Litigation Against CAFOs an Increasing Trend
By Courtney C. Smith and Jim D. Bradbury
James D. Bradbury, PLLC
Challenges to CAFOs are on the rise across the United States. The battles are increasing, and agriculture, so far, is losing ground. Whether through nuisance suits or challenges to environmental permits, the wave of public opinion is trending against agriculture, and the costs are significant.
In April, a North Carolina jury awarded 10 plaintiffs $51 million in damages for the nuisance allegedly caused by a Smithfield Foods hog farm. Soon after, the presiding federal judge reduced the damages awarded to $3.25 million in accordance with a North Carolina punitive damages law. In response, the North Carolina General Assembly passed the Farm Act of 2018, amending the state’s Right to Farm Act to better protect farms. Although originally vetoed by the governor, the Assembly overrode the governor’s veto, making the amended Farm Act into law.
The same week the Farm Act became law, however, a North Carolina jury awarded $25 million to a couple in a separate nuisance lawsuit against Smithfield Foods. A third nuisance suit is currently on trial in North Carolina. These cases are only the tip of the iceberg. Twenty-six nuisance lawsuits have been filed by over 500 residents in North Carolina against Smithfield Foods challenging their use of anaerobic lagoons and other nuisance conditions on hog farms.
North Carolina is not the only battleground.
Iowa residents also are challenging CAFOs. Iowa is the top hog-producing state in the nation. Residents have sued the state over air emissions from the farms, while the Iowa Alliance for Responsible Agriculture and some state legislators are calling for a moratorium on any expansion or construction of certain animal feeding operations until statewide CAFO rules are strengthened and there is a marked reduction in impaired waterways.
Similarly, a Wisconsin dairy has met with significant challenges since its proposed construction in 2012. Despite having won two separate lawsuits to allow the construction of the proposed 5,300-cow dairy, citizens continue to challenge the dairy through the environmental permitting process.
Other challenges have been seen in Kansas, Arizona, Pennsylvania and beyond. The challenges are mounting, and the tide of public opinion is moving away from agriculture. Farms and associations must step up and take notice. Right to Farm statutes must be strengthened and enforced. A national coordinated defense of farms should be developed.
For more information on the recent North Carolina nuisance verdicts, please check out the most recent Ag Law in the Field podcast.