A federal jury in North Carolina found in favour of 10 neighbours of an eastern North Carolina hog farm owned by Smithfield Foods, awarding them $750,000 in compensatory damages and $50m in punitive damages over complaints of odour and noise from the farm.
Smithfield Foods has said it will appeal the verdict. Senior vice-president of corporate affairs Keira Lombardo said: “The lawsuits are a serious threat to a major industry, to North Carolina’s entire economy, and to the jobs and livelihoods of tens of thousands of North Carolinians.”
"We believe the outcome would have been different if the court had allowed the jury to visit the plaintiffs’ properties and the Kinlaw farm and hear additional vital evidence, especially the results of our expert’s odor-monitoring tests."
The verdict has drawn the ire of the US meat industry. President and CEO of the North American Meat Institute Barry Carpenter said: “The jury verdict and award in the lawsuit filed in North Carolina against Smithfield Foods represent a blow to jobs and the state’s economy fuelled by anti-animal agriculture rhetoric.
“Smithfield Foods is one of the largest employers in the state, bringing economic opportunity to thousands of North Carolina residents. Smithfield operated in compliance with federal and state laws, including applicable occupational health and safety rules.”
Carpenter added that the jury did not see the Smithfield Foods production processes properly during the trial.
“It is troubling that the jury did not have the opportunity to visit either Smithfield’s operation or the plaintiffs’ property to assess for themselves the circumstances and understand the facts – facts that cannot be conveyed in a meaningful way within the courtroom’s walls. If this verdict and award stand, they could have a chilling effect on animal agriculture within the state.”
The National Pork Producers Council also expressed disappointment at the verdict. “The verdict this week, in a frivolous nuisance lawsuit against a North Carolina hog farm, represents an unwarranted attack on livestock agriculture. The US pork industry has a strong and long-standing track record of environmental stewardship and plays a critical role in strengthening the rural economy in America. The misuse of our legal system to attack a farm sector that supports more than 500,000 US jobs must come to an end.”