Landmark decision awards $50 million over hog-farm nuisances

By: W. Curt Vincent - Bladen Journal

RALEIGH — In what could be the first of many court decisions concerning nuisance claims against hog-farm operations around the state, a federal jury on Thursday awarded $50 million in damages and $750,000 each to 10 neighbors of an industrial hog-farm operation in rural Bladen County.

Kinlaw Farm, which raises about 15,000 pigs, is contracted with Murphy-Brown LLC through the hog-production division of Smithfield Foods, based in Virginia.

According to court records, the jury found for the plaintiffs based on the overwhelming smells, excessive spraying, noise and other disturbances emanating from the hog farm. The location of that farm was not disclosed.

The lawsuit filed by the 10 neighbors is aimed at Smithfield Foods, rather than the owner of the farm — primarily because the company, which was sold to China-based Shuanghui International Holdings in 2013 — has strict guidelines for the operation of a hog farm.

There are reportedly dozens of other lawsuits targeting hog-farm operations and includes more than 500 neighbors of those hog farms, many of which are located in North Carolina. The state is the No. 2 pork-producer in the country.

“The lawsuits are a serious threat to a major industry (as well as) North Carolina’s economy and to the jobs and livelihood of tens of thousands of North Carolinians,” Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs Keira Lombardo of Smithfield Foods said in a statement. “These lawsuits are an outrageous attack on animal agriculture, rural North Carolina and thousands of independent family farmers who own and operate contract farms. These farmers are apparently not safe from attack even if they fully comply with all federal, state and local laws and regulations.”

Officials with Smithfield Foods have indicated they plan to appeal Thursday’s decision.

The next case against a hog-farm operation is scheduled to be presented in court in late May.

W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 910-862-4163 or cvincent@bladenjournal.com.

W. Curt Vincent

Bladen Journal