What Lawsuits Against Livestock Production Mean for Ag and Consumers

If you like bacon, listen up. If you don’t like bacon, well….. who are you? Anyway, a legal verdict in North Carolina just raised the price of pork and opened the floodgates for lawsuits against livestock production. 

The Scoop

April 26, 2018, a federal jury in North Carolina awarded 10 neighbors of a hog farm $50 million in punitive damages and $750,000 in compensatory damages. North Carolina has limits on the dollar amount in such verdicts. A judge reduced the award. Each neighbor will now receive $325,000 if it stands. The verdict is being appealed.  

The defendant is Murphy-Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest producer and processor of pork. The subject farm was not sued. Kinlaw Farm raises 15,000 hogs per year as a contract grower for Murphy-Brown.  

The Poop

The suit alleged odor and noise had degraded the neighbor’s property value and negatively impacted their lives. At issue were manure lagoons and how the farm handles manure - by pumping it on top of the ground via irrigation equipment.  

Why This Will Increase Prices

This was the first of 26 such lawsuits. 490 more plaintiffs are represented in the remaining 25 cases. 500 neighbors at $325,000 each, equals $162 million. Somebody’s gotta pay for this. That somebody is the consumer of pork.  

Activists & Ambulance Chasers

Those 26 cases are just in North Carolina. I see attorneys banging on rural doors from Iowa to Idaho. "If you live within a mile of a hog barn, chicken house, or feed yard, we can make you rich!”  

Enter radical organizations like PETA and Humane Society of the United States. Their goal isn’t ethical or humane treatment of farm animals. They want there to be no farm animals. Imagine propaganda like this: “Let us help you take back your neighborhood from those factory farms.”  

Who Was There First?! 

Ag people like to say, “The farm was there first!” If that argument was used in the lawsuit, it didn’t win.  

Let’s take an objective look from the neighbor’s perspective. My wife and I live across the road from a veal facility with three barns and a manure lagoon. It smells terrible some days. I don’t complain. We’re farmers too.  

What if that veal operation expanded to 30 veal barns and ten manure pits?  You can say the veal farm was there first. But it wasn’t. My farm was here in the 1800s. What if 30 veal barns and ten manure pits stink so badly, life on my farmstead is unbearable. My property would be worth substantially less money. Possibly unsellable.  

You see, there is validity to the claims. Even a hardcore Ag guy like me can admit that. 

What Can Ag Do? 

Economics and global demand make large scale Ag a necessary reality. Whether food production happens in North America depends on how costly and commonplace these lawsuits become. Faced with paying every neighbor $325,000, livestock production will flee the country.  

You don’t want that and neither do I. A nation that can’t grow its own food is vulnerable and dependent. Not to mention the economic benefit of domestic meat production.  

I believe we can have a thriving animal agriculture industry. Our customers want American made bacon, eggs, steak, and cheese. They also want less odor.  

So, we need to invest in better manure management. Will that add cost? Absolutely. But it’s a cost consumers will bear. It’s cheaper than lawsuits and frankly we have no other choice. The jury has spoken.  

Damian Mason is an Agriculturist, Speaker, and Meat Eater. www.damianmason.com

Angie Carel