Environmental Groups File Clean Water Act Suit vs. Pilgrim’s Pride

Media Contacts
John Rumpler

Clean Water Director and Senior Attorney, Environment America

Groups Say World’s Second-Largest Chicken Producer Polluted Florida River with Toxic Wastewater in Violation of Permit Limits

Environment Georgia

[Atlanta, GA] –  Environment Georgia called on Pilgrim’s Pride to clean up its act, as its sister organization in Florida filed a lawsuit under Clean Water Act against the company for dumping pollution into a river there.  The complaint filed in federal court alleges that the second-largest chicken producer in the world committed 1,377 days of Clean Water Act violations at its Florida processing plant since 2012, by discharging wastewater into the Suwannee River that exceeds pollution standards by as much as triple the legal limits. 

Pilgrim’s Pride is the second-largest chicken producer in the world and has facilities in Athens, GA and Elberton, GA.

“Here is one of the world’s largest meat companies dumping pollution into our rivers,” said Jennette Gayer, Director of Environment Georgia. “How can Pilgrim’s take pride in that?” 

Such dumping fits into a broader pattern of pollution by Pilgrims’ Pride and its parent company, the Brazilian-based meat giant JBS.  As documented by Environment Georgia in a report last summer, JBS’ supply chain in the U.S. generate 45 million tons of manure, and its processing plants (including the Pilgrim’s one in Florida) dumped more than 37 million pounds of toxic pollution into waterways from 2010 to 2014.  The group’s report also documented pollution from four other agribusiness companies – Tyson, Smithfield, Perdue, and Cargill.

“Georgians want clean water,” said Gayer.  “That’s a factor to consider when we go to the supermarket.”

Florida’s middle Suwannee River is famous for its 62 freshwater springs and is home to several state parks.  The Suwannee River State Park, near the Pilgrim’s plant’s pollution discharge point, is home to some of the best backcountry paddling in the state and welcomes more than 35,000 visitors yearly.  Downstream, the Suwannee River is also home to a dazzling array of wildlife – with the Lower Suwannee refuge as home to 250 types of birds, bald eagles, alligators, and manatees. 

Pollution from the Pilgrim Pride facility in Florida contributes to low dissolved oxygen levels and toxic algal blooms, which are serious environmental problems plaguing the Suwannee and other Florida waterways.  Moreover, some of Pilgrims’ alleged violations are for toxicity – meaning they can disrupt the survival, growth, and reproduction of aquatic organisms.

Environment Florida’s complaint seeks a federal court order requiring the Live Oak facility to comply with its Clean Water Act permit, as well as civil penalties against Pilgrim’s Pride to punish it for past violations and to deter future violations. 

Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation has operations in 14 states, Mexico, and Puerto Rico and is a supplier to KFC, Wal-Mart, Publix, and Wendy’s and generated a revenue of $7.9 billion in 2016. The Live Oak facility processes live poultry into fresh and frozen chicken meat products, and operates a broiler hatchery to produce chicks for distribution to growers. Pilgrim’s Pride is part of Brazilian company JBS S.A., the largest meat company by sales in the world.