JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon filed a lawsuit Tuesday against a Columbia-based subsidiary of Kraft Foods for illegally dumping hot dog casings in Boone County.
The suit alleges the subsidiary, Columbia Foods, improperly dumped about 4,600 tons of hot dog casings at a private residence near the state conservation area Eagle Bluffs near the Missouri River south of Columbia.
Nixon said the casings -- sheaths of cellulose used to mold hot dogs -- are biodegradable, but threaten the environment because they contain by-products harmful to nearby streams and countryside.
The environment is robbed of oxygen during the decomposition process, an element essential for the area's surrounding aquatic and plant life, Nixon said.
"Kraft has done the equivalent of dumping 10,000 tons of raw sewage on the environment because these casings require so much more oxygen to decompose than solid waste," Nixon said.
Columbia Foods said a contractor, Wayland and Bassett Farms, was responsible for the dumping. The food company denies any wrongdoing.
In a letter to its employees, Columbia Foods said the state Department of Natural Resources refused an offer to clean the site. DNR officials did not return repeated calls.
If the suit is successful, Kraft could face fines up to $1,000 for each day it violated solid waste laws and $10,000 for each day it violated clean water laws.
Kraft received about $1 million in recycling tax rebates between 1995 and 1998, which Nixon said might have to be returned.
Nixon alleged Kraft dumped the waste instead of recycling it, and thus never complied with the guidelines for the tax breaks. Nixon said his office is working with the Natural Resources Department to determine if that money can be recouped.
Further complicating the matter is a Missouri law which states only wiener casings made from cotton are eligible for the recycling rebate. Kraft's casings are made from wood pulp.
Sen. Jim Mathewson, D-Sedalia, sponsored a bill approved by the Senate Monday which makes wood casings eligible for the recycling program.
Mathewson said his bill is not related to the lawsuit.
"I think Kraft should comply with the law," said Mathewson, when asked if Kraft should have to return the rebate.