Some States Seeking to Amend “Right-to-Farm” Laws

National Public Radio’s (NPR) Leah Douglas reported today that, “Every state has a ‘right-to-farm’ law on the books to protect farmers from being sued by their neighbors for the routine smells and noise created by farming operations. But this year, the agriculture industry has been pushing in several states to amend those laws so that they will effectively prevent neighbors from suing farms at all — even massive industrial livestock operations.

“The push is a response to the millions of dollars awarded so far to five groups of farm neighbors in North Carolina who sued a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, the biggest pork company in the country, over air pollution — including the manure particles and intense odors put out by large hog operations. The first of 26 lawsuits against the company, representing nearly 500 plaintiffs, was heard in 2017.

“In the past several months, legislators in Utah, Nebraska, Georgia, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Oklahoma have proposed, and in some cases passed, legislation that they say will protect farmers against similar lawsuits. The legislation varies, but several proposals reduce the potential damages that plaintiffs could win in such a suit or limit the distance from the farm a neighbor must live in order to bring a suit. Some do both.”

The NPR update noted that, “The agriculture industry is framing these bills as a necessary response to the threat farmers face from nuisance lawsuits, such as those brought in North Carolina, where since last spring, juries in five cases have awarded plaintiffs in Duplin, Bladen, Pender, and Sampson counties more than $574 million in their lawsuits against pork company Murphy Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield. The plaintiffs alleged that the company’s mismanagement of hog waste degraded their quality of life and reduced their property values. (The plaintiffs’ awards have been reduced to comply with a North Carolina law capping punitive damages.)

“Farm lobby groups say they must fend off similar outcomes in other states. And state farm bureaus and industry lobby groups have been clear that the North Carolina lawsuits are the impetus behind the expanded right-to-farm proposals.”

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