Catherine Clabby

News reporter and editor. Duke University journalism faculty. Co-edit 9th Street Journal at Duke Reporters' Lab. Alum reporter @ North Carol

Apr 27, 2018
1 min read

Plaintiffs argued that an industrial hog farm established near their homes was affecting neighbors' health. The case spurred the state legislature to move to forbid future such lawsuits.

Jurors awarded $52 million, mostly in nuisance payments, to 10 people living close to one eastern North Carolina hog farm Thursday.

The verdict is the first outcome among several lawsuits protesting noxious odors, floating fecal dust and other nuisances emitted by intensive livestock farms. The legal complaints blame those nuisances on a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork processor and hog producer, not individual farmers.

Represented by Mona Lisa Wallace of Wallace & Graham, along with two Texas-based law firms, the suits accuse Murphy-Brown LLC of having contract farmers use hog-manure lagoons and spray systems to cheaply dispose of massive amounts of manure produced by thousands of swine, tightly packed in large barns.

That practice, the suits charge, imposes unacceptable costs on the farm’s neighbors, including decreased quality of life from smells and insects, declining property values, physical and mental discomfort, and reasonable fear of disease and health problems.

photo shows a group of african american people
Nick Woodard (second left) and other neighbors of confined animal facilities drove up from Pender County to speak at a 2017 legislative hearing. Woodard said he and his family have lived with problems of odor and pollution for years. He said, “There are things you can’t imagine unless you live there.” Photo credit: Catherine Clabby

Some members of the North Carolina legislature last year unsuccessfully attempted to derail this group of lawsuits but succeeded only at limiting financial awards for similar lawsuits filed after them.

“This verdict proves, once and for all, that ‘cheap meat’ is a myth,” said Michelle Nowlin, supervising attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic at Duke University. “Someone pays the price of production, and for far too long, that burden has been on the rural communities that are home to North Carolina’s factory farms.”

Smithfield Foods will appeal the case.

“These lawsuits are an outrageous attack on animal agriculture, rural North Carolina and thousands of independent family farmers who own and operate contract farms,” Keira Lombardo, Smithfield Foods’ senior vice president of corporate affairs, said in the company’s written reaction to the award. “These farmers are apparently not safe from attack even if they fully comply with all federal, state and local laws and regulations.”

Read the original complaint below: