The biggest pork producer in the world just got walloped — again — by a massive jury verdict because of the overwhelmingly negative impact its North Carolina hog farms have on neighboring residents.
Smithfield Foods owes the neighbors of three of its hog farms a cool $473.5 million, thanks to a federal jury’s decision handed down in early August 2018. A state cap on punitive damages will limit the total amount the victorious plaintiffs receive to $94 million.
This is the third multi-million dollar verdict against Smithfield Foods. Over 500 neighbors surrounding various North Carolina hog farms await litigation of their claims against the company.
How did the state of North Carolina react to these lawsuits? It closed ranks around the farmers, of course. When successful litigation threatens your biggest political donors, you make sure people can’t file those lawsuits anymore.
North Carolina lawmakers called these lawsuits “frivolous” and adopted legislation designed to make it nearly impossible to file similar nuisance lawsuits. Clearly, protecting outdated and dangerous agricultural practices is much more important to North Carolina politicians than the welfare of its people or its animals.
“I’m sure that there are people that don’t like what we do in agriculture. When they don’t like it, they’re biting the hand that feeds them,” North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler told the Southeast Farm Press.
“That’s what I really don’t understand. To put the word agriculture and nuisance in the same sentence is just ridiculous and quite frankly makes me madder than hell,” he added.
You know what makes the people who live near hog farms madder than hell, Mr. Troxler? The staggering pollution. The roaring trucks going by at all hours. The swarms of flies. The horrific odors that cling to upholstered furniture inside homes. The hog fecal waste flowing into local waterways and being sprayed on private property.
Sorry, but hog farmers don’t have a corner on the market where angry feelings are concerned.
If you don’t live near one of these North Carolina farms, you probably don’t know that one of their practices includes the use of “anaerobic lagoons.” Farmers wash out pig manure from underneath their pens and pipe it into a lagoon, where it sits, stinking and emitting bacteria, until it finally settles into a solid and a liquid layer. That waste is later sprayed on fields — and, according to some of the plaintiffs in these cases, against the sides of their homes.
A former police officer and firefighter who lived near the hog facilities told reporters that the stink was reminiscent of dead bodies he’d smelled during his career. He alleges that it got so bad he had to live elsewhere sometimes just to get away from the stench. Of course, not everyone had that option.
Legal decisions in Missouri forced Smithfield Foods to implement expensive technology that reduces the odor. So far, the company hasn’t used this technology in North Carolina because it hasn’t been forced to do so.
Living next to an industrial-scale animal agriculture facility is unquestionably a horror show. Now think about the hogs for a minute. For those poor animals, the nightmare is infinitely worse. Just read a few stories by animal protection organizations to see for yourself.
Undercover investigators routinely catch factory farm workers beating, kicking, stabbing, dragging and punching pigs. Dead piglets are fed to their own mothers. Female pigs must live endlessly in farrowing and gestational crates so small that they cannot turn around.
Farmers cut off piglets’ tails and castrate them without anesthetic. They clip off their teeth with pliers. Thousands of captive pigs die each year in farm fires. Heard enough yet? Is this any way to treat the fourth most intelligent animal on earth? What would you think if this happened to dogs?
Get used to lawsuits, pork industry. You can whine and try to block them, but if you don’t substantially change your ways, you won’t stop them.