Federal Nuisance Lawsuits in North Carolina Could Have Implications for Pork Producers

The Associated Press reported last week that, “Drive past clustered hog sheds containing thousands of animals in the country’s No. 2 pork-producing state on the wrong day and the reason hundreds of North Carolina neighbors are suing in federal court is clear: it really stinks.

The question facing jurors in a federal lawsuit starting Monday is whether the open-air animal waste pits that proliferated over a generation generate intense smells, clouds of flies and noise.

The trial’s outcome could shake the profits and change production methods of pork producers who have enjoyed legislative protection and promotion in one of the nation’s food hubs. Supporters see industrial-scale hog complexes as generating jobs and revenues in rural communities. Friendly lawmakers last year sought to retroactively sink the lawsuits by more than 500 neighbors now lined up to go to trial one after another.”

The AP article stated, “The plaintiffs’ attorneys also say that information uncovered about company influence campaigns show their ‘knowledge of the harmful health effects of its hog operations,’ the inadequacy of regulations to address those health effects, and the availability of feasible alternatives.

Pork producers say they not only care about their rural neighbors, but their operations are inspected annually to make sure they comply with environmental regulations. There are 14 state inspectors checking 2,100 hog operations.

Hog growers are keeping an eye on the litigation that could force them to make changes or part with big payouts.”

Last week’s article added, “Such test cases allow lawyers to measure the strength of their evidence. The resulting verdicts – and any financial penalties – create guiderails for a possible settlement, said Christopher Seeger, a New York attorney who helped negotiate a $4.85 billion settlement over the health risks of arthritis painkiller Vioxx.

“Perhaps more important in shaping the ultimate resolution are the precedent-setting decisions judges make to accept some evidence and keep other details from jurors, Seeger said. Hog industry attorneys say the trial should be strictly limited to whether the 10 suing neighbors are suffering with a foul nuisance. They don’t want jurors to hear about alternative disposal hog waste methods used elsewhere, industry lobbying, or evidence of Chinese ownership.”

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