Neighbors suing farm neighbors. It is not a new concept. After all, if you think about it, disputes with neighbors are older than the Hatfield-McCoy feud. In 1610, William Aldred, a Virginia colonist, sued his neighbor for “erecting a hogsty so near the house of the plaintiff that the air thereof was corrupted.”
As more people move outward to rural America, it seems to happen more than you realize, especially against livestock farms. To date, there are many crafted lawsuits on the books, accusing livestock farms of being “nuisances.”
While most disputes start with misinformation fueling misunderstanding, many “nuisance” lawsuits aimed at farmers are attempts to end food animal agriculture production altogether and characterize the farmer as a “villain.”
Farmers tend to their business turning the soil and raising livestock, but it doesn’t mean they don’t care for their neighbors. For the most part, farmers live where they farm. They do care about the quality of the land, air and water surrounding their families and their farming operations. Farmers must comply with regulations including environmental rules every day. In many cases, farmers are more highly regulated than big business, and certainly more than the person buying or building a home next door.
This year more than 500 neighbors filed suit in North Carolina, complaining about hog farms. The plaintiff’s gripes are over anaerobic lagoons, calling them disgusting, disturbing and unsafe. Although those filing the lawsuit are actually neighbors of farms owned by production partners, the lawsuit is against Murphy-Brown LLC — the hog division of Smithfield Foods — which owns the pigs.
The public nuisance suit is an attempt to hold Smithfield accountable even though anaerobic lagoons are legal. And by no accident, the legal action is happening in the second largest pork-producing state.
This week juror selection begins for the second in a series of two dozen lawsuits file in North Carolina against Smithfield. Last month, the jury unanimously agreed in the first case that Murphy-Brown, which owns the hogs at Kinlaw Farms in Bladen County, N.C., “substantially and unreasonably interfered with the plaintiff’s use and enjoyment of their property.” They come to that verdict without actually visiting the farm or hearing vital evidence, such as odor-monitoring tests.
While Smithfield and farming organizations continue to fight against a highly coordinated misuse of the legal system to attack the farm sector, here is what you should know about your neighbor pig farmer.
• Pig farmers and their employees are people in your community. They are moms, dads, first responders, school board members, volunteers and community leaders. They work, play and raise their children in the same local environment as your families.
• Pig farmers are not excused from regulations. All hog farms face regulations, ranging from work health and safety requirements to rigid environmental statutes. Today’s pig farms hire engineers and environmental consultants to abide by local, state and national regulations. In fact, in states such as North Carolina, the pork industry is among the most highly regulated of the agricultural industries in the state.
• Hog farmers embrace technology. New technologies are in place on farms across the country to improve sustainability and air quality, preserve soil quality and reduce land, water and energy use. Check out the technology adopted on this Iowa farm to reduce odor and ways to be a good neighbor.
• State inspectors check on hog farmers. For instance, in North Carolina 14 state inspectors inspect 2,100 hog operations.
• Pig farmers are the ultimate recycler. Manure from pig farms provides valuable organic, nutrient resources for the production of all crops. Throughout the United States, pig farmers carefully manage the manure that is produced and do so according to the requirements of all environmental permits and regulations. Hog farmers, such as Smithfield, look toward innovation and partnerships to be the ultimate recycler, converting hog manure to fertilizer for crops or to different types of energy.
• Sustainability on the farm is an ongoing commitment by pig farmers today. In a 50-year look-back completed by the University of Arkansas in 2012 — and which is currently being updated with data through 2015 — U.S. pig farmers had reduced land use by 78%, reduced water use by 41% and had a carbon footprint that was 35% smaller. Preliminary data over just the past five years shows continued progress.
• Pig farming makes large contributions to the economy. Pig farmers provide jobs and support the local economy. Nationwide, the pork industry supports about 550,000 jobs and $22.3 billion of personal income, adding $39 billion to the gross domestic product.