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The Voice of the Black Community

Local & State

Social activists want NC Gov. Cooper to veto hog farm protections
Bill would limit property owners' ability to sue
 
Published Monday, June 25, 2018 3:14 pm
by Herbert L. White

PHOTO | PAM MCMILLON
Activists opposing a bill that would limit property onwers' right to sue industrialized pork production facilities hold a press conference on June 25 in Raleigh. SB 711, passed by the Republican-dominated General Assembly earlier this month, awaits Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's signature.

Environmental and civil rights advocates are going hog wild over a bill that protects North Carolina’s industrial pork production against nuisance lawsuits.


Lawmakers earlier this month approved tougher restrictions on neighbors of industrial-scale hog farms who file suits against producers over nuisances, including foul odors. SB 711 is supported by the agribusiness industry following lawsuits against pork producer Smithfield Foods, which was ordered to pay a $51 million judgment in April after losing a nuisance lawsuit. The payout was reduced to $3.25 million because of state limits on punitive damages.

Smithfield Foods is owned by Hong Kong-based WH Group, which accounted for $22 billion in revenues last year.


Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, has not signaled whether he supports or opposes the bill.


“Legislators know our property rights have been violated, and they’re taking away our right to seek justice,” said Devon Hall, co-founder and program manager of NC Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help. “I should have the same right to peacefully enjoy my land as someone who lives next to a country club.”


The restriction on nuisance claims would also have a discriminatory impact, as large hog operations are disproportionately located near communities of color.  North Carolina is the second-largest hog producing state. The farms store hog waste in containment ponds before the contents are then sprayed on fields. Neighbors contend in their lawsuits the smell violates their rights as property owners.


“The elected officials who voted for the Farm Act know that these polluting operations are in predominantly African-American, Latino and Native American communities – it speaks volumes that protecting corporate greed is more important to them than protecting the people they were sent to Raleigh to represent,” said Naeema Muhammad, organizing co-director of the NC Environmental Justice Network.


Republicans who support the bill say they back the state’s agribusiness community and the hog industry, while opponents say hog producers have an unfair advantage by hindering neighbors’ ability to address the smell and environmental damage caused by their facilities.


"Governor Cooper needs to sign the NC Farm Bill now,” Lt. Gov. Dan Forrest, a Republican, said in a statement earlier this month. “It is abundantly clear that the North Carolina farming community is under attack from out-of-state organizations who are using the tactic of repeated lawsuits against farmers to drive them out of business. Agriculture is our state's number one industry and we must not stand by and watch this happen. Either we stand with the farmers or stand with the lawyers trying to put them out of business.”

Activists also urge Cooper require better waste management practices that could prevent or mitigate nuisance harms in the first place – a provision missing from the legislation.

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