Recently, there have been a number of lawsuits filed in the state of North Carolina against Smithfield Foods. In fact, there are over 20 nuisance lawsuits against pig farms, waiting in the coffers. Three have already been through the court system and Smithfield has lost all three cases. The lawsuits are nuisance lawsuits filed by neighbors led by an out-of-state (Texas) lawyer. Too much noise, too much smell. It’s important to note that all the farms followed all rules/regulations. There have been no violations, but they still were sued. Their only offense? They were farming. 

The last lawsuit awarded 6 neighbors over $470 million dollars, although the judge reduced it to 96 million. How generous. Trial lawyers typically receive about 1/3 of the award, and each of the neighbors will receive the remainder 60+ million. The bottom line you must ask, “Who do you want to raise your bacon?” Do you want farmers in the U.S. to raise the pigs or do you want to close farms down so we can buy our pork elsewhere? Because these lawsuits have real consequences – they shut farms down, which means no food is produced. 

Raising hogs on the farm.

Let’s take a closer look at livestock agriculture and more specifically raising hogs. Fact #1 – Hogs do create manure. Fact #2 – Yes, it does stink. There is no denying that fact. I live on a farm with about 2200 head and there are a few days a year where I close my windows because of the odor. But most days during the spring/summer/fall, my windows are open. So what do we do about the odor? Not much at this point. I have heard there may be some technology coming down the road that may help with animal manure odor, which doesn’t surprise me because this is what we do in agriculture. See a problem, attempt to solve it. 

But what really scares me about these lawsuits is where does it stop? I am afraid the new “Monsanto” (who is no longer) is “Smithfield.” It is so very easy to attack a mega corporation because it’s easier than attacking individual farmers. Yes, Smithfield is owned by the Chinese. It seems no one feels one bit guilty attacking a foreign-owned corporation. Family farms contract with Smithfield to raise hogs. 

Why would pig farmers work with Smithfield?

Working with a company like Smithfield has some attractive advantages. Farmers don’t have the cost of purchasing hogs, feeding them, dealing with a volatile market where there is no guarantee of a profit and no paycheck for six months (time to raise them to market weight). By working with a company like Smithfield, they are guaranteed a check every month. Farmers like it. Bankers like it. So even though people may be “yes, let’s stick it to Smithfield,’ they need to understand there are family farmers and employees directly impacted.

Stop suing

We need to stop suing farmers and our food supply. Now. Stop and think about what we are doing. It’s nothing short of eliminating our domestic food source. Are we ready for that? Do you think buying our pork from another country will be better? What country do you want to buy your pork from? Please put your country of choice in the comments below because I would love to know where you want to buy your pork from.

Who’s next?

If you attack one state’s pig farms, why wouldn’t other farms in other states be next? Why wouldn’t it happen here in Minnesota? How about dairy, beef or poultry? Look at if from a trial lawyers point of view. It’s a huge windfall for them if you have the right players. All you need is to combine a greedy lawyer, some wagon-hopping environmentalists or some radical PETA supporters. That is the equation. There is nothing stopping them.

This should scare every. single. consumer.

Why is growing our own food important?

  • National security. As a country, we should absolutely NOT put ourselves in a position where we depend on other countries to provide food for us. 
  • Food safety. Our country produces the safest food in the world. Why would we not embrace and support that? Have we lost our common sense?

Building relationships in communities and legislators.

As a farmer, what can we do?

We need to be political and we need to build community relationships. We all need to look at our state political processes to make sure what is happening in North Carolina doesn’t happen here. Thankfully, North Carolina has passed some legislation (with an override vote on the governor’s veto) that will help reel in future lawsuits. 

Secondly, build community relationships. Here are some ideas farmers can do be involved in their local communities. Farmers need to get off the farm and build relationships within in their communities. I get it. It’s not easy. But we have to make it a priority. One of the more popular events agriculture is involved with locally are farm-to-table dinners. We literally have a dinner on a local farm and invite community leaders, business owners, medical professionals, other influencers and have conversations. We listen. We answer questions. I believe it’s harder to sue someone when you just shared dinner and wine with them. 

Build relationships. Listen. Connect. Build trust.  

