PENDER COUNTY — Hog farms in North Carolina have come under recent scrutiny and have faced multi-million dollar lawsuits — and lost. The Pender County Board of Commissioners has prepared a resolution in support of farmers, calling these nuisance lawsuits frivolous, in language similar to the recently passed state legislation.
State legislators recently passed the North Carolina Farm Act of 2018 which begins with the statement that, “Frivolous nuisance lawsuits threaten the very existence of farming in North Carolina …”
But according to the juries of multiple lawsuits, companies that own and operate these farms are in fact responsible for the nuisances created. In June, a jury awarded plaintiffs $25 million in damages in a case against Murphy-Brown, LLC, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods.
Pender County Board of Commissioners Chairman George Brown said the resolution is in support of all farmers in Pender County, not just hog farmers.
“I sat through an informational meeting on this entire issue last week to get as much information as possible. For me, that is necessary when considering a vote to support anything. This resolution in its current form shows support for ‘All’ farming in our county as well as support for the recent ‘NC Farm Act of 2018’ passed in the NC Legislature,” Brown said.
Asked if Brown himself would tolerate living next to a hog-farming operation, Brown said, “I would expect any industry to observe our environmental laws and operate lawfully. I depend on our state and federal agencies to set guidelines, boundaries and parameters for these operations to protect our environment. I do own property that borders this type of farm and I can see much improvement of these type operations. I would not support habitual or serious violations from any industry.”
The Farm Act
What does the Farm Act actually say? Well, for one, it makes filing a nuisance lawsuit against any farming or forestry operation more difficult.
The new law states:
“No nuisance action may be filed against an agricultural or forestry operation unless all of the following apply: (1) The plaintiff is a legal possessor of the real property affected by the conditions alleged to be a nuisance. (2) The real property affected by the conditions alleged to be a nuisance is located within one half-mile of the source of the activity or structure alleged to be a nuisance. (3) The action is filed within one year of the establishment of the agricultural or forestry operation or within one year of the operation undergoing a fundamental change.”
More than a smell
While the lawsuits against Murphy-Brown, LLC (a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods) come mostly from odor nuisances, pork farms are also blamed for the degradation of water supplies including the Cape Fear River.
But some disagree that farms are to blame, including the North Carolina Pork Council, whose stated mission is “to promote and educate to ensure a socially responsible and profitable North Carolina pork industry.”
The NCPC’s website shares its members’ opinions on the current lawsuits facing the pork industry, as well as offers contrary evidence to many of the common complaints against the industry.
In an interview from 2017, Andy Curliss, CEO of the N.C. Pork Council said the pork industry was not to blame for the threats to the Cape Fear River — instead, he blames municipal wastewater treatment plants.
“The real problem with the rivers, as it relates to these events, is municipal wastewater plants,” he said. “They’re at the lowest points, they’re set up to discharge into the waters …livestock operations are not allowed to discharge.”
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