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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Clinton and the Chickens

Air Date: Week of

Commentator Derrick Jackson says President Clinton's willingness to bargain public lands reform right out of the budget should be no surprise to anyone familiar with his record as Governor of Arkansas.


JACKSON: It was almost yuk-yuk and a playful roll in the mud for environmentalists in the early days of Bill Clinton's presidency.

CURWOOD: Commentator Derrick Jackson.

JACKSON: But when Clinton backed down from his pledge to charge new fees for commercial exploitation of public lands, he returned us to the days when he chickened out to chicken farmers. When he was Governor of Arkansas, Clinton was very friendly with Fortune-500 chicken baron Don Tyson. Tyson Foods has 25 percent of the nation's chicken business, killing 25 million chickens a week. What Tyson will not tell you is that in a state of 2.3 million people, the industry produces enough waste in its northwest corner alone to equal that of four million people. About 300 miles of rivers are so fouled -- pun intended -- from chicken waste that no swimming is allowed. In one town examined by the Washington Post, Tyson's waste led to groundwater contamination and dysentery. It took Clinton a year and a half to declare an emergency. From 1988 to 1990, Clinton gave Tyson $7.8 million in tax breaks. Conversely, environmentalists rarely won a clean break from pollution. When Clinton appointed a 28-member animal-waste task force in 1990, only three members were environmentalists. Chicken waste was not a priority. The Tyson-Clinton bond has already been felt in Washington. Tyson helped fund Clinton inaugural parties. Sources told the Los Angeles Times that Tyson killed the appointment of consumer activist Ellen Haas to run meat and poultry inspections in the Department of Agriculture. This is after Clinton and Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy promised tougher inspection policies, after tainted hamburger meat killed several people in Washington State. Haas had promised tough seafood inspections, but by coincidence, Tyson recently purchased a seafood company. Tyson, unworried about super-tough inspections, is dreaming of leapfrogging from the Forbes 200 into the low 100's. The public is left without parallel assurance that the cost of Tyson's growth will not involve unswimmable and unfishable rivers and a trip to the hospital. When Clinton dropped the mining and grazing fees, outraged environmentalists should not have been surprised. Instead of 'yuk-yuk, thank God I have a foot in the door of the White House,' they should have kept their ear to the ground. The sound on Clinton's farm is bawk-bawk-bawk bawk-bawk bawk-bawk bawk-bawk . . .(fade under)

CURWOOD: Derrick Jackson is a columnist for the Boston Globe and a commentator for Living On Earth.



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