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3 Comments

  1. Wanda, I think you have mischaracterized the situation in NC. First off, these are damage lawsuits not nuisance. Second, these are not farms, they are industrial meat production facilities.
    Hopefully the results of these lawsuits will be a better regulated industry. As with every form of production that has transformed from trade or craft into an industrial scale of production, it can no longer be treated as though nothing has changed. This country has too long allowed industrial agriculture to refer to itself as farming.
    These suits won’t result in the need to buy from other countries. I source my pork, beef, and poultry from local farmers. Yes, it is a little more, but I know they are being adequately compensated, I am getting good fresh product, and I am doing something positive for the environment.
    I applaud that you live on the property where you have your confinement. There are three pork and two poultry confinements within 2 miles of my home. The poultry facilities were there when I built in 2005 and the owners of those live on site. They are right at ¾ mile directly to the NW. I smell them twice a year, late fall and early spring.
    The closest hog confinement (CAFO) to me is .8 mi SW. It was built 4 years ago. Two others were built last spring as part of a 10 CAFO expansion by the owner. He lives in the town about 7 miles away. One is due west 1 mile and the other is NW at 2 miles. Since the first CAFO was built, we don’t leave our windows open. We open them occasionally, but only when there is an easterly breeze and we can close them quickly when that summer prevailing SW wind comes.
    Lest you think I’m just some stupid city kid that built in the country without thinking, we built on land from my father-in-law that was his family’s homestead in Iowa. He still farms the quarter section around us as well as the land around his home 2 miles east.
    My mother married a farmer when I was in middle school. We had pigs on the farm. Enough for us and the extended family. Never more than 10. And yes, pig waste stinks, but industrial scale waste is beyond stinking.
    You dismiss these people injured by CAFO’s as greedy lawyers, wagon hopping environmentalists, and radical PETA supporters. Most are actually retired farmers and other landowners who have seen the value of their nest egg plummet and their quality of life destroyed. When you choose to put a CAFO next to your own home you live with the consequences. When lax regulations allow 2500 head of hogs to be confined within 1/8 mile of a home w/o any measures in place to protect that homeowner change needs to happen.
    If the only way to wake up the industry and the legislature is to sue, then so be it. The injustice needs to change.

  2. Eric,

    I understand your point of view, but am concerned that you’ve not addressed somethings needing consideration. If we want a viable middle class in rural America, we have to provide a sustainable agricultural base, including these contract livestock production facilities you find disagreeable. Contract livestock production allows local farmers to keep their family farms viable and provides an entry point for new farmers who cannot afford the capital costs otherwise. While the regulations in NC may or may not need updating, these local, small-family farms who build the barns, provide the labor, and put their own property at risk are the ones who are hurt in these rulings, not Smithfield. They’ll quickly move their production to another state or country, and the local family farm loses their farm because they can no longer pay the mortgage on their farm. These local farms, and Smithfield, followed the applicable local, state, and federal regulations. They still lost. This seems to have far-reaching implications beyond livestock production. First, it means that I can follow all applicable laws and regulations, yet still be in jeopardy of losing my small business, home, etc regardless of current compliance if someone is ‘damaged’ by my presence. Where does this slippery-slope end? Contract livestock production in the poultry and pork industries have proven to be sustainably viable options for multi-generational, independent farm families to remain in rural America, as land-owners; small businesses. By and large, these people take a more active role in their community development and preservation than many renters or suburban commuters. While challenges exist as suburban lifestyles continue to encroach upon rural livestock production areas, we all need to be sure we don’t “throw the baby out with the bath-water.”

    Best Regards,
    Joe

  3. Wanda and Joe, I think you both make valid points and each of you ultimately desire the same neighbor relations and enviromentaly friendly outcomes. I have lived and owned a 250 sow feeder pig operation in Eastern NC. I feel many of the problems arose and the 1980’s with local and state governments. North Carolina wanted a more viable industry to come into the state to help off set the declining tobacco market. Farmers needed a new money source. The hog industry was in its growing stages, so everyone who could build a facility, did so with funding and backing of FHA and growing contracts from several large hog integrators in the area who supplied animals and feedstock. The county and state governing bodies (county development offices, EPA, Departments of Agriculture) gave little thoughts of setbacks, water table depths and 100 year flood zones. When a farmer would build, he did so according to their input and guidelines. Farmers and local home owners did not think far enough in the future to realize the problems that would arise with the close proximity of farms and homes. If the governing bodies gave the OK, it should be good. As the populations on the area got larger, and the number of farms grew, both became too close for comfort.
    Today, there are farms located in flood plane areas and near creeks, storm runoffs, and wetlands. In bad storm seasons, excess water can cause total animal starvation/death from road closure and power loss to the facilities. We have had several slow moving hurricanes in the last 5 years that dropped massive amounts of rainwater. This caused prolonged flooding in the flat areas, and contaminated run off into creeks. There were huge losses of animals, farms and damage to the water quality.
    The zonings by the state and local governments should be reviewed and changed more frequently. Existing farms with additional building lands should come under new ruling, and not be grandfathered in using the old rules. The setbacks should be much further apart. Water tables need to be deeper before a hog/chicken house can be placed. Many of the problems in the NC area are not as much a consideration for the midwest farms who have larger land areas verses local populations, deeper groundwater tables, and no worries of floods or hurricanes. While I am definitely in favor of our meat being produced, grown and processed exclusively in the US, better consideration should be given to the location of these farms. I also think there should be a low limit placed on damages awarded in lawsuits. I tend to feel the situation could be better avoided all around without a lawyer involved, especially from an unaffected state.
    More opportunities for farmers and neighbors to discuss and see the situations from both sides is always welcomed.

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