RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A federal trial is scheduled to begin Monday morning in Raleigh where the eventual outcome could impact how hog operations handle manure in the country’s No. 2 pork-producing state and beyond.
The question facing jurors in the federal lawsuit is whether the open-air animal waste pits are a nuisance.
The trial's outcome could shake the profits and change production methods of pork producers. Supporters see industrial-scale hog complexes as generating jobs and revenues in rural communities.
Neighbors like Randy Davis contend the industry's long practice of storing liquid waste in lagoon, then spraying treated effluent onto nearby fields as fertilizer, spells misery for them.
"This is not a lagoon. It's a cesspool. It's a 9-acre feces and urine pit," said Davis who lives ¾ mile from a hog operation.
Pork producers say they not only care about their rural neighbors, but their operations are inspected annually to make sure they comply with environmental regulations. Hog growers are keeping an eye on the litigation that could force them to make changes or part with big payouts.
"Certainly we're watching it. There's some levels of concern in particular as it relates to possible impact to the economy" of the rural communities where the farms operate and pay wages, said Andy Curliss, CEO of the North Carolina Pork Council, a trade group.
The upcoming string of federal lawsuits target Murphy-Brown LLC, the hog production division of Virginia's Smithfield Foods. Smithfield was bought in 2013 by a division of China-based WH Group, the world's largest pork producer.
The first case to be tried this week involves 10 neighbors of Kinlaw Farm, a Bladen County hog operation located 10 miles east of a Smithfield Foods slaughterhouse. The farm and its owners, who raise hogs under contract with Murphy-Brown, are not defendants. Instead, the target is the company that set specific standards of how the farm must operate.