of manure each year. He said it was the equivalent of six football fields piled with manure three feet high.

“These chemicals accumulate inside that house and must be depleted to protect the birds,” Gardner said. “When you talk about hundreds of thousands of birds, the neighbors deal with hydrogen sulfide, methane, ammonia, and any number of chemicals you don’t want to breathe.”

Dead birds

Evidence also shows that during the 60-day growing period, five percent of chickens die, leaving thousands of dead birds to decompose.

“Texas law allows a breeder to compost these birds by trying to decompose them,” Gardner said. “The smell of that rotting dead compost is spreading to the neighbors.”

After moving less than a mile from their farm, Larry and Sandra James filed a complaint with the Texas Environmental Quality Commission, or TCEQ.

They said Sanderson Farms officials came to their home to meet with them. They exchanged messages with a Sanderson Farms official for months. In the text messages, James appears to have repeatedly told Sanderson Farms officials about the smell. The officer will answer that they are on them and will send someone to the farm.

Larry James even said he called the company’s president.

“We went to bed at night thinking we could really handle it,” James said. “These are smart people,” he said. And we are relatively smart. We can resolve this before we go to look for lawyers. “

But nothing has improved, he said.

Texas Economic Law Act

“We didn’t know at the time that we had a year to file a lawsuit against any chicken farm that came in,” James said.

Texas Commercial Law gives neighbors like them a lawsuit that raises concerns within a year of the farm’s inception.

If they do not apply within a year, property owners are prohibited from filing a lawsuit later.

But neighbors like James told WFAA they often didn’t know when the chicken farm was up and running. No law requires chicken farms to notify their neighbors when they start work.

James is confident that Sanderson Farms is trying to end the clock.

“They think that if I talked to TCEQ, or if I did, you know, if I talked to my government representative or Sanderson Farms, no doubt someone would come and do something about it,” Gardner said. “… They waste time trying to be reasonable and completely normal, hoping they can solve the problem. If they don’t sue, they are used against them.”

Others join the court

Gardner also represents neighbors in lawsuits against two other chicken farms in the Tyler area.

Tom and Loretta Cullens are part of the same trial as James.

Tom is retired and Loretta is a singer and composer. They live on 17 hectares inherited from their father.

The poultry farm is right next to them.

“We don’t walk around the property much, and sometimes it gets so bad that it can penetrate the house,” said Loretta Callens. “It simply causes depression.”

We met them at the gate of the farm.

When I opened the car door, no one knew the stench.

“Sometimes it’s just unbearable,” said Loretta Callens. “He will burn his eyes and burn his nose. Open your mouth and taste. “

Can you imagine the smell of one of our grandchildren having a birthday party in our house and saying, “Pass the cake”? … No, ”Tom Callens said.

Cullens say that flies are terrible in summer, so it is impossible to eat outside.

“Welcome to our world,” he said. “I think we’re happy it’s only half the time, but it’s a lot. It should never be. “

WFAA asked Sanderson Farms officials about neighbors’ complaints, as well as lawsuits and photos and videos recorded by Jeffcoat. In an email, they told WFAA: “It is our company’s policy that we do not comment on the expected trial.”

In court documents, Sanderson Farms denied the owners’ claims.

Sanderson Farms wrote in response to the lawsuits: “If the defendants conscientiously complied with state, federal, and local regulations … they could not injure the plaintiffs.”

The company’s answers are not enough for the claiming neighbors.

“I was the CEO of an open company. And if my company did that, I would be damned if I did anything about it, ”Larry James said. “It simply came to our notice then. And this is really wrong. And it’s sad. “

Email: Investigates@wfaa.com

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Sanderson Farms has sued chicken farms over the smell of “rotten death.”

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