Neighbors of industrial hog farms in Blanden County, North Carolina last week celebrated their $50-million victory over Smithfield subsidiary Murphy-Brown. Smithfield is the largest pork producer in the country.
Environmental and social justice advocates hailed the decision as a major victory in the fight against industrial farming operations around the country.
“Finally, somebody heard what the people were saying was happening to them,” Naeema Muhammad, co-director of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, said of the verdict. She says they’ve been working on cases like this one and others against Murphy-Brown, “telling their stories over and over and over to the point of weariness, feeling like it’s not making a difference.”
Ten plaintiffs filed a complaint against Murphy-Brown in 2014, accusing the company of mismanaging its hog farms and the millions of gallons of waste they create. The hogs’ manure found its way onto neighboring properties via open-air sewage pits (sometimes called lagoons). The manure is liquefied and sprayed onto neighboring fields as fertilizer.
A jury found both practices expose neighbors to health risks and lower their quality of life, and “substantially and unreasonably [interfered] with the plaintiff’s use and enjoyment of his or her property.”
The verdict is a breakthrough for North Carolina residents seeking justice from the hog industry, especially after North Carolina passed an expansion of the state’s right-to-farm law in 2017 that restricts farm neighbors to suing only for loss of property value, not for a loss in quality of life as a result of living near a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO). Similar right-to-farm expansions have been passed in Missouri, Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, and other agricultural states.
The next of twenty six lawsuits against Murphy-Brown goes to trial next month.
“Finally, Somebody Heard What the People Were Saying Was Happening to Them” (Mother Jones)
Jury awards hog farm neighbors $50 million (The News & Observer)
N.C. hog industry gets a whiff of odor’s cost – $50 million. Will it clean up now? (The News & Observer)