In a Raleigh, N.C., courtroom Tuesday, jury selection began in the second of 26 nuisance cases against Smithfield Foods, continuing a campaign to forever change hog production practices in the state.
This case, similar to the McKiver et al v. Murphy-Brown, LLC case decided on April 26, also focuses on manure management.
It centers on whether a 4,700-hog farm owned by Joey Carter, former police chief of the nearby town Beulaville, emits enough odor and sprayed liquid waste to be a nuisance to a neighboring couple. As with the previous case, the farm owner is not being sued because they are under strict contracts that detail how to raise Smithfield-owned livestock, according to attorneys for the neighbors.
Court filings by the plaintiffs say residents have dealt with odor, onslaughts of flies and pests, as well as loss of “enjoyment of their property” for years.
A Second Round Targeting Manure Handling
Arguments in the first case criticized the farm’s handling of manure, suggesting that other states have required hog farmers to use different equipment or increased regulations on storage methods. Lawyers for the defendant said discussing alternative waste-management technologies used in other states was not appropriate because soil topography, climate and lagoon construction are vastly different.
Jurors awarded the 10 plaintiffs in the first case $750,000 in compensation and $500 million in damages “designed to punish the corporation that owns the animals,” the Associated Press reported. Under North Carolina state law, punitive damage awards are capped at three times the amount of compensatory damages or $250,000, whichever is greater. This reduced the damage sentence from more than $50 million to $3.25 million to be split between the 10 plaintiffs.
Smithfield officials say a different outcome might have resulted from the first trial if the court had allowed the jury to visit the plaintiffs’ properties and the Kinlaw farm, heard evidence of odor-monitoring tests and known the history of the case itself. Smithfield plans to appeal the ruling.
As subsequent trials continue to move forward, pork producers—as well as the entire agriculture community—are cautiously watching the interaction of neighbors, consumers and farmers. In a world where people are more connected by technology than face-to-face communication, farmers might be the last to know if a problem with their neighbors is brewing.