A North Carolina federal jury in Raleigh yesterday reached a unanimous verdict against a 15,000 hog farm in Eastern North Carolina, awarding more than $50 million in damages to 10 neighbors of the industrial hog operation.

The families, who live near the hog operation in Bladen County, have been complaining for decades about  the  noxious smells, noise,  clouds of flies, and excessive spraying for decades, which were so bad that those people near the operation maintained they could not enjoy their rural homes.

Instead of suing the hog farm’s owner, the plaintiffs’ attorneys targeted Murphy-Brown LCC, the hog productions division of Virginia-based Smithfield foods.  Smithfield Foods was bought in 2013 by China’s WH Group, the world’s largest pork producers.

Jurors awarded the neighbors of the hog operations a total of $750,000 in compensation, plus $50 million in damages meant to punish Smithfield.

The jurors decided that “the defendant owed the neighbors a standard of care in terms of trying to minimize the odors and other undesirable fallout from their processes,” said Wake Forest University law professor Sidney Shapiro, who has followed the case.  “Apparently, the jury decided Smithfield knew about and disregarded all the fallout even though they could do something positive to reduce it.”

The case was the first in dozens of lawsuits filed by more than 500 neighbors complaining about hog operations. However, the North Carolina legislators last year changed state law to make it much more difficult to replicate the string of nuisance lawsuits targeting hog operations like the one decided on Thursday.

Smithfield Foods indicated it would appeal the decision.  “We are extremely disappointed by the verdict,” Keira Lombardo, senior vice president of corporate affairs for Smithfield Foods, said in a statement.  “These lawsuits are an outrageous attack on animal agriculture, rural North Carolina and thousands of independent family farmers who own and operate contract farms.  These farmers are apparently not safe from attack even if they fully comply with all federal, state, and local laws and regulations,,” Lombardo said.

This decision is the first in dozens of lawsuits filed by more than 500 neighbors complaining about hog operations.  Jurors decided  that “the defendant owned the neighbors a standard of care in terms of trying to minimize the odors and other undesirable fallout from their processes, said Wake Forest University law professor Sidney Shapiro, who has followed the cases.  “Apparently, the jury decided that Smithfield knew about and disregarded the fallout, even though they could do something positive to reduce it.”

The North Carolina Pork Council said in a statement:

“We’re greatly disappointed and saddened by the verdict. It’s an absolute shame the jury did not have the opportunity to personally visit the farm and was not allowed to hear all the evidence and testimony from the defendant, Murphy-Brown.

We caution anyone from making sweeping generalizations about our industry based on a single case involving one farm with unique circumstances.

Make no mistake: These lawsuits are part of an ongoing, coordinated and unfounded attack on agriculture that endangers thousands of jobs and economic activity across the state, especially in rural eastern North Carolina.

Our industry has invested significantly in new technologies and improvements, and more and better management practices. The jury heard a lot of testimony – from neighbors and experts alike – that the community immediately surrounding the farm in this case is vibrant, growing and full of outdoor activity.

Our farmers care deeply about the communities where they live and work. They remain committed to being good neighbors and addressing concerns that are brought to their attention,” NCPC said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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